The NBA is often viewed as a league full of lazy, overpaid millionaires. But some players are downright bargains. The underpaid player is definitely a much rarer commodity, but there are dozens of men in the league right now who are out-performing their contracts and helping their teams overachieve.
For general managers across the league, finding these diamonds in the rough is vital. Because in the modern NBA, how much you pay your players can be as important as what their names are. That doesn't mean having the best bargain players will beat having the best players, but the more production you can get for you dollar, the easier it will be to build a team.
If you don't have a other-worldly star like LeBron James or Chris Paul, there may be no way to make up for the talent disparity, but an executive who spends wisely can often assemble a roster that beats teams whose GM splurges on flashier players.
The San Antonio Spurs, for example, have accumulated a fistful of rings by only paying top dollar to Tim Duncan, allotting reasonable sums to two All-Stars and then giving almost everyone else exactly what they are worth. That is a tough model to follow, but every GM is always looking for the next great deal.
The best contracts in the league almost universally fall into two categories: max contracts and rookie-scale contracts. Both pay out predetermined amounts defined by the league's collective bargaining agreement and neither the team's front office nor the player's agent have any leeway to negotiate.
Thus, in the following list, you won't find any player on these types of contracts. We can all agree that LeBron and Kevin Durant deserve a lot more than they earn and that every team would pay Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins a lot more if they were allowed to. There was no savvy bargaining happening behind the scenes when these players were being signed.
That said, the following players are the ones whose skills and paychecks are helping their teams the most—both on and off the court.