NBA Playoff Ballers Outperforming Their Contracts
Once the NBA playoffs begin, contract talk seems to fade away. Since teams are locked into their rosters, the focus turns (rightly so) to on-court performance regardless of everything else. It becomes about just basketball. The postseason is the one time of year you can appreciate Brooklyn Nets swingman Joe Johnson without having to remember he's making over $20 million a season going forward.
But with that being said, there's also a negative impact of that. There's a tendency to forget the players who are outperforming their current deals.
For this exercise, we'll take a look at players who are really playing well beyond their salary. Because rookie contracts aren't negotiated, we'll leave out players still on those rookie-scale salaries, even if they're performing like max-level players. We still see you, Damian Lillard.
We'll also only focus on players from teams that are still alive in the postseason. Sorry, Kyle Lowry.
Let's take a look at five postseason players who are outperforming their current contracts.
All stats are via basketball-reference and are accurate as of May 5.
Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers
Current Salary: $5.9 million
Going against Dwight Howard is no easy task, but Portland Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez held his ground well and made Howard work for everything he got. Portland doesn't survive that series without him.
Typically in the NBA, serviceable big men don't come cheap. It's not uncommon for even average centers to earn upward of $10 million, but Lopez is making nearly half of that.
Perhaps most importantly, Lopez has been the perfect pairing with LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been allowed to fully focus on his mid-range scoring and contesting shots while Lopez does all the dirty work underneath. They're perfect for one another.
So far this postseason, Lopez is averaging 9.7 points, 8.7 boards and 2.7 blocks with a 15.9 PER. Those aren't gaudy numbers, but Lopez is the unsung hero of the Blazers' starting five. He's smart, he uses his size exactly how you'd want and he's incredibly cheap at a position that is rarely easy to fill on a budget.
Shaun Livingston, Brooklyn Nets
Current Salary: $1.2 million
Shaun Livingston has been the ace in the hole for Jason Kidd and the Brooklyn Nets this postseason.
With the ability to cover three different positions thanks to his length, Livingston was able to rotate from Kyle Lowry to DeMar DeRozan seamlessly and cool off either player once they got hot.
That's a tremendous asset for any contending team to have, and Livingston's defensive abilities should come in handy against the Miami Heat. If you're looking for a reason why the Nets swept the Heat during the regular season, Livingston's defense on LeBron James has to rate pretty high up there.
With the ability to spread the floor and take care of the ball when Deron Williams is resting, Livingston has greatly surpassed his tiny salary and has become a critical glue guy for the Nets.
It's not hard to see a team giving Livingston four times what he's making now in free agency this offseason. He's been that good, even if his numbers (11.6 PER in postseason) don't always reflect his impact.
Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
Current Salary: $5.2 million
Jamal Crawford's value is really tough to peg down.
In some respects, he's paid fairly as a scoring sixth man that doesn't contribute in many other ways. But then when Crawford gets hot and starts making unguardable shots, you start to wonder how he can make just over $5 million a year. He'll often be the best scorer on the court, and that's not to be taken for granted.
In the first-round battle against Golden State, Crawford certainly had his moments. While he may not be as valuable for other teams, he's perfect for a team like the Clippers that can pick him up in other areas and draw the attention of the defense away from him.
So far this postseason, Crawford has a PER of 19.8 and is averaging a whopping 25.1 points per 36 minutes. If he can keep up this level of play, the Clippers are going to be awfully tough to beat. I always had my doubts about Crawford's deal, but he's been worth every penny this season and in the playoffs.
Chris Andersen, Miami Heat
Current Salary: $1.4 million
Miami Heat center Chris Andersen is a perfect example of why it's smart to swing for the fences with a few smaller signings when you have a championship core in place.
Andersen definitely could have gotten more money last offseason, but he stayed in Miami on a two-year veteran's minimum deal in order to win a few more titles.
While it isn't hard to outplay a minimum deal, Andersen has shattered the expectations for him so far this postseason once again.
In the four-game sweep over the Charlotte Bobcats, the big man in the middle averaged 15.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes, alongside a PER of 22.4. As we've seen, Miami is tough to beat when Andersen is protecting the rim and cleaning the glass, and to be able to get his level of production on a minimum deal is almost unfair. He's quietly been one of the most important signings of this decade.
Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs
Current Salary: $4.7 million
Here's another example of a championship-quality team taking a risk on a discarded player and having it pay off big time.
Boris Diaw has been perfect in his role in San Antonio, giving the Spurs a surprisingly versatile defender to go along with the smart passing and perimeter shooting.
There are no players in the league quite like Diaw, and he showed how important he is to what San Antonio wants to do in the first-round series against Dallas.
Diaw hit some clutch shots but also defended Dirk Nowitzki extremely well. He's a critical player in the chase for a title, and you can't usually say that about a player making less than $5 million a year. Players that do everything well are a rarity, and Diaw is certainly in that group.
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