Athletes grow up with an acute awareness of depth charts. Whether it’s the first line of a hockey team or the starting lineup of a basketball team, young athletes learn to value and covet these positions, as the “best” players on a given team tend to occupy them. However, teams are only as good as their weakest man, and depth cannot be disregarded if a team desires to win. The world of professional sports is no stranger to this maxim. In the NBA, depth is eternally important, as strong play from a respective team’s sixth man can make the difference between success and failure.
Since the 1980s, the sixth man has been a valuable piece in NBA lineups. The Boston Celtics were one of the first teams to effectively utilize the sixth man, as two players from the team—Kevin McHale and Bill Walton—won the award three years in a row from the early to mid-eighties. Since then, deft shooters like Detlef Shrempf, Dell Curry, and Toni Kukoc have won the award. Players like Ben Gordon and Jamal Crawford—who won the award in 2005 and 2010, respectively—have been their teams’ most explosive scorers, coming off the bench to light up unsuspecting defenses that have been lulled to sleep by their teams’ starters. Manu Ginobili, an eminent sixth man in the league, routinely challenges for the award by virtue of his scoring ability and overall importance to the San Antonio Spurs’ success. It would be hard to discuss the Spurs’ success in the last decade without calling attention to Ginobli.
This list thus looks at the top 10 highest-paid sixth men in the NBA this season. The rankings are based on player salaries for the 2013-2014 season and they do not take into account the overall worth of a given contract. For some of these players, the role of sixth man probably feels like banishment from their respective team’s starting lineup. But for other players, the role of sixth man is a familiar one—a position wherein they are best equipped to help their respective team win.
10. J.R. Smith – New York Knicks – $5,565,000 in 2014
Over the years, J.R. Smith has developed into one of the league’s premier sixth men, offering his teams a potent offensive boost off the bench. He is a notoriously streaky shooter though, but when he plays well he can take over games, combining a deft shooting touch with dominant athleticism. This season has been rocky for Smith, as he is averaging 12.8 points per game on less than 40% shooting. However, the New York Knicks are dreadful, so J.R. Smith’s play cannot be singled out.