The bright lights and broad exposure of the NBA playoffs provide players with a chance to shine on the big stage, and some of the league's more modestly compensated competitors are using that platform to make a case for future pay-raises.
Veterans like Jarrett Jack and Raymond Felton have played like stars despite being paid like backups. At the same time, some of the league's more youthful up-and-coming talents—like Paul George and Kawhi Leonard—have used the postseason to prove they are already worth much more than their rookie deals indicate.
And perhaps best of all, guys like Nate Robinson and Chris Andersen, who took the only offers they got this year, have played well enough to not only hang around for a few more seasons, but to be handsomely rewarded going forward.
The playoffs are definitely about wins and losses, but sometimes those notches in the record book are determined by players who are giving their teams much more than their money's worth.
All stats via NBA.com and all salary info via Spotrac.com. Only players whose teams are still in the 2013 NBA playoffs were considered for this article.
Chris Andersen didn't spend the entire regular season with the Miami Heat, but upon his arrival, LeBron James and company took a critical step from really good to historically great. Since bringing "The Birdman" on board, Miami has gone 39-4.
Obviously, there's a fair amount of coincidence involved here, as a few of the Heat's more highly paid players had an awful lot to do with the team's late-season surge. But at a cost of just under $700,000 for the year, Andersen's been a terrific bargain.
During the playoffs, the backup big man has averaged 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on a ridiculous 81 percent shooting from the field.
As an unlikely emotional leader, hustle-point enthusiast and valuable shot-blocker, Andersen has provided immense value for a Miami team that desperately needed a little toughness inside.
Jarrett Jack struggled with some shaky ball-handling and a few troublesome turnovers in the Warriors' first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, but without his 18.8 points, 7.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game, Golden State would have found it much more difficult to survive the absence of an injured David Lee.
In six games during Round 1, Jack shot nearly 53 percent from the field and brought the dangerous mid-range shooting and veteran leadership the Warriors needed against the Nuggets' aggressive, trapping defense.
Jack made just $5.5 million this year, and when he hits unrestricted free agency this summer, he is sure to command a salary that will cause the Warriors to think twice about retaining him.
That's an unfortunate financial reality for the future, though. For now, Golden State has to be ecstatic that its backup point guard has put up star-quality numbers.
It's safe to say the Knicks made the right decision when they opted to pay Raymond Felton less than $4 million per year over a four-year deal instead of matching the Houston Rockets' poison-pill offer for Jeremy Lin.
Felton has averaged 17.3 points and five assists per game over New York's seven playoff contests so far, but his value hardly comes through in those basic numbers. A deeper look shows the Knicks have posted an offensive rating of 98.8 when he's been on the floor against a figure of 97.3 when he hasn't.
As one of the only players on the roster capable of creating opportunities for his teammates, Felton represents a critical piece of the Knicks' offensive puzzle. When he's operating in the pick-and-roll or driving with an eye toward kicking out to shooters, New York is a dangerous offensive team.
Unfortunately, coach Mike Woodson has been opting for a heavy dose of isolation sets lately, which has minimized some of Felton's effectiveness. If the Knicks are to have any hope of surviving their series with the Indiana Pacers, they will have to make Felton, who makes less than five other players on the roster, much more of a focal point.
Kawhi Leonard is still being paid under his rookie deal, which will net him about $1.8 million this year and $1.9 million in 2013-14.
With postseason averages of 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 55 percent shooting, it's safe to say the Spurs are getting a pretty good value out of their athletic swing man. But really, that's been San Antonio's M.O. for years now; Gregg Popovich's team always seems to find high-value role players to support its stars.
Defensively, Leonard gives the Spurs a legitimate wing stopper to throw at opposing teams' best offensive players. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes—and possibly even Stephen Curry if coach Pop is feeling creative—are going to get a taste of the kind of elite pressure Leonard can bring in the second round.
With tons of upside yet to be tapped, Leonard is sure to cash in eventually. For now, he will have to settle for being one of the most underpaid, underappreciated players in the league.
How much should a team pay a player who is largely responsible for pushing said team into the second round of the postseason?
Whatever that figure is, the Chicago Bulls owe it to Nate Robinson for his 23-point fourth quarter in Game 4 of their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. Robinson's heroics in that final period and the first overtime helped send the series back to Brooklyn with the Bulls ahead 3-1.
The Nets won the next two contests and forced a Game 7, so Robinson's massive contribution in Game 4 turned out to be pretty darn important.
Playing on his fifth team in four seasons, Robinson made just $1.1 million this season. He, like Jack, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, meaning any squad in need of a scoring spark off the bench will likely be willing to dole out a deal that pays Robinson at least four or five times his current salary.
And if he somehow manages to explode for a game or two against the Heat in the second round, who knows what his value will be?
Another player on his rookie deal, Paul George was stuck playing like a superstar but earning like a seldom-used reserve during the regular season. At just $2.5 million this year, George's salary hardly befits a 23-year-old All-Star.
Sometimes, paying dues is woefully unfair.
During the playoffs, George has given the Pacers 18.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Plus, he's been handling the opposing team's best wing player, as Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith can attest:
Paul George held Carmelo Anthony to 5-for-18 shooting and J.R. Smith to 0-for-7 shooting in the Pacers Game 1 win— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 5, 2013
As one of the NBA's best (and youngest) two-way stars, George is a lock to secure a max deal when his rookie contract expires in a couple of years. For now, he's stuck with the distinction of being one of the most underpaid players left in the playoffs.
This feels like cheating because Serge Ibaka is in line for a raise next season that will up his annual pay from just $2.2 million to $12.5 million. But hey, he's currently under his original deal, so he definitely qualifies.
So far, Ibaka has only averaged 11.9 points and 7.9 boards per game this postseason while maintaining his rate of 3.0 blocks a contest. But at a salary that's lower than six players on his own team, the athletic forward is easily giving the Oklahoma City Thunder plenty of bang for their buck.
For context, consider the fact that Jeremy Lamb is currently making almost as much as Ibaka, and he hasn't even gotten off the bench yet.
The payday for Ibaka is already assured, and in order to justify a raise that will pay him six times as much money as he's currently making, he will have to step into a much more prominent role. At the moment, though, he's giving his team plenty of value relative to his paycheck.