The Whiteboard: Best NBA players on the cheapest contracts

Los Angeles Lakers, The Whiteboard

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Which NBA players are providing the most production on the cheapest contracts this season? And why do they all play for the Lakers?

Building a successful team in the NBA means finding value on all sorts of contracts. A team needs to find those stars and make the right choices with max contracts. But maximizing the value of their dollars spent on mid-range contracts and those at the bottom of the salary scale is crucial for building the right supporting cast.

For all the hand-wringing about the Lakers’ flawed roster coming into this season, they have actually had some big wins with smaller deals.

Austin Reaves, Thomas Bryant and Dennis Schroder are all averaging double figures and helping the Lakers win games. And all three are costing the Lakers less than $3 million a year. Here’s how they compare to some of the best players on the smallest contracts this year (all making under $3 million).

The Best NBA players on the cheapest contracts

7. Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls

Donsunmu’s box score stats have been similar to his rookie season but his shooting percentages have taken a fairly big hit this year. However, he’s still a great option off the bunch, someone who can work on or off the ball depending on the situation. He’s averaging 9.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game in just over 27 minutes. If he can get his catch-and-shoot 3-point numbers (currently 32.4 percent) back up to where they were last year (38.4) percent it would go a long way toward securing a bigger deal as he approaches free agency.

6. Austin Reaves, Los Angeles Lakers

In his second season with the Lakers, Reaves has become a consistent rotation piece — averaging 10.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in just under 30 minutes per game. His outside shooting isn’t elite (36.0 percent) but it’s improved from last season and a key piece of his value to the shooting-starved Lakers.

5. T.J. Warren, Brooklyn Nets

Warren was a low-cost gamble for the Nets, having missed basically all of two seasons with a foot injury. He didn’t debut until later in the season and his 3-point stroke is still recovering but he’s been a useful scoring threat off the bench, averaging 18.3 points per 36 minutes on a 57.4 true shooting percentage. His opportunities may decline when Kevin Durant returns but for now, he’s a useful stopgap and he has the potential to be useful in a variety of potential playoff matchups.

4. Dennis Schroder, Los Angeles Lakers

Schroder’s second go-round with the Lakers is working out much better than the first. Freed from the expectations that come with a big contract and the pursuit of an even larger one, he’s been all icing on the cake. Schroder is averaging 12.5 points, 3.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game and, crucially, hitting 36.0 percent from beyond the arc. He might not be a part of their long-term plans but he’s giving Los Angeles everything they could have hoped for and likely extended an NBA career that was very much in jeopardy when he went unsigned so long this offseason.

3. Tre Jones, San Antonio Spurs

Jones took over the starting point guard position after Dejounte Murray was traded to the Atlanta Hawks and he’s given the Spurs everything they could have hoped for. He’s averaging 13.6 points, 6.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals in just over 30 minutes per game. His shooting struggles (27.1 percent from beyond the arc on 177 career attempts) might cap him as a backup but his burgeoning creation abilities and tough defense at the point of attack could make him a useful piece on a competitive team.

2. Damion Lee, Phoenix Suns

Lee has been pressed into an increased role because of Devin Booker’s injury but he’s been a huge safety net for the Suns. Lee is leading the league in 3-point percentage, hitting 48.1 percent. Since Booker went down, Lee has been averaging 11.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in just over 25 minutes per game, while making nearly half his 3-pointers. He doesn’t solve every problem from Booker’s absence but his shooting covers up for a lot of them.

1. Thomas Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Bryant has been nothing short of a revelation. An ACL tear and other injuries limited him to just 83 games over the past three seasons and he was a low-risk gamble for the Lakers this offseason. So far, that risk has been met with nothing but reward.

Bryant has started 21 games filling in for the injured Anthony Davis and is averaging 12.9 points and 7.2 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game. However, those numbers don’t do justice to his real impact — he’s averaging 20.9 and 11.7 if you pro-rate them per 36 minutes. His 70.0 true shooting percentage is among the league leaders and he’s hit 18-of-42 (42.9 percent) from beyond the arc.

He’s been a perfect pick-and-roll partner for LeBron James, with the athleticism and touch to be a force in the paint or the ability to pop out and space the floor from the 3-point line. Bryant will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and if he keeps playing like this, he could be in line for an enormous raise.

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Kyle Kuzma has been mentioned in trade rumors all season long but the Wizards are seemingly open to keeping him. Meanwhile, Rui Hachimura is playing well and might be looking for a trade. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Hachimura wants to be wanted: “I just want to be somewhere that wants me as a basketball player, and I want to be somewhere that likes my game,” he said after a Saturday night win over the Orlando Magic. He declined to comment when asked directly if he had actually requested a trade.
  • Getting hot for the trade deadline: Hachimura appears to be peaking at the right time to increase his value. Over his last 13 games, he’s averaging 15.2 points and shooting 48.8 percent from the field.
  • Who is interested in Hachimura? The Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings are both reportedly interested.

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