NBA's best bargains this season

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By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network

There are players in the NBA that are making more than $2 million this season and playing less than 15 minutes a game. Let that sink in. You could be playing professional basketball for about 1,000 total minutes in the span of a six-month season and be a millionaire.

Who should feel worse, us regular schlubs or the NBA players that earn about the same, or even less, but are actually having an impact for their team?

It's a good feeling when there's a player on your team outperforming his salary. It feels like you're getting away with something. This season has seen a lot of these All-Bargain players, but for the sake of brevity this list has been whittled down to five. You won't see any players on rookie contracts either, because it's obvious that players like Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler and Andre Drummond deserve to be paid more than what they're currently getting.

Rasual Butler -- Washington Wizards
What the Wizards are paying him this season: $1,448,490
Which is less than: Bruno Caboclo

Butler has a pretty sweet job. He gets to stand behind the three-point line waiting for his defender to leave him to help whenever John Wall bolts to the basket and shoot wide-open shots whenever Wall kicks it out to him.

It's pretty monochromatic, but the one thing Butler is asked to do he's done it extremely well. The 35-year-old journeyman in his 12th season is shooting a career-best 46.5 percent from deep. Only four players in the NBA are shooting over 46 percent and averaging at least three attempts from long range. Kyle Korver, Kevin Martin (whose only played nine games), Bradley Beal, and Butler.

Butler is in a bit of a slump, as he's gone just three-of-14 from deep in his last four games, but even without the main weapon in his arsenal he's found ways to contribute. Butler scored at least seven points in all but one of those four games and pulled down three rebounds in all four.

That might not take your breath away, but there are far less productive players making far more money.

Josh Smith -- Houston Rockets
What the Rockets are paying him this season: $2,077,000
Which is less than: Brendan Haywood

This comes with an asterisk. Smith was still playing out his four-year, $42 million guaranteed contract with the Pistons when they waived him earlier this season. Smith cleared waivers and Houston was able to sign him with its biannual exception while Detroit is still on the hook for $14 million this season.

So judging by what he's making in total this season, Smith is far from a bargain. However, from Houston's perspective, only having to pay Smith $2 million is an absolute steal.

Smith leads the bench unit for the Rockets, which was previously a glaring weakness for this team, as a proven scorer and as someone you wouldn't want your second- and third-units trying to contain.

In all truthfulness, it hasn't been pretty since Smith landed in Houston. He is shooting even more three-pointers with the Rockets than he did with the Pistons this season, and somehow he's found a way to shoot an even worse percentage. At the free-throw line Smith is comically bad, though the only person who might find this amusing is Dwight Howard because now he's not the worst free-throw shooter on the team anymore.

But for all the bad that comes with Smith, there's also things he can do that no one else making $2 million this season can do. He fills up the box score like few in the league can, and at least once per week Smith has one of those games where he does it all. In his first game with his new team, Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists. He also scored 21, grabbed six boards, and added a couple of assists and three steals against Chicago on January 5. He's got more games like that but there's only so much space in this paragraph.

Reggie Evans -- Sacramento Kings
What the Kings are paying him this season: $1,768,653
Which is less than: Jeff Ayres

The book is out on Evans, everyone and their grandma knows this 34-year-old's bread-and-butter. He gets you rebounds. Even at his advanced age and his disadvantageous height of 6-foot-8, he's still getting it done.

His minutes are up-and-down this season depending on the availability of Carl Landry and Ryan Hollins, but when Evans sees time on the court he does work. Per 36 minutes, Evans averages more total rebounds than teammate DeMarcus Cousins as well as premier centers like Andrew Bogut and Dwight Howard, per basketball-reference.com.

Evans has even started games when Sacramento had their frontcourt depleted by injuries. In his five starts this season he's averaging 6.8 points and 10.6 rebounds. Not bad at all for someone nobody expected to see start even one game.

His most impressive game this season didn't even come from one of his starts. Against the Memphis Grizzlies back in November, Evans played 35 minutes off the bench, scoring 17 and gobbling up 20 rebounds. In a league where teams regularly overpay for big men that can rebound it's ironic that one of the league's best rebounders is being paid less than a lot of rookies.

Ed Davis -- Los Angeles Lakers
What the Lakers are paying him this season: $981,084
Which is less than: John Salmons

The 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft had an unspectacular start to his career in Toronto. By his third year he was averaging just under 10 points and seven rebounds with the Raptors before being shipped away to Memphis as a part of the "Rudy Gay to Toronto" three-team trade between the Raptors, Grizzlies and Pistons.

In Memphis, his minutes were slashed and he only started eight games of the 99 he played there. Predictably, his numbers ebbed and so did his value.

Good news for the Lakers. They were able to buy very low on Davis and they've gotten a pretty good return. After promising rookie Julius Randle went down in the first game of the season with a broken leg, the Lakers' front court comprised of Davis, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre.

The starting center spot was Hill's from the beginning, but it wasn't long before Davis supplanted Boozer to become his frontcourt mate. Davis is averaging over 24 minutes a game now, the most since he was a Raptor, and shooting over 61 percent from the floor.

Of course Davis is only getting this big of an opportunity because the Lakers are a terrible team and lack talent so desperately that they actually rely on Davis to play big minutes, but he's been a nice story nonetheless. He's got three double-doubles this season, which speaks to how absurd it is that a big man who is not a total liability on offense nor on the glass is being paid less than $1 million and hopefully that will change in the offseason.


Hassan Whiteside -- Miami Heat
What the Heat are paying him this season: $769,881
Which is less than: Pretty much everybody

The story of Whiteside just proves that perseverance pays off. The last time Whiteside played in an NBA game prior to this season was at the end of the 2011-12 campaign with Sacramento. In that time he was waived by the Kings, signed by the Grizzlies, waived by the Grizzlies, signed by the Grizzlies again to be waived a day later, signed by the Heat last November, then assigned to and recalled from the D-League in December before seeing meaningful playing time again.

Then, on December 19, with Chris Bosh sitting with a calf injury, Whiteside played 16 minutes, scoring six points and leading the team with seven rebounds. He got his foot in the door, and since December 27 he's seen consistent steady minutes off the bench and he's been terrific.

Starting from the game against the Grizzlies on December 27, Whiteside is averaging 10.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and a remarkable 2.8 blocks per game on 21.4 minutes a night. He's been a brilliant spark plug on both ends of the floor for a team that could use more of those. The Heat are dead last in the league in number of possessions per 48 minutes and their offensive and defensive ratings are nothing to write home about.

Whiteside was rewarded with his first start in his NBA career against the Warriors on January 14, and he responded with 10 points on 50 percent shooting, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

Miami has been racked by injuries all season and they're off to a mildly disappointing 18-22 start, but their lone bright spot has been one of the best stories of the season and certainly one nobody could have seen coming.


Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo
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