Contract watch: Hidden gems in the start of the season

Contract watch: Hidden gems in the start of the season

Free Agency

Contract watch: Hidden gems in the start of the season

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The 2021-22 NBA is over a month in and there has been enough games to evaluate which players have exceeded the value of their contracts. Several players such as Chris Duarte and Scottie Barnes have played so well that it isn’t a secret how good they are. Then there are other players whose contributions may not reflect on the box score quite as loudly and are still being underrated.

Here are several players that are outperforming their current contract who may not be getting enough credit. We also used ProFitX to view what these players should be earning based on their level of play, and evaluate if these players are in a position to earn such a raise with their current team.

Jakob Poeltl (San Antonio)

Jakob Poeltl ProFitX 2021-22

Jakob Poeltl ProFitX 2021-22

Salary: $8,750,000

Real-Time Contract: $15,181,425

Jakob Poeltl is having a career year and is proving he is more than just a rim protector. While his presence is crucial for the Spurs on the defensive end, he’s opened up a lot of things for them offensively with his passing, an attribute head coach Gregg Popovich greatly values. He’s gone from a low-end starting center to one of the more middle-of-the-pack ones.

Poeltl has a real-time contract of $15.2 million, which is similar to the annual salary Jonas Valanciunas will receive on his newly signed extension. The extension of Daniel Gafford, which gives him an average salary of $13.4 million, should definitely help Poeltl in negotiations. Poeltl becomes extension-eligible in the 2022 offseason for up to a four-years projected at $58 million.

Desmond Bane (Memphis)

Desmond Bane ProFitX 2021-22

Desmond Bane ProFitX 2021-22

Salary: $2,033,160

Real-Time Contract: $16,568,413

Desmond Bane has been unleashed in Memphis. He’s been inserted into the starting lineup this season and has been given the green light to shoot. His shooting volume is way up and so is his scoring while his efficiency has remained strong. He started the season scorching hot averaging around 50 percent at the three-point line but regressed to 36 percent, though he seems back on the right path as he’s hit 50 percent in his last two games.

Bane’s real-time contract of $16.6 million is comparable to Gary Trent Jr.‘s annual salary, who is also shooting roughly at the same clip as Bane from three. Bane isn’t extension-eligible until 2023 and it’s very possible that his production exceeds his real-time contract amount if he continues to improve. Until then, his current contract will remain as one of the league’s biggest values.

Mo Bamba (Orlando)

Mo Bamba ProFitX 2021-22

Mo Bamba ProFitX 2021-22

Salary: $7,568,743

Real-Time Contract: $11,688,376

Mo Bamba has finally proven that he belongs in an NBA rotation and it mainly took a new support group. According to Bamba, who was interviewed by HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto, Orlando’s new coaching staff is utilizing him better on the court than the previous one. Head coach Jamahl Mosley has also given him more freedom on the defensive end to move around and switch instead of being strictly a rim protector.

Bamba is playing with a real-time contract of $11.7 million, which is slightly greater than his $10.1 million qualifying offer (assuming he meets the starter criteria). If he doesn’t meet the starter criteria, his qualifying offer will be $7.3 million. With the way Bamba is playing, Orlando will likely extend him a qualifying offer this offseason, something which wasn’t a certainty heading into the regular season.

Gary Payton II (Golden State)

Gary Payton II ProFitX 2021-22

Gary Payton II ProFitX 2021-22

Salary: $1,939,350

Real-Time Contract: $3,693,454

Among a Warriors bench loaded with hidden gems, Gary Payton II is the diamond in the free agency rough. There are no easy inbounds with Payton II on the court as he is a pickpocket on the defensive end. He makes carrying the ball down the court a tiring task. When watching him, it feels like there’s a 50/50 chance that he will steal the ball on a given possession. He hasn’t been asked to do too much on the offensive end, but he’s been reliable enough with his shot when needed.

Payton II has a real-time contract of $3.7 million, but he has room to earn more in free agency this offseason. With defensive specialist guards like Marcus Smart and Alex Caruso being rewarded with lucrative contracts last summer, Payton II could be looking at a long-term deal if he’s a major contributor to a deep Warriors playoff run. They hold his Early Bird rights this offseason, allowing them to re-sign him to up to a four-year deal that would be slightly higher than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception amount.

Isaiah Hartenstein (LA Clippers)

Isaiah Hartenstein ProFitX 2021-22

Isaiah Hartenstein ProFitX 2021-22

Salary: $1,729,217

Real-Time Contract: $7,529,333

Isaiah Hartenstein always had the tools to be a useful rotation player but perhaps it took finding the right situation for him to show it. As Bryan Kalbrosky explains, Hartenstein has been an extremely effective rim protector in his limited minutes. Opposing players are shooting very poorly around the rim when Hartenstein is on the floor, and he has an exceptional block and steal rate amongst centers. For the first time in years, the Clippers have adequate depth at the center position.

Hartenstein is currently earning the minimum but he is playing with a real-time contract of $7.5 million, which is equivalent to what teammate Ivica Zubac is making. His emergence can open up trade opportunities for the Clippers if they were to consider consolidating one of their other centers for an upgrade. If Hartenstein keeps this up, it will be hard for the Clippers to retain him without utilizing their taxpayer mid-level exception. Otherwise, due to his Non-Bird rights, the most they’d be able to pay him is 120 percent of his minimum salary, which is projected at $2.27 million.

Kelan Martin (Indiana)

Kelan Martin ProFitX 2021-22

Kelan Martin ProFitX 2021-22

Salary: $1,701,593

Real-Time Contract: $4,100,136

Kelan Martin went from being the odd man out in Indiana’s roster crunch heading into the season to one of their more reliable wing players coming off their bench. That’s saying a lot considering how deep the Pacers are at the wing position. Martin entered the rotation in the beginning of November and became one of their most efficient scorers (though that efficiency has dipped a bit in the second half of the month). His position in the rotation might change once TJ Warren returns but he’s been a fantastic value for the Pacers at just $1.7 million.

Martin is playing with a real-time contract of $4.1 million, which Indiana can sign him to thanks to holding his Early Bird rights this offseason. Although the Pacers have plenty of wing players under contract heading into next season, he could be very valuable in case Warren leaves this offseason, or if they consolidate some of their other wings in a trade.

Austin Reaves (LA Lakers)

Salary: $925,258

Austin Reaves has been a bright spot for the Lakers amid a very disappointing start to the season. His impact isn’t reflected on the box score although some of the Lakers highest-rated lineups include him. Reaves always knows where he needs to be at a given time and for a rookie playing on a team trying to compete, that can often be enough. According to former Laker Alex Caruso, who was interviewed by HoopsHype’s Bryan Kalbrosky, Reaves is already further along his development than Caruso was in his first season.

Reaves is on the first-year of a two-year minimum contract with the Lakers. They will hold his Early Bird rights in 2023 and should be able to re-sign him to a long-term deal then. With so much uncertainty about the Lakers roster by then with both LeBron James and Russell Westbrook set to have their contracts expire, they should be a good bet to lock up Reaves.

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