The 24 Best NBA Players Making Under $3 Million This Year

nbaBrandon Jennings

Photo: AP

If Darko Milicic was able to land a four-year, $20 million deal this summer from the Minnesota Timberwolves, a fair argument could be made that any NBA player earning less than $5 million is underpaid.But where’s the fun in that?  The NBA salary structure may change in the next 12 months as the Collective Bargaining Agreement is re-negotiated, but right now, it’s a mess. How is it possible that DeSagana Diop is making over $6 million this year but Brook Lopez can’t even crack $2.5 million?

It’s true that most of the guys on this list are on their rookie contracts and young players should have to prove themselves a little bit before getting mega deals.  But it still seems a little strange that a guy who is averaging a single point in just over 10 minutes a game (Diop) is making almost three times as much as Lopez, who is averaging nearly 19 points a game and is a potential All-Star.

*All salary information via HoopsHype

**Stats through the games of November 9, 2010

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors -- $2.91 million

Rookie or not, Curry quickly emerged as one of the game's best players last season. labelled a perimeter shooter in college, he wasted no time proving that not only is he a solid playmaker, but he is one of better rebounding point guards in the league.

2010 stats: 21.0 PPG, 6.6 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.8 Stl, 35.0% 3PT

2009 stats: 17.5 PPG, 5.9 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.9 Stl, 43.7% 3PT

Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers -- $2.9 million

Young's numbers have been on a steady decline in the last few years, but that's more a product of the disastrous situation in Philadelphia than of Young's play. When he finds the right situation, Young will return to form.

2010 stats: 9.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 56.0% FG

2009 stats: 13.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.5 APG

Al Thornton, Washington Wizards -- $2.81 million

Thornton has often been described as a one-dimensional player in his young NBA career, but he's begun to carve out a niche for himself on the Wizards. His production is up across the board this season, and he's beginning to use his size much more effectively.

2010 stats: 15.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.4 Stl

2009 stats (Was): 10.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.2 APG

Rodney Stuckey, Detroit Pistons -- $2.77 million

The much-publicized dispute with Coach John Kuester last week aside, the fourth-year point guard keeps getting better and better. He's been unfairly compared to his predecessor, Chauncey Billups, but Stuckey is doing just fine.

2010 stats: 16.3 PPG, 5.7 APG, 3.1 RPG

2009 stats: 16.6 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.4 Stl

DJ Augustin, Charlotte Bobcats -- $2.54 million

Augustin has struggled to meet expectations in his young NBA career, but he's no worse than Mike Conley who just landed a five-year, $45 million deal. Augustin finally has the starting job to himself this season, and so far he has produced.

2010 stats: 12.0 PPG, 6.4 APG, 3.9 RPG, 38.7% 3PT

2009 stats: 6.4 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 RPG, 39.3% 3PT

Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets -- $2.41 million

It became apparent almost immediately when Lopez took the floor in 2008 that the Nets had discovered a true future building block, whether they were able to get LeBron James or not. Along with rookie Derrick favours, the Nets will have a formidable front court duo for the next decade.

2010 stats: 18.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.9 Blk

2009 stats: 18.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.7 Blk

Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks -- $2.33 million

The sophomore point guard exploded for 55 points in just his seventh game and is among the NBA's most electric players. His inconsistent shooting is an issue, but Jennings' talent is abundant.

2010 stats: 14.9 PPG, 6.4 APG, 4.2 RPG

2009 stats: 15.5 PPG, 5.7 APG, 3.4 RPG

Wilson Chandler, New York Knicks -- $2.13 million

Chandler is often overshadowed in New York where there is constant roster shuffling and rumours of big moves, but he is perhaps the Knicks' most consistent player. Capable of doing a little bit of everything, Chandler always fills the box score whether he starts or not.

2010 stats: 15.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.7 Blk

2009 stats: 15.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.1 APG

Aaron Brooks, Houston Rockets -- $2.02 million

One of the most inexplicable names on this list, Brooks is in his fourth season and has been the go-to-guy for the Rockets with Yao Ming's string of injuries. He is a solid distributor and one of the league's best deep threats.

2010 stats: 16.4 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.2 RPG, 39.3% 3PT

2009 stats: 19.6 PPG, 5.3 APG, 2.6 APG, 39.8% 3PT

Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns -- $1.97 million

The Suns don't need Steve Nash's backup to take over on most nights, but it's comforting to know that he can erupt for 25 points at a moment's notice.

2010 stats: 9.4 PPG, 3.7 APG, 37.5% 3PT

2009 stats: 7.9 PPG, 3.0 APG, 39.4% 3PT

Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets -- $1.96 million

When Carmelo Anthony inevitably leaves the Denver Nuggets, Afflalo will be one of the remaining young pieces the team has to build around. He has taken on a much bigger role in his third season.

2010 stats: 13.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 41.7% 3PT

2009 stats: 8.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 43.4% 3PT

Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Lakers -- $1.77 million

One of the league's best role players went from one cushy situation in Orlando, to an even cushier situation in Los Angeles. Barnes brings his lunch pail to work every night and is exactly the type of player a contender needs.

2010 stats: 9.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.4 APG

2009 stats: 8.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.7 APG

Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers -- $1.69 million

The seven-footer keeps getting better and better and appears to be on the verge of stardom in Indiana. It has taken him a while to harness his talent, but Hibbert looks like a double-double machine for years to come.

2010 stats: 15.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 3.3 Blk

2009 stats: 11.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 Blk

Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers -- $1.63 million

Holiday began to gain confidence towards the end of his rookie season and he is now the quarterback of Philadelphia's offence in just his second year.

2010 stats: 14.1 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.3 RPG, 2.0 Stl, 47.6% 3PT

2009 stats: 8.0 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1.1 Stl, 39.0% 3PT

Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets -- $1.55 million

Lawson is firmly entrenched in a backup role behind Chauncey Billups, but with Billups on the downside of his career, it will soon be Lawson's show.

2010 stats: 8.1 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.0 RPG

2009 stats: 8.3 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.9 RPG

J.J. Hickson, Cleveland Cavaliers -- $1.53 million

Now that King James is gone, there's no go-to scorer in Cleveland. Hickson has begun to fill that role and is quickly becoming the Cavaliers' best player.

2010 stats: 16.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 51.8% FG

2009 stats: 8.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 55.4% FG

Darren Collison, Indiana Pacers -- $1.36 million

Collison became one of the biggest trade chips in the league after putting up sensational numbers last season when Chris Paul was injured. He has struggled in Indiana so far, but his talent is obvious.

2010 stats: 16.7 PPG, 4.7 APG, 46.7% 3PT

2009 stats: 12.5 PPG, 5.7 APG, 2.5 RPG

Shaquille O'Neal, Boston Celtics -- $1.35 million

O'Neal's best days are long behind him, but he's only in Boston to play limited minutes and rotate with Jermaine O'Neal, Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett, and eventually, Kendrick Perkins. He's injured right now, but the Celtics will be counting on the Diesel come playoff time.

2010 stats: 8.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 61.1% FG

2009 stats: 12.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 56.6% FG

Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings -- $1.25 million

The sophomore Israeli is a very good shooter that has the ability to catch fire on any given night.

2010 stats: 10.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 42.3% 3PT

2009 stats: 10.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 37.0% 3PT

Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers -- $1.2 million

Batum has cracked the starting lineup in his third season with the Trail Blazers and has a unique combination of size and outside shooting.

2010 stats: 13.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 38.1% 3PT

2009 stats: 10.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 40.9% 3PT

George Hill, San Antonio Spurs -- $1.16 million

The Spurs pick up spare parts from everywhere and turn them into key contributors. Hill, a first-round-pick in 2008, has become a versatile option in the back court.

2010 stats: 6.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.8 APG

2009 stats: 12.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.9 APG

Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls -- $1.12 million

Gibson was a late first-round-pick last season that arrived with little fanfare, but as the Bulls big men have suffered injury after injury, Gibson's minutes have gone up and he has produced.

2010 stats: 15.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.2 Blk

2009 stats: 9.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.3 Blk

Dejuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs -- $918k

Team after team passed on Blair in the NBA draft last year because of questions about his knees, but Blair had a big rookie season and has provided the Spurs with another front-court banger.

2010 stats: 4.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG

2009 stats: 7.8 PPG, 6.4 RPG

Marcus Thornton, New Orleans Hornets -- $762k

The sophomore from LSU is emerging as a major three-point threat and really stepped up his game when Chris Paul was injured last season.

2010 stats: 7.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 50% 3PT

2009 stats: 14.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 37.4% 3PT

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