Superstars are crucial to bringing home a championship, but they come at a price. Scan the salaries of the top players in the league, and you’ll see they’re all maxed out at over $40 million per year. The best athletes are worth it, but they can’t do it alone.
NBA GMs make their names on the top-shelf talent they bring home, but the best of the best understand how to fill out a roster with role players who outperform their contracts. Value deals can be the difference between an early trip home or a march to the top of the mountain.
We used only one guideline when determining our top-10 list of value contracts:
No players are making over $5 million this year in our rankings.
Below are our top-10 2021-2022 value contracts.
10. Otto Porter Jr.
$2,389,641 in 2021-2022
Otto Porter Jr. came into the league in 2013 as the number three pick in the draft. He never lived up to the massive expectations heaped onto a top-5 selection, bouncing from Washington to Chicago to Orlando before Warriors GM Bob Meyers scooped him up on a one-year, prove it deal.
Porter Jr. has proved it.
He’s put his ego aside for the good of the team. He takes only 6.6 shots per game, focusing on spreading the floor for his teammates with his three-point stroke instead of attacking the rim. Porter Jr. scores 1.15 points per possession on spot-up looks, good for the 83rd percentile in the league, helping launch the Warriors into the top-10 in offensive rating by giving guys like Stephen Curry or Jordan Poole room to maneuver in the half-court.
Otto Porter Jr. uses his 6-8 length to harass opposing wings on defense. Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr often tasks the former Georgetown star with covering the best player on the court when he enters the game for Andrew Wiggins, and he’s done his job well, holding his man to a solid 46.4 percent clip from the field. Porter Jr. has been more than just an excellent on-ball defender in 2021-2022; he’s been a disruptor as well, landing in the 87th percentile in steal rate at 2.4%.
9. Carmelo Anthony
$2,641,691 in 2021-2022
If you’re an NBA fan, you know Carmelo’s story. He came into the league with the Denver Nuggets and found playoff success with head coach George Karl but never made it to the finals. He demanded a trade to New York, hoping to bring home a banner to his hometown Knicks, but struggled. At age 34, he fell out of the league because no team wanted to pick up an aging offensive black hole who didn’t play D. Houston took a chance at the end of 2019, then Portland signed him for two strong years. Now Anthony finds himself on the Lakers as a reinvented spot-up shooter who helps create room for Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis.
Carmelo Anthony is taking over half his shots from deep this season, where he’s connecting on a solid 38.9% of his bombs. He’s also been a handful in the midrange, nailing 47.6% of his attempts from 16 feet to the three-point line, giving the Purple and Gold an isolation outlet in the half-court when LBJ rests.
Lakers fans love Anthony’s three-point stroke, cheering every time he launches from deep, but they’ve formed a deep-hearted romance with his hustle on the less fun end. The former number three pick hasn’t tried on D in what seems like forever, that is, until this year. Now Anthony is going 100% on defense and is taking pride in shutting down opposing players. Overall, he’s forcing his assignments to shoot 2.2% worse than their normal average, and he’s in the 75th percentile in block rate this season at 2.6%.
8. JaVale McGee
$5,000,000 in 2021-2022
The all-encompassing advanced stats love JaVale McGee.
Here’s a breakdown:
Dunks and Threes estimated plus/minus rates McGee in the 96th percentile in the NBA at +4.5 points per 100 possessions over an average player.
NBA.com’s player impact estimate places him 10th in the league (minimum 15 minutes per game) with a 17.1 rating.
Basketball-Reference gives JaVale McGee a +18 net rating.
JaVale McGee gives the Phoenix Suns excellent rim protection when their starting center Deandre Ayton rests, which is a luxury only a couple of teams in the league have. McGee, 33, is long and bouncy. He has a 4.6% block rate (96th percentile), and he’s a solid one-on-one defender against other big men. Overall, he’s the best backup defensive center in the league.
On offense, Suns head coach Monty Williams probably hasn’t called a single play for McGee this season, yet he still averages 10.2 points per game off lobs from CP3, rim runs, and by crashing the offensive boards. He’s proven the perfect complement to Chris Paul and Devin Booker by consistently diving to the rack and making opposing defenses pick their poison.
JaVale McGee would rank higher on our list, but he only averages 16 minutes per game, not enough time on the court to make a huge impact.
7. Keldon Johnson
$2,145,720 in 2021-2022
Keldon Johnson was drafted 29th overall in 2019 by the Spurs. Perhaps head coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford saw a little Kawhi Leonard in the Kentucky forward. Or maybe the Spurs worked some of their magic on him. Who knows.
What we do know is that Johnson is exceeding his near-minimum contract in a big way. The third-year wing averages 14.7 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per contest while shooting 44.1% from distance off 3.5 attempts nightly. Johnson has an excellent outside stroke, but he’s more than a catch-and-shoot specialist. He averages 8.1 drives per game, and he’s connecting on a solid 42.4% of his rim attacks.
On the less fun end, Keldon Johnson has the size at 6-5, 220 pounds to be a top-notch ballhawk in the league. Gregg Popovich routinely puts Johnson on the opposing squad’s best perimeter option, but he’s still holding his assignments to 2.2% under their typical shooting average. Johnson has a solid motor as well. He averages 1.07 miles run on defense per game, second on the team, showing that he doesn’t simply cover his man, but rushes across the floor, closing out on open three-point shooters and harassing players in the midrange.
6. Grayson Allen
$4,054,695 in 2021-2022
Grayson Allen is on a back-loaded three-year deal. Next season, he’ll earn a little over $9.6 million, and the following year, he’ll make over $10 million. For this season, Allen is making a minuscule $4 million, making him one of the best values in the league.
Allen is an excellent three-point specialist. He takes over ⅔ of his field-goal attempts from deep, hitting at a 38.9% clip. The shooting numbers love him. He connects on 1.29 points per possession on spot-up looks, good for the 94th percentile. He also has an excellent 56.7 effective field goal percentage on his 5.6 catch and shoot opportunities per game. Going deeper, Allen plays a mistake-free brand of basketball, with a 6% turnover rate (95th percentile), which means he’s the perfect floor-spacing wing for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Grayson Allen came out of Duke with a reputation as a soft defensive specialist, and through his first three seasons in the league, that was mostly true. Not this year. Head coach Mike Budenholzer rarely charges Allen with stopping the opposing squad’s top perimeter option. Still, he doesn’t need to hide him on the weakest perimeter option either. Allen clocks in with a 41.8 defensive field goal percentage, one of the top marks on Milwaukee. He’s also getting after it on the less glamorous side, contesting 6.2 shots per game along with 1.4 deflections nightly as he covers 1.02 defensive miles per contest, good for third on the Bucks.
5. Malik Monk
$1,789,256 in 2021-2022
Malik Monk played well last season for the Charlotte Hornets averaging 11.7 points per game off 40.1% from distance but received little interest in free agency during the offseason. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka swooped in and signed the Kentucky product to a minimum deal, which is turning out to be one of the best values in the league.
Malik Monk began the season slowly, but since being inserted as a starter eight games ago, he’s averaging 20.3 PPG while shooting 50.8% from deep, forming an instant synergy with LeBron James and helping propel the Lakers to a 5-3 record over that time. For the year, Malik Monk has played an efficient James Harden style of modern basketball, taking nearly 80% of his shots at the rim, where he finishes a monster 73.2% of his shots, or from a three-point distance where he is connecting on 39.6% of his attempts. Overall, he’s averaging 12.0 PPG with a hyper-efficient 58.5 effective field goal percentage, providing the Purple and Gold with a much needed bargain-basement offensive punch.
If you’re an NBA fan, you already knew Malik Monk could get buckets, but he’s going hard on defense for the first time in his career this season. Last year in Charlotte, Monk mainly was horrible on the less fun end, ending things with a 49.8 defensive field goal percentage and allowing his assignments to shoot 4.3% better than their average rate. Fast forward to this season, and he has a 42.8 defensive field goal percentage, a full seven points lower than last year. Monk at 6-3 doesn’t have the size to be a lockdown wing, but he’s holding his own against some of the top offensive weapons in the league, which has helped push his +/- rating into the stratosphere. In 2021-2022, the Lakers are +8.2 points per 100 possessions with Monk on the court, good for the 86th percentile out of all NBA guards.
4. Bobby Portis
$4,347,600 in 2021-2022
Bobby Portis is giving the Milwaukee Bucks top-flight center minutes for a little over $4 million this season. Compare his numbers to some of the other top starting 5’s in the Eastern Conference versus their salaries:
- Bobby Portis: 15.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 42.8 3P%, 3.1 WS, 42.1 DFG%, $4.3 million salary
- Joel Embiid: 27.0 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 38.5 3P%, 4.6 WS, 49.0 DFG%, $31.5 million salary
- Domantas Sabonis: 19.1 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 32.3 3P%, 5.7 WS, 47.4 DFG%, $18.5 million salary
- Julius Randle: 19.0 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 31.2 3P%, 1.7 WS, 41.3 DFG%, $20 million salary
- Bam Adebayo: 18.7 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 0.0 3P%, 1.8 WS, 42.8 DFG%, $28 million salary
- Jarrett Allen: 16.9 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 12.5 3P%, 5.9 WS, 41.3 DFG%, $20 million salary
Is Bobby Portis the best center in the Eastern Conference?
No, of course not. Joel Embiid is a fringe MVP candidate. Sabonis is one of the most skilled big men in the league. Adebayo is a switchable center who can harass all five position players on the court, and Jarrett Allen has an argument as the best defensive center in the league.
Still, Portis’s numbers compare favorably to the best 5’s in the East. He has the second-best defensive field goal percentage in the bunch and easily outshoots every other starting big man from beyond the arc. The most significant difference in their slash lines is Portis’s salary compared to his peers. He takes home a fraction of what the other starting centers make.
Bobby Portis is one of the best bargains in the league. He spreads the floor, protects the rim, and moves his feet well on defensive switches. The Arkansas native has one year left on his deal, and then he’s going to get paid, so the Bucks should enjoy him while they can.
3. Jalen Brunson
$1,802,057 in 2021-2022
You aren’t alone if you didn’t know who Jalen Brunson was before the season began. Now everyone knows about the 33rd overall pick in the 2018 draft.
Brunson is special on offense. He has a knack for getting into the lane and finishing strong at the rim. He also has a solid midrange pop game when his driving lanes are cut off. Overall, he has strong shooting numbers across every level:
0-3 feet: 75.9%
3-10 feet: 51.9%
10-16 feet: 50.0%
16 feet-3 point line: 44.9%
Brunson isn’t just a vacuum scorer; he’s proven this year he’s a playmaker as well, with an average of 12.2 potential assists per game to go along with 15.2 assist points created.
Brunson is in the last year of his contract and showed his worth when superstar Luka Doncic missed time earlier this season, leading the Dallas Mavericks to a plus .500 record.
Jalen Brunson is good enough to be a starting point guard in this league. In fact, if you ask Lakers fans who they’d prefer at the 1, Brunson or Westbrook, the majority would say they’d love to see the Mavericks’ third-year guard in purple and gold and the advanced stats back up that opinion.
Have a look:
Jalen Brunson: +1.1 EPM, 1.8 BPM. 12.9 PIE
Russell Westbrook: -1.1 EPM, -1.1 BPM, 12.1 PIE
Brunson’s earning less than $2 million this season while Westbrook makes over $44 million.
2. Jordan Poole
$2.161,440 salary in 2021-2022
Jordan Poole, 22, is already an elite scorer. He’s averaging 17.2 points per game, supplying off the bounce scoring for a Warriors team that is stocked full of excellent 3-and-D weapons but, outside of Stephen Curry, lacks players who can get into the lane and cause damage. Poole is one of the best finishers in the league, connecting on 74.4% at the rim, and 52.1% from 3 to 10 feet, showing that in just his third season, he’s already mastered the art of pulling up short and launching a floater over a big man.
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins get much of the credit for Golden State’s early-season success, but the Warriors wouldn’t be tied with the Phoenix Suns for the best record in the league without Poole’s ascension this year. He’s made the Warriors a genuine pick your poison team. When opposing teams trap Stephen Curry on the perimeter, taking away his outside shot, Poole is more than capable of running off 10 points in a row. Jordan Poole’s ability to manufacture baskets alongside Curry’s offensive genius has been the catalyst to the Warriors’ stunning one-season turnaround.
Jordan Poole isn’t a lockdown defender. Still, the Warriors have the best defensive rating in the league, and the former Michigan standout is no wink link. He holds his own on the perimeter with a solid 44.5 defensive field goal percentage and 1.5 deflections per game.
This season Jordan Poole is a better version of last year’s Six Man of the Year winner, Jordan Clarkson.
Compare their numbers 2021-2022 numbers:
Jordan Poole: 17.2 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.4 WS, 7.4 net rating
Jordan Clarkson: 15.1 PPG, 2.3 APG, 1.4 WS, 9.4 net rating
As Klay Thompson returns into the starting lineup, Jordan Poole will move to a bench role. He’s performing better than Jordan Clarkson, the top second unit player last season, for a ⅙ the price, giving the Golden State Warriors one of the best vacuum scorers in the league at an incredible discount.
1. Desmond Bane
$2,033,160 in 2021-2022
The Memphis Grizzlies are 29-14, owners of the fourth-best record in the NBA, and genuine title contenders. Unlike the other players on this list who’ve played complementary roles in helping their squad’s rack up wins, Desmond Bane has been at the center of the Grizzlies’ rise to the top.
Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Steven Adams have all missed significant time this season. But, along with Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane has played in all but one game, going hard on both sides of the floor every step of the way and often through sheer force of will helping the Grizzlies secure tough wins.
Watch Desmond Bane play, and two things stick out:
1. He thinks he’s the best player on the court at all times.
2. He plays harder than the other nine athletes on the floor.
Desmond Bane and Ja Morant’s basketball relationship is a bit like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green’s. Comparable to Curry, Ja Morant is the engine that makes the Grizzlies run, but like Green, Bane’s no-fear attitude trickles down to the rest of his teammates and gives Memphis a real chance to win the championship this year.
Going beyond Bane’s attitude, the advanced stats love him. Dunks and Threes rates him in the 93rd percentile among all NBA players with a +3.1 EPM, and FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR ranks him near the top of the league in WAR at 2.8.
Desmond Bane’s traditional numbers are solid too. He’s averaging 17.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.4 APG, and a 42.7 3P% while regularly matching up against the opposing team’s best offensive weapon on the less fun end.
This season, Desmond Bane has played like a $30 million-plus player for the Grizzlies while earning a smidge over the league minimum, making the second-year wing the best value in the association.
Value Contracts Are More Important Than Ever
Examine our list, and it’s easy to see the teams that manage to sign players to a discount either through the draft or free agency rack up wins.
Last year’s champion, the Milwaukee Bucks, have two of the league’s best value contracts with Bobby Portis and Grayson Allen. The Golden State Warriors, owners of the league’s best record, also have two players who make our list in Otto Porter Jr. and Jordan Poole.
The Lakers have struggled a bit this season but are still seen as championship hopefuls by most experts, and they also have two of the top bargain contracts in the league with Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk.
The Suns, Grizzlies, Spurs, and Mavericks have also done an excellent job finding value, which will help them this season and in the future.