The NBA has a long history of dominant shooting guards—from Earl Monroe to Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant. And though the style of play in the NBA has drastically morphed over the years, shifting from slow-paced half-court games to frenetic fast-break affairs, the shooting guard position has largely remained the same. Shooting guards provide an eternally valuable service to their teams; they score.
Jordan, of course, is the pre-eminent example of a good shooting guard. Notwithstanding his defensive prowess or his underappreciated talents in other areas of offense, Jordan could score in a variety of ways, from multiple spots on the floor. He could look his defender in the eye before knocking down a cold-blooded jumper; he could play with his back to the basket, taunting his defender before one of his patented turnaround jumpers; or he could put the ball on the floor, take off, and contort his body to avoid being blocked before finishing with an easy (read: easy-for-him) bucket. Talent like that explains why he averaged over 37 points per game in the 1986-1987 season.
Though Jordan stands head and shoulders above the past and present players in the league, there are a group of talented shooting guards in today’s NBA who make scoring look almost as effortless as His Airness did. However, (and this is the most important point to evaluating today’s shooting guards), many of today’s shooting guards are too one-dimensional. Sure, scoring helps any team, but in a league where everyone can score, deficiencies elsewhere in these players’ games have lead experts to dismiss them. Consider, for instance, the publicity surrounding O.J. Mayo when he entered the league compared to now.
This list looks at the top 10 highest-paid shooting guards in the NBA, based on 2012-2013 salaries. There is a large disparity between the salaries at the top and bottom, which reflect the similar disparity between the great and good shooting guards.
10. O.J. Mayo – Milwaukee Bucks – $8 million in 2013-14
Though next season’s draft looks loaded with talent, there has not been a more talented draft in recent years than the one in 2008, which featured Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon, and O.J. Mayo. Before their freshman years, many experts predicted that O.J. Mayo would rise above the other two, but Mayo’s unsuccessful USC team did not reach its potential. Since entering the NBA, Mayo’s scoring abilities have been highly regarded, but fans and experts alike have noted his many deficiencies. This season, Mayo is averaging 12.6 points per game on an abysmal Milwaukee team. Fortunately for Mayo, he is only 26, and success is the best way to make people forget the past.
9. Marcus Thornton – Sacramento Kings – $8.05 million in 2013-14
Thornton makes a good deal of money for a player averaging 7.3 points, 1.1 assists, and 3 rebounds per game. At 6’4″, Thornton is slightly undersized for his position. He does, however, play on a team full of talented scorers—namely, Demarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, and the newly acquired Rudy Gay. If Sacramento played in the East, they could be looking at a playoff berth, but as it stands, they will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs in the West.
8. Rodney Stuckey – Detroit Pistons – $8.5 million in 2013-14
Rodney Stuckey is another example of a shooting guard who can put points on the board but cannot do much else. The 27-year-old is averaging 14.5 points and 2 assists per game this season. Though Detroit has a losing record, the team can still make the playoffs in the anemic Eastern Conference. If the Pistons do make the playoffs, Stuckey’s scoring ability could boost his team during tough stretches.
7. DeMar DeRozan – Toronto Raptors – $9.5 million in 2013-14
Like Mayo, DeMar DeRozan attended USC with a good deal of publicity surrounding him. Unlike Mayo, though, DeRozan has steadily improved each year he has been in the NBA. This season, he is averaging 21.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game on a surprising Toronto team. DeRozan, at only 24 years of age, should be a good player in the NBA for years to come. Whether or not he elevates himself to elite status remains to be seen.
6. Ben Gordon – Charlotte Bobcats – $13.2 million in 2013-14
Ben Gordon began his career in Chicago, where he entertained fans with his deft, yet streaky shooting touch. Indeed, during those years, Gordon was always one made shot away from erupting into dominant scoring streaks. The caveat to Gordon’s success, however, is that he has played on bad teams. An injury has undermined his current season, but his team has a shot at the playoffs. Perhaps that last fact does not augur well for Gordon’s future in the league.
5. James Harden – Houston Rockets – $13,701,250 in 2013-14
James Harden is a formidable scorer, and he has delivered on all his potential since coming to Houston. A talented slasher, Harden has a knack for drawing fouls, as he shoots just under 9 free throws per game. He is averaging 24.3 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.9 rebound per game this year. With Harden and Dwight Howard, Houston looks poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.
4. Eric Gordon – New Orleans Pelicans – $14,283,844 in 2013-14
Unfortunately for Eric Gordon, injuries have plagued his short career. However, at 25, Gordon is still young, he has not lost his athletic ability, and he can still shoot the ball effectively. Although his numbers are down this year, Gordon is averaging 15.9 points and 3.2 assists per game. With Anthony Davis starting to blossom into an elite player, Gordon’s New Orleans team looks like it will ascend the NBA food-chain, though that ascension looks to be at least a year away. Given his past troubles with injuries, though, Gordon’s salary is higher than it should be.
3. Dwyane Wade – Miami Heat – $18,673,000 in 2013-14
Dwyane Wade, nicknamed “Flash,” is one of the NBA’s elite, though injuries have begun to slow him down this year. Nevertheless, Wade is still averaging 18.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on a Miami team that is looking for its third consecutive championship. The most important number in terms of Wade’s production this year is his 54% shooting percentage. He scores effectively and efficiently, and Miami’s recent troubles with him out of the lineup elucidate how important he is to his team.
2. Joe Johnson – Brooklyn Nets – $21,466,718 in 2013-14
Since jilting Atlanta for the big city and big contract, Joe Johnson has not had the level of success that most expected him to have. And yet, Johnson is averaging 16.3 points per game on over 45% shooting. His numbers are not that bad. The fact that most fans and experts are disappointed with his play in Brooklyn speaks to the exceedingly high expectations placed on Johnson when he signed his lucrative contract. Johnson’s team, though, will make the playoffs this season, and Brooklyn’s success in the playoffs will impact how fans and experts appraise him.
1. Kobe Bryant – LA Lakers – $30,453,805 in 2013-14
Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the greatest NBA players of all time. Black Mamba makes an enormous amount of money, but no one can sanely argue that he has not justified his salary. Over the course of his 17-year career, Kobe has averaged 25.5 points per game, won the league’s MVP Award, and won five league championships. Unfortunately, injuries have undermined his season, but NBA fans and experts alike hope that Kobe can make a full recovery. Perhaps there is a sixth championship in him, though prospects look bleak.