Every season, there are a number of players who outplay their contracts.
Today, we're going to show some love to a group of players who are doing just that so far this season with the All-Underpaid Team.
There's a number of directions this exercise can go depending on various factors, namely how you evaluate players and what you consider underpaid to be. With that in mind, I set a few rules for myself while perusing through Basketball Reference's 2021-22 NBA player contracts page in search of the league's most underpaid players.
- The team has to include a starting point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center, plus a sixth man at any position.
- Players on rookie-scale contracts aren't eligible. That means no Zion Williamson, LaMelo Ball, Ja Morant etc. Otherwise, this exercise becomes too easy.
- The team should include players on different types of contracts. Again, this exercise would otherwise become too easy because you could assemble quite the team of players on minimum contracts right now. Also, it helps add some variety.
- This is about a player's salary this season, not the length of their entire deal.
Got it? Great. Onto the All-Underpaid Team...
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The NBA's All-Underpaid Team
PG: Dennis Schroder, Celtics
2021-22 salary: $5.9 million
This was perhaps the best bargain deal of the offseason.
In 2019-20, Schroder finished second to Montrezl Harrell in Sixth Man of the Year voting. He played well but didn't quite live up to expectations in his one and only season with the Lakers, resulting in him not getting the payday he once seemed destined for in free agency and signing a prove-it deal with the Celtics.
The kicker is Schroder's time with the Celtics could be short-lived as he'll be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, but that doesn't prevent him from cracking this list.
SG: Seth Curry, 76ers
2021-22 salary: $8.2 million
This is pretty simple: 3-point shooting comes at a premium today and Curry is one of the most accurate 3-point shooters in the league today.
Actually, scratch that, Curry is one of the most accurate 3-point shooters in league history.
Through eight seasons of his career, Curry has made 44.2 percent of his 3-point attempts, ranking him second to only Steve Kerr (45.4 percent) for the highest career 3-point percentage of all time - and that's come on real volume as well. Curry's averaging 4.2 3-point attempts per game in his career, accounting for over half of his field goal attempts.
Not bad for an undrafted player, huh?
Curry's having a down year by his standards and he's still connecting on 41.1 percent of his 3-point opportunities. Plus, he's taken on more offensive responsibility with Ben Simmons being out of the lineup and both Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid missing extended time, bumping his field goal attempts (11.7), 3-point attempts (5.4), free throw attempts (2.4) and scoring average (16.2) to career highs.
As NBA.com's Benyam Kidane recently wrote, Seth is much, much more than Steph's younger brother.
SF: Luguentz Dort, Thunder
2021-22 salary: $1.8 million
The captain of this season's All-Underpaid Team.
Undrafted in 2019, Dort first joined the Thunder on a two-way contract. He worked his way into the Thunder's starting lineup in the second half of his rookie season and eventually signed a four-year, $5.4 million contract, the last season of which is a team option.
It didn't take long for that deal to look like a heist.
Not only has Dort quickly established himself as one of the league's most feared perimeter defenders (they call it the "Dorture Chamber" for a reason), but he continues to expand his game offensively. We're not even halfway through the season and he already has nine 20-point games. In the first two seasons of his career combined, he had 10 such games.
He still has plenty of room to improve, but Dort is already someone who could fit on just about any team in the league.
PF: OG Anunoby, Raptors
2021-22 salary: $16.1 million
The four-year, $72 million extension Anunoby signed in 2020 only looks better with time.
Anunoby has proven himself to be a valuable role player on the strength of his ball-hawking defence alone. (Few players are as versatile as he is on that end of the court and he can be incredibly disruptive with his long arms.) It's taken him some time to develop on the other end of the court, but he's proven himself to be a reliable 3-point shooter who adds something new to his game every season.
He's only appeared in 15 games this season, but Anunoby was looking like a Most Improved Player candidate before he went down with a hip injury with career-high averages of 20.1 points and 2.7 assists per game.
Anunoby's deal is looking like one of the better extensions given to players from the last few draft classes - assuming, of course, he can stay healthy.
MORE: There's much more to Anunoby's improvement than the numbers
C: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
2021-22 salary: $30.5 million
According to Basketball-Reference, there are - wait for it - 29 players who will make more money than the reigning MVP this season, a list that includes Kevin Love, Andrew Wiggins, Tobias Harris and John Wall. The crazy part? Jokic is only on the books for $32.5 million next season.
You probably don't need me to tell you how ridiculously good Jokic is at basketball. (If you do, click here, here, here, here or here.) Safe to assume he will be making a lot more on his next contract.
Sixth Man: Alex Caruso, Bulls
2021-22 salary: $8.6 million
The four-year, $37.0 million deal Caruso signed with the Bulls in the offseason seemed fair at the time, but he's looking like a Sixth Man of the Year and All-Defensive Team candidate with his early-season play. Defensively, he guards pretty much everyone while picking up steals and deflections at a rate few can match. Offensively, his 3-point shooting has taken a hit, but he does all the little things - well-timed cuts, extra passes, chasing down loose balls - that make a difference.
Every team could use an Alex Caruso.
Honourable mentions: Zach LaVine, Bulls ($19.5 million); Patty Mills, Nets ($5.9 million); Bobby Portis, Milwaukee Bucks ($4.3 million); LaMarcus Aldridge, Nets ($2.6 million); Andre Drummond, 76ers ($2.4 million); Carmelo Anthony, Lakers ($2.6 million); Jalen Brunson, Mavericks ($1.8 million)
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