Other than the Warriors, who improved the most this offseason?
2:58 | NBA
Other than the Warriors, who improved the most this offseason?
Thursday July 21st, 2016

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Reigning two-time MVP Stephen Curry is set to earn less in salary than 78 players during the 2016–17 NBA season—not a misprint.

Due largely to the fact that Curry inked a very team-friendly four-year, $44 million extension in 2012 amid health concerns (read: his ankles), Curry will bank a 2016–17 salary of just over $12.1 million—less than the likes of John Henson, Ricky Rubio and Tyson Chandler. That shortlist excludes a plethora of ludicrous deals signed this summer, which adds Timofey Mozgov, Jeff Green and Allen Crabbe to the list of guys who will make more than Curry next season.

Curry’s set to hit free agency next summer, though, so he won’t be viewed as an underpaid superstar for long. A collection of guys who signed long-term deals before the salary cap explosion, however, likely watched this year’s free agency with a deep sense of FOMO (as the kids say).

PointAfter, a sports data visualization site that’s part of Graphiq, wanted to take a step back from all the eyebrow-raising contracts signed this summer to find some of the most favorable, team-friendly deals. With the cap spiking to new heights, contracts signed just a year or two ago now look like absolute bargains.

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Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics

If you want to have some fun comparing NBA contracts following the cap spike, Jae Crowder’s deal is a great place to start.

Jae Crowder: Career Salary vs. League Averages | PointAfter

Last year, Boston agreed to a five-year, $35 million contract with the combo forward to keep him in Beantown. He’s locked up through the 2019–20 season at less than $8 million per year—a mark that will be unheard of for a starting cog a few years down the road.

When considering that L.A. Clippers backup guard Austin Rivers netted $35 million on a three-year contract this summer, the Crowder contract becomes a work of art by Danny Ainge. The Celtics are quickly developing into a contender in the Eastern Conference, and the added cap flexibility provided by Crowder’s cheap deal will only help toward that endeavor.

Crowder experienced a breakout year for the Celtics in 2015–16, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He finished sixth in voting for the league’s Most Improved Player award as a result.

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Crowder Experienced a Career Year in 2015-16 | PointAfter

Even if the 26-year-old has hit his ceiling (unlikely), he’ll be a huge asset to the Celts moving forward.

J.J. Barea, Dallas Mavericks

Generously listed at 6-feet tall, J.J. Barea has often been overlooked due to his height. But despite his diminutive stature, the veteran remains one of the game’s most reliable backup guards.

J.J. Barea's 2015-16 Stats by Month | PointAfter

The pint-sized (well, relative to NBA standards) Puerto Rican ended his season strong in March and April. In fact, he took home Western Conference Player of the Week honors for games played from March 28 through April 3. During a perfect 4–0 week for Dallas, Barea averaged 23.5 points, 6.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds while shooting 52.1% from the field and 48% from long distance.

That hot shooting was emblematic of a scorching March in which Barea shot 51.2% from the field, 49.1% from three-point range and 81.8% at the free throw line. Bottom line: The guy can score.

So, what’s the 32-year-old set to make over the next three years of his contract? Turns out his deal is the cheapest we’ll highlight.

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Barea's Salary Sits Below Average Through 2018-19 | PointAfter

Not only will Barea net approximately $4 million per season over the next three years (a bargain for a role player of his caliber), the structure of his contract is such that it drops in value year over year.

The amount may not seem like much, but that leeway could be a difference-maker down the road for the Mavs when Dirk Nowitzki is inevitably no longer the team’s alpha dog.

Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

Last summer, Khris Middleton was among the coveted “three-and-D” wing players (along with Danny Green, DeMarre Carroll, Iman Shumpert and Wesley Matthews) who got paid big bucks in free agency. Their ability to defend out on the perimeter and knock down threes on offense instantly provides teams with a two-way threat.

The five-year, $70 million deal Middleton signed to stay with Milwaukee certainly didn’t look bad in the moment, but it wasn’t exactly a bargain. It was merely a smart signing by the Bucks to lock up a young player who can shoot and defend at market value.

But now that the cap has risen, Middleton at $70 million over five years already looks more favorable—especially compared to, say, Portland locking up Evan Turner for the same price tag over four years. Unlike Turner, who shot a putrid 24.1% from long range last season, Middleton can shoot the lights out. He’s a career 40% shooter from beyond the arc, and was particularly adept when firing away from the corners last season.

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Middleton's Corner Threes Are Virtually Automatic | PointAfter

He’ll make approximately $15, $14 and $13 million, respectively, over the next three seasons. With guys like Timofey Mozgov raking in $16 million per season now, having Middleton locked up for less than that is only going to look better as time goes by.

Al-Farouq Aminu, Portland Trail Blazers

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought the Blazers’ Al-Farouq Aminu signing last summer was a head-scratcher. Aminu made the veteran’s minimum in Dallas the season prior. He averaged just 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 27.4% from three-point territory and 41.2% from the field overall. Handing a four-year, $30 million deal to a combo forward who couldn’t shoot seemed suspect under those circumstances.

Aminu proved all the doubters wrong in Portland under general manager Neil Olshey, however, who originally drafted the Wake Forest product when he worked for the Los Angeles Clippers. Aminu scored a career-high 10.2 points per game while sinking 36.1% of his treys—by far the best mark of his career.

Al-Farouq Aminu's Breakout From Beyond the Arc | PointAfter

While playing a good chunk of time as Portland’s stretch four, Aminu somehow morphed into a capable outside shooter. Coupled with his well-established rebounding skills and respectable defensive chops, he helped head coach Terry Stotts’s crew overcome the seemingly insurmountable losses of LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Nic Batum and Wes Matthews.

Olshey’s faith in Aminu finally paid off in 2015–16. The former No. 8 overall draft pick appears poised to remain a steady cog in Rip City’s rotation—at a more-than-reasonable price tag—for the foreseeable future. 

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