Last December, we ran an exercise using our Real Value metric (developed by our own Alberto de Roa which you can read all about here) to figure out who were the most underpaid NBA players of all time.
However, in this modern era with such hyper-inflated stats and salaries, the numbers can change quickly and after what was a thrilling 2022-23 season, the rankings already look a bit different, leading us to where we are today, once again ranking the most underpaid NBA players of all time.
A familiar face still leads the way at No. 1, a certain superstar for the purple-and-gold franchise, while various other modern stars riddle the top of these rankings.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 4-16
Real Value: $663,986,938
Career earnings: $434,986,078
Difference: $229,000,860 (52.65 percent)
For the second time in this exercise, four-time league MVP LeBron James is the most underpaid player of all time, according to our Real Value metric, a true feat considering he’s also the highest-paid player in NBA history with career earnings eclipsing $434 million so far.
According to our metric, James’ most underpaid season was in 2008-09, when he was paid $14.4 million by the Cleveland Cavaliers but had a Real Value of $44.4 million, a monstrous disparity of $30.0 million. That is the second-largest single-season disparity in Real Value vs. actual earnings in our database. James won league MVP that season after averaging 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks and leading Cleveland to a 66-16 regular season, though the team did disappointingly fall in the Eastern Conference Finals that year.
For more LeBron James career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 0-8
Real Value: $266,831,232
Career earnings: $150,736,481
Difference: $116,094,751 (77.02 percent)
Coming off the first championship victory of his career, Denver Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic soared from being the sixth most underpaid player of all time prior to last season to being second this time around after yet another campaign in which he greatly outperformed his earnings.
In 2022-23, a 2nd Team All-NBA, All-Star season for Jokic, the big Serbian made $33.1 million from the Nuggets while his Real Value was actually $70.1 million, for an underpay of $37.0 million, making him the most underpaid player of 2022-23. That was also the most underpaid season in our entire database. Add that to all of those years in which Jokic was being paid a second-round pick salary while performing at a near All-Star level early on in his career and you see why our metric considers Jokic to be so underpaid.
For more Nikola Jokic career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 0-10
Real Value: $298,647,131
Career earnings: $190,452,532
Difference: $108,194,599 (56.81 percent)
2022-23 was yet another season in which Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was underpaid, per our Real Value metric, though not as egregiously as in years past. Antetokounmpo earned $42.5 million last season while posting a Real Value of $51.5 million, an underpay of $9.0 million by Milwaukee. Still, that was enough to keep the Greek Freak among the three most underpaid players of all time, even in this era of monstrous salaries. The most extreme underpay of Antetokounmpo’s career came in 2016-17 when he was named an All-Star and to 2nd Team All-NBA while earning $3.0 million in player salary. Real Value had him worth $27.3 million that season for a difference of $24.3 million.
For more Giannis Antetokounmpo career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 0-5
Real Value: $177,741,769
Career earnings: $69,572,651
Difference: $108,169,118 (155.48 percent)
The most underpaid players in the NBA are always going to be the ones who are stars as soon as they arrive in the league while receiving rookie-scale-contract wages. Case in point: Luka Doncic. Doncic was a borderline All-Star in Year 1 and a 1st Team All-NBAer from his second season on, so seeing Doncic rank this highly among the most underpaid players in NBA history should come as no surprise. 2022-23 was more of the same for Doncic, who earned $37.1 million from the Mavericks while posting a Real Value of $50.0 million for an underpay of $12.9 million by the Dallas Mavericks.
For more Luka Doncic career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 2-12
Real Value: $396,394,917
Career earnings: $305,039,833
Difference: $91,355,084 (29.95 percent)
With the twilight of James Harden’s prime upon us, his days of being severely underpaid are behind us. Even so, the former league MVP was still slightly underpaid in 2022-23, per our Real Value metric. According to our stat, Harden – who earned $33.0 million from the Philadelphia 76ers last season – had a Real Value of $34.2 million, meaning he was underpaid by $1.2 million. Maybe that’s why Philadelphia decision-maker Daryl Morey was hesitant to agree to a huge new contract with the 34-year-old Harden this summer, leading to the bearded star’s trade request, which has – for now – yet to be fulfilled.
For more James Harden career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 6-10
Real Value: $287,225,122
Career earnings: $199,499,205
Difference: $87,725,917 (43.97 percent)
The first non-active player on this list, Dwyane Wade maintains his spot in the Top 10 of the most underpaid players in NBA history. Wade’s most underpaid season – which was one of the most underpaid campaigns for any player ever, per Real Value – came in 2005-06, when the former Marquette standout was still on his rookie-scale deal earning $3.0 million yet leading the Miami Heat to a championship while being named an All-Star, 2nd Team All-NBAer and Finals MVP. His Real Value that season was $27.0 million for an enormous $24.0 million disparity.
For more Dwyane Wade career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 1-4
Real Value: $135,875,512
Career earnings: $63,631,051
Difference: $72,244,461 (113.54 percent)
Similarly to Doncic, Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young hit the ground running in the NBA, earning All-Star honors as a second-year player (and twice in his career so far) and 3rd Team All-NBA honors in 2021-22. That means he was quite underpaid early on in his career prior to getting his max rookie-scale extension (five years, $215.2 million) in the summer of 2021. However, last season was a bit of a bump in the road for the Hawks and Young especially, as our Real Value metric actually believes he was overpaid for the first time in his career. Young earned $37.1 million last season while Real Value valued him at $33.0 million for a $4.2 million overpay by Atlanta. Regardless, Young still put up big numbers and did at least lead the Hawks back to the playoffs despite a tumultuous campaign that saw former head coach Nate McMillan fired and replaced by Quin Snyder. Will Young get back on track in 2023-24 and revert back to the underpaid column in Real Value’s eyes? We’ll have to wait and find out.
For more Trae Young career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 0-6
Real Value: $158,904,637
Career earnings: $88,528,600
Difference: $70,376,037 (79.50 percent)
If it weren’t for more Jokic absurdities on the basketball court last season, Boston Celtics swingman Jayson Tatum actually would have been the most underpaid player in 2022-23, according to Real Value. Tatum earned $30.4 million from the Celtics but had a Real Value of $55.3 million for an underpay of $25.0 million. It’s not difficult to see why Real Value rated him so highly, either, as Tatum was magnificent in 2022-23, earning 1st Team All-NBA and All-Star honors and leading Boston to within a game of the NBA Finals for what would have been their second trip there in a row.
For more Jayson Tatum career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 4-12
Real Value: $428,023,830
Career earnings: $358,290,587
Difference: $69,733,243 (19.46 percent)
Injuries, missed time and a team switch all hurt future Hall of Famer Kevin Durant’s value last season, at least according to Real Value, which believes the former league MVP was overpaid by $6.8 million last season ($37.4 million actual salary vs. $44.1 million Real Value). Even so, Durant’s numbers were great on the season, as he remained one of the most efficient high-level scorers in NBA history. And hopefully for him, with better health, 2023-24 should be a return to form for Durant as he looks to win the first championship of his career away from fellow all-time great Stephen Curry.
For more Kevin Durant career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 1-5
Real Value: $142,855,792
Career earnings: $73,581,271
Difference: $69,274,521 (94.15 percent)
Cleveland Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell is a similar case to that of Doncic and Young in that he was very underpaid while on his rookie-scale contract. Back then, Mitchell was making his way onto All-Star rosters for the Utah Jazz despite not earning close to All-Star money. However, Mitchell has been so good over recent years that even after landing a max rookie-scale extension (five years, $163 million) back in 2020, Real Value still believes he’s being underpaid these days. In 2022-23, the metric had Mitchell – a first-time All-NBAer that season (2nd Team) – as being underpaid by $3.8 million despite earning $30.9 million from Cleveland on the campaign.
For more Donovan Mitchell career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 2-9
Real Value: $293,569,811
Career earnings: $227,701,628
Difference: $65,868,183 (28.93 percent)
The trend of Lakers star big man Anthony Davis being underpaid throughout his NBA career continued this season, as the former Kentucky standout earned $38.0 million but posted a Real Value of $39.4 million for an underpay of $1.4 million. Davis obviously isn’t quite as underpaid today as he had been early on in his career, particularly back in 2014-15 when Davis made $5.6 million while being a 1st Team All-NBAer. That year, Davis averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and a league-leading 2.9 blocks for a Real Value of $27.0 million – an underpay of $21.3 million, according to our metric.
For more Anthony Davis career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 1-9
Real Value: $96,130,712
Career earnings: $32,220,179
Difference: $63,910,533 (198.36 percent)
Some may be surprised to see former Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas rank so high on this list but the unfortunate truth is that Thomas’ insane peak came and went before he could cash in on it in free agency. In the 2014 offseason, Thomas signed a four-year, $27 million contract that saw him end up with the Phoenix Suns. Then, in 2015-16 and 2016-17, when Thomas was already in Boston, the diminutive floor general’s game exploded, with Thomas earning 2nd Team All-NBA honors in that latter season. Unfortunately for Thomas, after that, injuries kicked in and Thomas was never able to regain that magic. For what it’s worth, in 2016-17, Real Value had Thomas worth $29.1 million when his actual salary was $6.6 million, a huge underpay of $22.5 million.
For more Isaiah Thomas career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 6-14
Real Value: $305,344,228
Career earnings: $245,964,351
Difference: $59,379,877 (24.14 percent)
Hall of Fame big man Tim Duncan often left money on the table during his career to help the San Antonio Spurs build a contender around him, which worked out very well for both parties, as Duncan still earned nearly $246 million in his career just in player salary while almost always suiting up for title-contending teams, even winning five championships in his career. According to Real Value, Duncan’s most underpaid season came in 2002-03 when he earned $12.1 million while winning regular-season MVP and Finals MVP as he led the Spurs to a championship that year while receiving 1st Team All-NBA distinctions.
For more Tim Duncan career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 3-6
Real Value: $227,061,219
Career earnings: $167,691,076
Difference: $59,370,143 (35.40 percent)
The third-most underpaid player of the 2022-2023 season, per Real Value, was actually the league MVP himself, Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid. For the league year, Embiid earned $33.6 million in player salary from Philadelphia. However, his Real Value was actually $57.3 million for an enormous underpay of $23.6 million. It’s not difficult to see why Real Value rated Embiid so highly in 2022-23, either, as Embiid edged out Jokic for regular-season MVP and 1st Team All-NBA honors after averaging a league-leading 33.1 points per game to go with 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 blocks on 54.8 percent shooting, the most efficient mark of the big man’s career.
For more Joel Embiid career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 0-5
Real Value: $106,244,046
Career earnings: $47,878,882
Difference: $58,365,164 (121.90 percent)
From being 20th last time we ran this exercise to being in the Top 15 this time around, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to outperform his salary throughout his NBA career. In 2022-23, the Canadian star earned $30.9 million in actual salary while having a Real Value of $39.4 million for an underpay of $8.5 million by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Gilgeous-Alexander was spectacular on the season, of course, averaging 31.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals on his way to All-Star and 1st Team All-NBA honors, all while leading an inexperienced Thunder team to within one victory of qualifying for the NBA playoffs.
For more Shai Gilgeous-Alexander career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 5-13
Real Value: $417,161,578
Career earnings: $359,377,385
Difference: $57,784,193 (16.08 percent)
The Point God Chris Paul went from being in the Top 10 of this ranking before 2022-23 to being outside of the Top 15 this time around – and his spot might continue to plummet as he’s paid off the final two seasons and $61.6 million left on his contract. Last season, Paul made a salary of $28.4 million while posting a Real Value of $17.4 million for an $11.0 million overpay by the Suns. And with Paul really getting up there in age and now likely to play a secondary role to Curry running the Golden State offense in 2023-24, it’s likely his Real Value will only continue to go down. That’s not to knock on Paul at all, as he’s established himself as a future first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the best point guards ever. Not every player ages as well as LeBron has, though.
For more Chris Paul career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 6-15
Real Value: $311,800,526
Career earnings: $255,371,800
Difference: $56,428,726 (22.10 percent)
Like Duncan, newly minted Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki was extremely loyal to the team that drafted him but in his case, it was almost to a fault, as the Dallas Mavericks weren’t nearly as well-run as the Spurs. Thankfully for all parties involved, the partnership still was able to win a championship together back in 2010-11, when Nowitzki went on an all-time run, leading Dallas to the only championship in franchise history. But it was before that when Nowitzki was truly underpaid. In 2001-02, the German superstar earned just $2.2 million for a season in which he was named to 2nd Team All-NBA, was an All-Star and averaged 23.4 points and 9.9 rebounds while shooting almost 40.0 percent from three, a nearly unheard-of figure for a big man back then.
For more Dirk Nowitzki career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 5-12
Real Value: $161,207,188
Career earnings: $106,227,720
Difference: $54,979,468 (51.76 percent)
Many may not remember now, as Chauncey Billups today is mostly thought of for his accolades with the Detroit Pistons, particularly leading the team to a championship in 2003-04 and winning Finals MVP for his efforts, but it took a while for Billups to reach those heights, as the 1997 No. 3 overall pick played for four teams before getting to Detroit in merely his sixth season. As far as why we’re here, Billups was most underpaid in 2005-06 when he made $5.9 million while averaging 18.5 points and 8.6 assists and leading the Pistons to the Eastern Conference Finals. Real Value believes Billups was worth $20.0 million that season, a $14.1 million disparity.
For more Chauncey Billups career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 0-4
Real Value: $93,641,792
Career earnings: $39,619,840
Difference: $54,021,952 (136.35 percent)
Even despite all of the off-court issues and missed time, Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant still checked in as one of the most underpaid players in the NBA last season, the final year of his rookie-scale contract. Morant earned $12.1 million in player salary last season while posting a Real Value of $31.6 million, a $19.5 million underpay. Now, if Morant were to post the same Real Value next season, then he’d be considered overpaid by the metric because he’s set to make $34.0 million next league year as his max rookie-scale extension kicks in for the 2023-24 season. Memphis won’t care about that – and with good reason. The Grizzlies will just be hoping Morant stays on the court as much as possible once his 25-game suspension is over.
For more Ja Morant career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 2-12
Real Value: $207,455,634
Career earnings: $154,494,445
Difference: $52,961,189 (34.28 percent)
A Morant-like point guard in his prime purely based on explosiveness and scoring ability, Hall of Fame ball-handler Allen Iverson was one of the NBA’s most underpaid players in his heyday, and that’s just considering his on-court production. Off the court, Iverson produced even more value as a cultural icon, one of the NBA’s biggest draws of his era and a player who was must-see television whenever the Sixers played. Regardless, 2000-01 is the year Iverson was most underpaid, per Real Value, an MVP campaign for the legendary floor general in which he led Philadelphia all the way to the NBA Finals with a weak roster around him. That season, Iverson earned $10.1 million while Real Value believed he was worth $20.5 million for a $10.4 million disparity.
For more Allen Iverson career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 2-5
Real Value: $122,425,989
Career earnings: $70,579,554
Difference: $51,846,435 (73.46 percent)
One of the most underpaid players in 2022-23, Domantas Sabonis earned $21.1 million last season from the Sacramento Kings while posting a Real Value of $35.0 million for a $13.9 million underpay. Sabonis was an All-Star last year and a 3rd Team All-NBAer while helping the Kings break their long-time playoff drought. Obviously, Kings brass, coaches and fans have to be thrilled with the Sabonis addition but just to rain on the parade a little, it is somewhat concerning that over his last two trips to the playoffs, his teams combined have been outscored by 23.7 points per 100 possessions with the big man on the floor, which is something to monitor going forward. Is he merely a very good regular-season player or can he be part of a championship core?
For more Domantas Sabonis career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 1-11
Real Value: $143,787,834
Career earnings: $91,978,289
Difference: $51,809,545 (56.33 percent)
It makes sense to see DeMarcus Cousins here, as he outperformed his rookie-scale contract and lived up to his first big contract but unfortunately suffered a major injury in the last season of that deal, right before he was set to hit unrestricted free agency. Because of that, Cousins went from almost certainly landing his second max contract to signing a one-year deal worth $5.3 million with the Golden State Warriors. (Remember how mad people were about that signing?) Cousins saw the biggest disparity in Real Value vs. actual value while on his rookie deal. For Cousins, that came in 2013-14 when he was making $5.0 million while putting up 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds, a campaign in which Real Value had him at $14.8 million, roughly a $9.9 million difference.
For more DeMarcus Cousins career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 2-12
Real Value: $152,632,429
Career earnings: $101,723,378
Difference: $50,909,051 (50.05 percent)
Because we only keep salary data from 1990 onward, this exercise doesn’t capture players who may have been underpaid before that. Hall of Fame big man Karl Malone certainly applies, as he made a bunch of All-Star appearances in the ’80s while not earning much money. And yet, Malone still found his way on these rankings. The biggest disparity in Malone’s career came in 1997-98, per our database, the year after Malone’s first MVP award and before his second, when he was earning $5.1 million while putting up 27.0 points and 10.3 rebounds and leading the Utah Jazz to their second straight Finals appearance. Real Value had his worth in ’97-98 at $14.5 million, a huge number at the time, a $9.4 million disparity.
For more Karl Malone career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 5-7
Real Value: $267,794,322
Career earnings: $218,700,628
Difference: $49,093,694 (22.45 percent)
Despite being nearly 34 and earning a huge salary from the Heat, star small forward Jimmy Butler was still considered underpaid by Miami, according to Real Value. Butler earned $37.7 million last season in player salary but Real Value had him worth $46.6 million for a nearly $9.0 million underpay. Butler maintained his status as one of the game’s top two-way players in 2022-23, leading the Heat, as an eight-seed, to the NBA Finals, earning 2nd Team All-NBA honors and winning the inaugural Eastern Conference Finals MVP award. Some were concerned about how Butler’s game would age and if he’d be worth the max contract he signed back in the summer of 2021 but so far, returns have been nothing but positive for the Heat.
For more Jimmy Butler career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 5-14
Real Value: $195,301,969
Career earnings: $146,936,620
Difference: $48,365,349 (32.92 percent)
The Mavericks opted not to throw big bucks at Steve Nash to keep him despite his two All-Star appearances while with the team, a decision they would go on to regret. Had Mark Cuban and Co. decided to pay Nash in free agency, they would have had a hugely valuable contract on their hands, as Nash would go win the next two MVP awards in his first two years with the Suns. Real Value believes Nash’s most valuable campaign came after his MVP seasons, however, in 2006-07. Nash earned $10.5 million that year while Real Value had him at $19.7 million for a $9.2 million difference. Nash was almost always a high-value contract during his time in the NBA, never ranking higher than 33rd league-wide in salary.
For more Steve Nash career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 3-13
Real Value: $104,066,449
Career earnings: $58,419,775
Difference: $45,646,674 (78.14 percent)
Unlike many of the other players on this list who were underpaid while on their rookie-scale contracts, Sam Cassell is unique in that not only was he a late bloomer in the NBA, but his most underpaid season didn’t come until his 11th NBA league year. In 2003-04, the first and only All-Star year on Cassell’s resume, the former Florida State star averaged 19.8 points and 7.3 assists while making $5.1 million, when Real Value had him at $14.3 million for a $9.2 million difference. Cassell’s value contract that year was a big reason why the Timberwolves were able to make a run to the Western Conference Finals, as he greatly outperformed his deal that year.
For more Sam Cassell career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 5-9
Real Value: $349,068,398
Career earnings: $305,929,066
Difference: $43,139,332 (14.10 percent)
Many may not agree but according to Real Value, two-time league MVP Stephen Curry was actually overpaid in 2022-23 – and by a fairly sizable margin. Curry earned $48.1 million last season while posting a Real Value of $33.4 million (still a great mark) for a $14.7 million overpay by the Warriors. Curry missing so many games (he only saw action in 56 regular-season outings in 2022-23) played a huge part in that, however, as when the former Davidson standout did play, he was still one of the best players in the league. Curry having the largest salary in the NBA last season ($48.1 million) also played a part in that, as his Real Value was still that of an All-NBA-level player.
For more Stephen Curry career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 5-12
Real Value: $128,443,634
Career earnings: $87,208,319
Difference: $41,235,315 (47.28 percent)
Former Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams finding his way onto this list shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Williams was often thought of as one of the most underpaid players in the league during his NBA career. Williams’ highest salary came between 2018-19 and 2020-21 when he was earning a meager $8.0 million per year. The biggest difference in Real Value and actual salary of Williams’ career came before that, though, in 2017-18 when he put up 22.6 points and 5.3 assists while making $7.0 million, a year where Real Value deemed his output worth $17.8 million, a sizable $10.8 million difference.
For more Lou Williams career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 0-11
Real Value: $82,079,803
Career earnings: $43,494,962
Difference: $38,584,841 (88.71 percent)
It came as a surprise when Darren Collison retired from the NBA in the midst of his prime, just after the 2018-19 season. Despite a couple of attempted comebacks, Collisons hasn’t found a way on another NBA roster since then outside of a three-game stint with the Lakers in 2021-22. When he retired, Collison was an above-average starting point guard, a reliable creator on offense with elite shooting abilities from beyond the arc, to go with his pest-like defending. Collison’s impact often outweighed his numbers, too, which our Real Value metric agrees with. The biggest disparity in Real Value of Collison’s career came in 2010-11 when he put up 13.2 points and 5.1 assists as a second-year player while making $1.4 million. Collison’s Real Value that year was $6.9 million for a $5.5 million difference.
For more Darren Collison career salary info, click here.
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 3-14
Real Value: $136,060,208
Career earnings: $97,709,070
Difference: $38,351,138 (39.25 percent)
Long-time NBA point guard Andre Miller lasted 17 seasons in the NBA even as a borderline non-threat from beyond the arc, thanks to his pace, ball-handling and solid finishing down low. He also had a feathery push shot that he could sink from the floater area. In 2001-02, Miller – still on his rookie contract at that point – averaged 16.5 points and a league-leading 10.9 assists while earning $1.9 million. Real Value believed he was worth $12.7 million, a difference of $10.8 million, the biggest disparity of his career. Although that isn’t as big of a difference as most others on this list, Miller’s longevity – being so good and so underpaid for so long – is why he’s on this list.
For more Andre Miller career salary info, click here.