Saturday, January 29 2022

The contracts that have been thrown around the NBA in recent years have been wild. Some players have been more deserving than others, but the market price is set by what the organizations are willing to pay. Despite the high salaries, no contract is untradeable. That has been proven with several stars being moved to different organizations, including Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall.

It is interesting to note that half of the players on this list are clearly underperforming this year, though it is still very early in the season. James Harden and Damian Lillard continue to struggle to find their offensive rhythm while Russell Westbrook is still trying to fit in out in Los Angeles. Both John Wall and Kawhi Leonard have not played yet this season, for two very different reasons.

Another takeaway here is that there are three teams that have multiple players on this list. The Nets, Lakers, and Clippers obviously have some of the most star power in the league, so it should not come as much of a surprise. It was nearly four teams as Klay Thompson ranks 11th on the list for the Warriors. The Lakers and Nets each have three players inside the top 20 with Anthony Davis (15th) and Kyrie Irving (17th) respectively.

The list is split evenly between guards and forwards, with five each. The highest-paid center this season is Rudy Gobert, who ranks 16th overall. Most contracts will include a player or team option at the end of it, but as far as salaries for the current 2021-22 season, these ten players are earning the most in the league, according to Basketball-Reference.

10. Kawhi Leonard – $39,344,900

Once considered to be the best two-way player in the world, Leonard is currently working his way back after a season-ending injury suffered in the playoffs. The organization is not sure whether or not Leonard will be able to play this season, but their championship hopes for the next two years took a major hit when he went down.

The Clippers will try to tread water without him and are counting on a combination of Paul George and role players to carry the team into the postseason. While injuries and rest have limited Leonard’s time on the court, the Clippers have no qualms about paying him now and well into the future.

9. Paul George – $39,344,970

The absence of Leonard has put more pressure on the shoulders of George, who has responded well early on. The 31-year old currently leads the league in scoring at 28.9 points per game. He is also averaging 7.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists with a 28.93 Player Efficiency Rating, which ranks 5th in the league.

Knowing that Leonard was going to miss most, if not all of the season, the Clippers brought in Eric Bledsoe to help with the playmaking duties. That move hasn’t panned out and they continue to rely on George’s one-on-one ability to create offense. So far this season he is earning every penny.

8. Giannis Antetokounmpo – $39,344,970

Fresh off his first championship, Antetokounmpo continues to get it done for Milwaukee. His averages of 27.4 points (3rd), 10.8 rebounds (12th), and 6.4 assists (17th) may not be earth-shattering, but his 33.00 PER is a clear indication that he is carrying this team.

After a slight roster shakeup, the Bucks have already seen Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, and Brook Lopez miss games. Donte DiVincenzo remains out with a foot injury and there is no timetable for his return. Now Khris Middleton is in health and safety protocols and will miss multiple games. Their depth is being tested early on this year, but Giannis is absolutely living up to expectations.

7. Kevin Durant – $40,918,900

This could very well be another MVP season for Durant, who is carrying the load for Brooklyn once again. With Kyrie Irving not playing and James Harden struggling to just get in shape, Steven Nash has relied on Durant to lead the way. He has done just about everything for Brooklyn this year, on both ends of the floor. They still have a lot of issues to clean up, but Durant is in peak condition.

Durant is the second-leading scorer at 28.3 points per game and has the third-highest PER (31.45) this season. The Nets don’t look like the favorite in the East, but the 33-year old forward has been absolutely incredible on an individual level. Even if he needs to miss a handful of games to rest, Durant is still worth more than his salary this season.

6. LeBron James – $41,180,544

They entered this season as title favorites, but the Lakers certainly are not an elite team right now. The chemistry is going to take time, with so many new faces wearing the purple and gold this season. James is going to miss the next week or so with an abdominal strain, as the medical staff wants to make sure this doesn’t linger. When the dust settles after 82 games, he will be ready for another playoff run.

James continues to defy Father Time, putting on a dazzling display of athleticism and strength on a nightly basis. He will turn 37 next month but he is not slowing down one bit. His offensive game is still on point but his defense will need to improve as the season progresses. That holds true for everyone on the team, as that has been their biggest issue this year.

5. Damian Lillard – $43,750,000

One of the biggest questions in the offseason was the future of Lillard. Although he contemplated the decision to leave Portland, the 31-year old point guard ultimately chose to remain loyal. He has struggled out of the gates this season, particularly with his three-point shooting. Entering Monday’s game in Philadelphia, Lillard was just 3-29 from three-point range on the road but 11-34 at home.

The odds are Lillard will snap out of his funk and return to the All-NBA player that we are used to seeing every night. Portland’s success rides on his shoulders, and he knows that. Although he may be struggling at the moment, he is definitely worth the large salary. When it comes to clutch performance, loyalty, and leadership, you simply won’t find a better option than Lillard.

4. James Harden – $43,848,000

As great as Durant has been for the Nets, Harden has been equally disappointing. The former MVP has been struggling on both ends of the court, with his offensive slump being a major concern. The guard is outside of the top 40 in scoring and outside the top 50 in efficiency this year. His numbers are down across the board but it is more than just the “non-basketball move” rule change.

Just watching Harden walk up and down the floor is concerning. His conditioning is clearly lacking, and he is struggling to shoot the ball. The new Wilson ball may be partly to blame, but his careless turnovers and lack of aggression are the real issues. For a player making more than $44 million this season, the Nets desperately need him to figure it out.

3. Russell Westbrook – $44,211,146

It was a rough start for Westbrook, who received his fair share of criticism in the early games. The turnovers have always been an issue for the former MVP but there is not a player in the league that can match his intensity and competitiveness. He appears to be getting more comfortable alongside James and Davis and should settle into his role as the season moves along.

Despite his horrifying PER that ranks 139th in the league, Westbrook ranks 4th in the league in assists per game, which is what Los Angeles desperately needs right now. With James out, the electrifying point guard is fully capable of initiating the offense and creating shots for his teammates. Carmelo Anthony has been one of the beneficiaries of Westbrook’s skill set, which remains high despite the questionable turnovers.

2. John Wall – $44,310,840

Wall had a resurgent season a year ago, averaging 20.6 points and 6.9 assists per game. With the youth movement and full rebuild going on in Houston, the decision was made before the season for Wall to not play and instead mentor the younger players. The two sides are trying to find a deal for the veteran point guard, but there doesn’t seem to be a resolution coming anytime soon. Wall is a potential buyout candidate, but it will be a large one as he has a player option for next season.

The massive contract is a major red flag, despite him proving that he can still play. It is difficult to find a good fit for the former Kentucky product unless he is willing to accept a reserve role. If he were open to going the Derrick Rose route, he could be a valuable piece for many contending teams, leading the second unit.

1. Stephen Curry – $45,780,966

The guy with the highest salary this season is actually living up to it. Curry may be the greatest shooter to ever dribble a basketball but he has been instrumental in so many other areas. Just his presence on the floor provides space and open opportunities for teammates, and his willingness and desire to share the ball only make it better.

After winning the scoring title last season, Curry is still averaging 26.7 points per game this year for a Warriors team that is back in title contention. His rebounding has improved and his efficiency continues to impress. Paying a player $46 million for a season seems outrageous, but considering what Curry brings to the table, it could easily be considered a bargain.

Source: Basketball Insider

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