For every bad contract that exists in the NBA, there are just many bargain deals out there that make you wonder: How did that team get that player to sign for that amount of money?
At the same time, though, it’s not always a matter of the money. A few of the deals on our list are actually versions of max contracts that still have to be considered bargains because of the players they belong to.
When a player signed his max also has an effect on whether the deal can be thought of as a steal, simply because of the Collective Bargain Agreement’s (CBA) new “super-max contracts”, which can be given to certain players depending on their level of experience and the number of times they received All-NBA distinctions.
Stephen Curry’s deal, for example, is for five years and is worth $202.2 million. Rest assured, for our purposes, that contract didn’t make the cut.
Finally, we’re also not taking rookie-scale contracts into consideration (which are solely given to first-round selections) because if we did, most of the bargain deals on our list would belong to rookies.
Without further ado, we present the most valuable contract on every single NBA team.
Quietly, Luke Babbitt has had excellent back-to-back campaigns.
Over the past two seasons, among players who have attempted at least 250 three-pointers, the Atlanta Hawks forward boasts the league’s seventh-most accurate conversion rate, nailing an impressive 42.6 percent of his opportunities. For the record, that’s a better clip than other sharpshooters such as Curry, JJ Redick and Ryan Anderson.
Considering his expiring contract, Babbitt would make a welcome addition on any team’s payroll, as he has a defined role and plays to his strengths quite well. Teams in playoff contention would be savvy to attempt acquiring the seven-year vet before the trade deadline, and rescue him from the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.
Though the worth of Kyrie Irving‘s deal is greater than most everyone else’s on this list, it should still be considered valuable for one reason: Having a 25-year-old with championship experience, who is just now hitting his prime, signed for the long haul is something every franchise covets.
Irving’s contract may be huge but it’s also not as constricting as the “super-maxes” that some of his peers are signed to, either.
Furthermore, it should be noted the Duke product is taking his game to another level this season, meshing wonderfully with Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who has the ball-handling wizard performing at an MVP level.
Any team would make the room to acquire Irving on their roster, and that’s what makes his contract so valuable.
It’s almost unfathomable the Chicago Bulls didn’t think Spencer Dinwiddie should be a part of their long-term plans. They landed the 6-foot-6 point guard through a trade with the Detroit Pistons, and then signed and waived him twice before deciding to ultimately move on for good.
Their loss was the Brooklyn Nets’ gain, however, as Dinwiddie has blossomed into an excellent floor general under head coach Kenny Atkinson.
Non-guaranteed for 2018-19, the Colorado product’s contract isn’t just the most valuable on the Nets – it could even be argued it’s one of the best value deals in the entire league.
Especially if he continues improving on his present trajectory, which currently has him putting up 12.5 points and 6.2 assists per night.
In today’s NBA landscape, the average starter is earning between $10-$12 million per year.
To have Kemba Walker signed to a deal with an annual average salary of just $12 million is an absolute bargain. Any team would kill to have the explosive floor general on their payroll at such a reasonable price, and credit is due to the masterful work done by Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho, who pulled off this great heist.
Over the past two seasons, Walker has performed at an All-Star pace; thus far in 2017-18, he’s averaging 22.7 points and a career-high 6.3 assists per contest. And considering Walker is still just 27 years old, his play could eventually hit an even higher plane.
Slow-footed centers with limited range are nowhere near as important as they used to be. And yet, Robin Lopez is still our choice here, as Chicago simply lacks any non-rookie contracts that could be considered valuable.
Lopez is a fine player, who is currently putting up a career-best 13.2 points per game, along with 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
On a great team, he would be an excellent backup big man. It’s entirely plausible if his contract weren’t so hefty, we would see playoff contenders angling to acquire him to bolster their depth. But his contract is that hefty, and as such, he’ll likely finish it out as a member of the Bulls.
A former NBA Finals MVP and future Hall of Famer, Dwyane Wade has adapted beautifully to life off the bench.
Since moving into a reserve role, the combo guard has averaged 12.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per outing. For good measure, he’s also chipping in 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks as well.
The main concern regarding Wade joining the Cleveland Cavaliers revolved around what his role would be. If the legendary scorer was going to be stubborn about starting and boasting a high usage rate, things could have gotten ugly.
But Wade, showing great selflessness, realized he’d help his team most by playing the role of backup point guard, and he’s absolutely thrived since leaving starting lineup.
Now, his contract looks like one of the biggest steals of the offseason.
Although Seth Curry has missed the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign with a stress fracture in his leg, he’s expected back soon, which gives him his spot back as the Dallas Mavericks’ most valuable contract. (Dirk Nowitzki was also in the running, but his no-trade clause eliminates him from this exercise.)
Curry broke out last season by shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc, while averaging 12.8 points and 2.1 assists per night.
He’d be an excellent piece on any team – primarily as a reserve, though he did perform admirably in 40 starts last season – and on such a cheap deal, the Mavs have themselves quite the asset.
With a club option on the final year of his contract (2018-19), Nikola Jokic qualifies for our exercise because he was a second-round pick, for which there are no rookie scales as there are for first rounders.
Since the start of 2016-17, the seven-footer is averaging 16.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
With numbers that impressive on such an obscenely affordable contract, one could easily call Jokic the most valuable asset in the league.
At an annual average salary of $8 million per year, Avery Bradley’s deal is one of the best in basketball.
An excellent two-way guard, the only reason he wouldn’t have made our list is due to this being the final year of his contract, making it just a little less valuable for the Detroit Pistons.
However, because Detroit owns his Bird Rights, they can exceed the cap to bring him back – something they’ll be happy to do, as Bradley is averaging 15.6 points, 1.8 triples and 1.4 steals per contest on the season.
Golden State Warriors
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green claims he slept-walked through early portions of this season.
Can’t really blame him, since the Michigan State product, along with the rest of the Golden State Warriors, were coming off an emotional championship run, and have played deep into June each of the past three campaigns.
Even so, Green is still functioning as the engine that makes the Warriors go on both ends. The six-year vet is posting averages of 10.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per night, dominating teams using a freakish blend of distributing point-stopping abilities.
When you further consider Green is the Warriors’ fourth-highest paid player by annual average salary, it’s clear he provides Golden State with the most value for their dollar.
In hindsight, it’s insane the Houston Rockets were able to land Luc Mbah a Moute on such a steal of a contract.
Sure, his raw statistics throughout his career have never been the most impressive. But it is common knowledge that Mbah a Moute has always been a top-notch defender – one who, more often than not, makes teams better when he’s in the game.
Add in the fact that the veteran forward converted 39.1 percent of his three-point attempts last season, and you have all the signs of an elite complementary piece.
Mbah a Moute has been just that and then some for Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni this season. He’s hitting 40.4 of his shots from beyond the arc, and when he’s on the floor, Houston outscores their opponents by 6.7 points per 100 possessions.
Role player-wise, Mbah a Moute may be the most valuable asset in the entire NBA at the moment.
After the Washington Wizards withdrew their qualifying offer for Bojan Bogdanovic, the Indiana Pacers moved quickly to sign the Croatian wing.
They did so on a modest contract, one that spans two seasons – the second of which is only guaranteed for $1.5 million.
Bogdanovic has handsomely rewarded the Pacers for their leap of faith, as he’s currently enjoying his best season.
Indiana’s sharpshooter is converting a career-high 44.5 percent of his three-pointers (the fifth-best mark among players with at least 100 attempts from deep) while scoring a career-best 15.0 points per game.
With an annual average salary of $10.5 million and a minimal guarantee on the second year of his deal, Bogdanovic is completely outperforming his contract.
(Glenn Robinson III gets an honorable mention here. The young two-way wing with an improving three-point stroke, Robinson is certainly better than the minimum contract he’s currently signed to.)
Los Angeles Clippers
Tough choice here between Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley, but the injury to the latter helped make the decision for us.
Williams, at 31 years old, is still the league’s premiere bench scorer. With averages of 18.9 points, 2.3 triples and 4.4 assists per night, and a career-high effective field-goal percentage of 53.1 percent, the Clippers guard is seemingly only getting better with age.
Considering he’s on the last year of his deal, and with whatever team he’s on next becoming owners of his Bird Rights, Williams is one of the highest-value assets in the league.
Because the Los Angeles Clippers have suffered a plethora of injuries which have greatly hampered their odds of reaching the playoffs, don’t be surprised to see Williams switch teams again before the trade deadline.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers don’t own Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s Bird Rights, and his deal – which isn’t that cheap to begin with – is expiring. Overall, of all the contracts on our list, this is arguably the “least” valuable.
Regardless, the Lakers are set up nicely for the future with plenty of young studs, like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle, still on rookie-scale deals.
Plus, Caldwell-Pope has been decent enough, averaging 13.7 points and hitting 35.5 percent of his threes while excelling on the less glamorous side of the ball, so it’s not like he’s a bad asset, per se.
He’s just not a great one.
Like Caldwell-Pope and the Lakers, Tyreke Evans‘ contract is expiring and the Memphis Grizzlies don’t own his Bird Rights, which hinders how valuable his deal really is.
Even so, it’s insane to have someone signed to a bi-annual exception making $3.3 million over one year functioning as a team’s best player, but that’s exactly the case with Evans and the Grizzlies.
The Memphis product is putting up 17.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest, while finally starting to resemble his rookie-year self, when Evans appeared destined for stardom.
He’s not quite there yet, but any team would love to have him at his current prince on their roster.
Similarly to Williams, don’t be shocked to see the Grizzlies find a suitor for Evans around the trade deadline, since they are starting to look more and more like a team that won’t qualify for the postseason.
The Miami Heat signed Josh Richardson to a four-year, $42 million extension just before the start of this season. That extension doesn’t kick in until 2018-19 so technically, the 6-foot-6 wing is still on his three-year, $2.4 million rookie deal.
Nevertheless, Richardson was a second-round pick like Jokic, so his contract wasn’t tied down by the rookie-scale parameters of former first-round selections.
Although the third-year swingman has gotten off to an ice-cold start offensively this season (Richardson is shooting 40.0 percent from the floor through 23 games), he still leads the team in minutes per game.
His defensive capabilities are among the league’s best. Richardson jumps passing lanes, blocks shots, is impossible to post up, and can even switch onto bigger players without getting abused.
Miami just needs to hope his shot starts falling eventually, because if it does, a $10.5 million annual average salary for a 3-and-D role player of Richardson’s caliber would be quite the steal.
Although Khris Middleton’s deal isn’t the cheapest, his salary falls from $14.1 million this season to $13.0 million next year, and he has a player option on the final year of his deal in 2019-20.
If he opts in, the Milwaukee Bucks will owe him $13.0 million that season. If he doesn’t – which appears likely with how well he’s playing – he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.
Thus far this season, Middleton is averaging a career-high 19.5 points per game, along with 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.4 steals. Only three other players are averaging at least 19.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals in 2017-18: Giannis Antetokonoumpo, DeMarcus Cousins and Russell Westbrook.
Not bad company for Middleton, who’s on a far cheaper contract than any of those All-NBA talents.
Before going down with injury, Nemanja Bjelica was one of the league’s top three-point shooters.
The Minnesota Timberwolves forward sank an obscene 51.2 percent of his triples over his first 18 games, the second-best rate among players with over 35 attempts on the year.
With an annual average salary of $3.9 million, Bjelica’s deal is quite the bargain for a player with such a well-defined – and important – role.
New Orleans Pelicans
By far the biggest the biggest contract on our list, Anthony Davis is so damn good that his deal still holds a ton of value.
Signed to a max contract by the New Orleans Pelicans prior to 2016-17, i.e. before the super-max came into existence, Davis’ deal – large as it is – could be a steal a few seasons down the road.
The Kentucky product is somewhat inexplicably still just 24 years old, and the Pelicans have him locked up through 2020-21, his age-27 campaign.
Davis is arguably the league’s best big man, who can score at an elite rate, gobble up boards and protect the paint. And though injuries will always be a risk with him, any team would take that risk in a heartbeat if they could.
New York Knicks
A rugged rim protector and rebounder who can score just enough to make opponents respect him, Kyle O’Quinn is on a great deal for a rotational piece.
The New York Knicks are getting outscored by 0.4 points per 100 possessions on the season. However, with O’Quinn in the game, they completely flip the script by outscoring opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions.
Does that mean O’Quinn should be playing more than 16.4 minutes per night? Probably, but that’s a conversation for another time.
As is, he’s one of the better value deals in the Eastern Conference.
Oklahoma City Thunder
After spending the majority of last season deployed at small forward, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan finally came to his senses and moved Jerami Grant to almost exclusively playing power forward in 2017-18.
And the results have been fantastic.
Averaging 8.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest, Grant is starting to take the next step in his career, turning into a legitimately productive energy big.
Though it’s the last year of his contract, the Thunder own Grant’s Bird Rights, so he’ll likely be staying in Oklahoma City for the long term, provided he maintains this level of play.
A blossoming two-way swingman, Jonathon Simmons is looking like one of the steals of the offseason.
Signed to a deal with a $6.7 million annual average salary, Simmons is shattering his career marks in points (14.2), rebounds (3.1) and triples (0.9) per contest, while maintaining his status as one of the toughest defensive guards in the league.
What’s more, the last year of Simmons’ deal (2019-20) is partially guaranteed for just $1 million, making the contract as a whole even more valuable.
As soon as the CBA allowed for it, the Philadelphia 76ers came to terms with Robert Covington on an extension to stay with the franchise for the long haul.
But even with the extension, Covington is still one of the best bargains in the league.
Few players can touch his prowess as a 3-and-D stud, as the fifth-year pro is one of just four men averaging over 3.0 triples and 1.5 takeaways per contest in 2017-18.
The other three are decidedly not role players, but rather superstars who go by the name of Curry, James Harden and Paul George.
Covington isn’t solely a pristine fit with the Sixers; he would have a huge role on any team, even the likes of the Warriors and Cavaliers, thanks to his point-stopping, three-point-converting abilities.
This spot would have easily gone to Alan Williams if not for the torn meniscus he suffered just before the start of 2017-18.
So, instead, it’ll go to Troy Daniels, the Phoenix Suns’ underrated three-point assassin.
Not only is Daniels’ deal cheap, but the Suns – or whichever team trades for him – will own his Bird Rights when his free agency rolls around, making it quite the valuable asset.
A career 41.0 percent three-point shooter who’s making a ridiculous 43.4 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this season, hopefully we get to see Daniels on a contender once the playoffs roll around.
Portland Trail Blazers
An annual average salary of $7.5 million for a starter-level talent is an absolute bargain in today’s market, and for that reason, Al-Farouq Aminu’s contract is the best value on the Portland Trail Blazers.
Over the past three seasons, Aminu is knocking down a healthy 35.7 percent of his triples, while averaging 9.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 0.9 steals per contest.
His numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s an excellent wing defender who really helps Portland on the glass and makes the team better when he’s on the floor.
Don’t believe me?
Well, as proof, we can point to the Blazers outscoring opponents by 13.4 points per 100 possessions with Aminu in the game this season – a downright Curry-like mark.
The Wake Forest product has blossomed into quite the serviceable player, on a very reasonable deal.
Factoring in age, potential and current play, Bogdan Bogdanovic easily earns the spot as the Sacramento Kings’ best contract.
The 25-year-old rookie is putting up 9.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest on respectable shooting splits of 44.9/33.3/83.9.
If the Serbian shooting guard has any sort of upward trajectory over the coming years, his deal will look like an even bigger bargain.
San Antonio Spurs
A former Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard took his game to another level last season by also turning into an elite scorer.
The freakish wing averaged 25.5 points per night in 2016-17, leading the San Antonio Spurs to a 61-21 record along the way.
And although he hasn’t played yet this year due to a worrisome quad injury, Leonard is expected back sooner rather than later, meaning we can go back to calling his huge contract a bargain.
Any team would happily take the “burden” of Leonard’s $18.9 million annual average salary onto their books, because paying a transcendent talent anything under the super-max these days is a steal.
A three-point sniper with a load of playoff experience, CJ Miles would find a role with any team thanks to his ability to space the floor from deep.
Add in the fact he’s making about $8.3 million per year over the next three seasons and you have the makings of a very valuable asset.
Though Miles will be 33 during the last year of his contract, his game should age gracefully considering he’s never been the most athletic player to begin with. He’ll just continue to knock down contested three after contested three, and open up room for your key players to operate inside, no matter how old he gets.
As far as scoring is concerned, Thabo Sefolosha is having a career year with the Utah Jazz.
But scoring doesn’t really matter to the 33-year-old; it’s what he does on the other end that’s made him such a mainstay in the league – and why he’s carved out such a nice role with Utah.
With Sefolosha in the game, the Jazz are outscoring opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions – while their defense allows 7.2 fewer points per 100 possessions than when he’s on the bench.
Even at his advanced age, the Swiss wing is still one of the NBA’s top 3-and-D role players. This season, only four other men (with a minimum of 50 three-point attempts) can match Sefolosha’s 41.1 percent rate from beyond the arc, along with his 1.4 nightly takeaways: Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo, Jeff Teague and Gary Harris.
Impressive stuff for the wily old vet to still be keeping up with some of the league’s best two-way players. And on such a cheap deal, he’s been quite the find for Utah.
As we’ve stated, having a starter earning anything less than $10 million per year is a bargain in today’s market. And that’s exactly what the Wizards have in Markieff Morris, whose annual average salary amounts to $8 million.
Though he has some baggage and is coming off an injury, Morris is still a serviceable player as a fourth option, who can score effectively and defend aptly.
With how much money Washington is dolling out to their stars John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, all of whom are on max contracts, they’re buoyed by the fact their other two starters, Morris and Marcin Gortat, earn a combined $20 million per year while nicely filling important roles on the team.
Morris has another year left on his deal after this one and the Wizards own his Bird Rights, making Morris’ contract quietly one of the best bargains league-wide.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
HoopsHype’s own Alberto De Roa contributed to this article.