The NBA is known universally for being a sport that cares about height probably more than most other sports do – the taller you are as a basketball player, the better. The average height of NBA players in the 2013-14 season is 6’7”, and the fact that we so often see players whose height pushes or exceeds seven feet doesn’t help to disprove that, either.
But is size really everything in the NBA when it comes down to it? The answer to that is actually a resounding "no". In fact, many of the best players in the league today are fairly well below the league average, and are still collecting good coin and making fans jump out of their seats, even if their vertical challenges prevent them from making the same roof-raising dunks their peers so often make.
The 10 men on this list have seen success in the NBA to varying degrees – some are among the league’s elite, others are underperforming despite their gigantic paycheck, and one is a player that most definitely has earned his huge yearly salary but has constantly been dogged by injury over past several years. Some are NBA champions, others are major offensive components of teams that are struggling to even get into the playoffs. Either way, they’ve dispelled any sort of myth that the NBA is an extremely tall man’s league.
While a relative lack of big salary prevented some major undersized players – Stephen Curry, John Wall and Kyrie Irving in particular – from making this list, the 10 players we do include here are living proof that size isn’t everything. In fact, it proves that if you can play well enough on the court, there’s plenty you can do to make up for your relative lack of towering height. Without further ado, here are the top 10 highest-paid NBA players below 6’7”.
10 Andre Iguodala - Golden State Warriors ($12.9 million in 2013-14)
Although his point-per-game totals tend to fluctuate per season, Andre Iguodala is still a top-level player for any NBA team to have. The 6’6” small forward/shooting guard is currently plying his trade with the Denver Nuggets after having spent eight years with the Philadelphia 76ers. Iguodala’s been an NBA All-Star once, as well as an Olympic gold medalist with Team USA in London in 2012. Making about $12.9 million this season, the swingman known as “Iggy” is having a disappointing season with the Warriors so far, as although the team is hanging on to a playoff spot in the West, he's failed to take them to the next level.
9 Ben Gordon - Charlotte Bobcats ($13.2 million in 2013-14)
This British-born shooting guard isn’t one of the best players in the game right now – in fact, his numbers in 2013-14 so far have been disappointing, with an average of only 5.6 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game so far this year. However, Gordon has proven himself to be an effective and reliable sixth man to almost every team he’s played for, winning the NBA Sixth Man Award in 2005 while with the Chicago Bulls. His salary of $13.2 million this season may be pretty excessive given recent point totals, but the 6’3” Gordon is still a solid supporting player despite being in the shadow of Gerald Henderson in Charlotte.
8 James Harden - Houston Rockets ($13.7 million in 2013-14)
Once an integral sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder during their run to the NBA finals in 2012, James Harden – who takes home $13.7 million this season – is now plying his trade in Houston where his point totals have never been better: 24.4 points per game for the Rockets so far in 2013-14, with 4.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game as well. Although some may complain about his performances on defense, especially with the Rockets’ so far lackluster season, the 6’5” Harden is still an invaluable asset to Houston’s offensive game, and he and Dwight Howard still make up at least part of the core of an otherwise struggling team.
7 Eric Gordon - New Orleans Pelicans ($14.3 million in 2013-14)
The starting shooting guard for the Pelicans (formerly known as the Hornets), Eric Gordon may only stand at a height of 6’4” – smallish for NBA standards – but his offensive contributions to a fairly young New Orleans team have proven essential. His point totals so far are his lowest per game this season – about 15.4 points per game – and the Pelicans are still on the outside looking in with regards to a Western Conference playoff spot. Despite that, this former seventh overall pick by the Clippers is still making pretty solid dough, with a salary this season of $14.3 million.
6 Russell Westbrook - Oklahoma City Thunder ($14.7 million in 2013-14)
This three-time All-Star may only stand at 6’3”, but Russell Westbrook’s skills on the court stand far taller than what his lower-than-average height may suggest. The well-rounded Thunder point guard is putting up consistently high numbers per game in terms of points, rebounds and assists, and his $14.7 million salary in 2013-14 is surely his reward. But Westbrook’s individual contributions are simply part of a bigger and more meaningful team effort: his Thunder currently sit atop the Western Conference standings, and trail only Indiana for the NBA’s top dogs so far this season.
5 Derrick Rose - Chicago Bulls ($17.6 million in 2013-14)
With all of his accolades and accomplishments on the court so far in his career, it truly is a shame that Derrick Rose’s reputation while playing with the Chicago Bulls seems to be characterized by being injury-prone, as he’s currently out with a torn meniscus in his right knee that required surgery. Furthermore, Rose – who stands at 6’3” – hasn’t played a full season since 2010-11. It seems like his salary of $17.6 million this season is rather high for someone who hasn’t played more than 10 games this season, but Rose’s ability to attack the basket and even change the course of a game is surely missed by the Bulls, and will be very much welcomed back upon his return.
4 Deron Williams - Brooklyn Nets ($18.5 million in 2013-14)
This former longtime Utah Jazz point guard has had a rocky season so far in Brooklyn, with his point totals of 13.6 per game, his lowest since his rookie season in 2005-06. But the 6’3” Deron Williams is still seen as a key player for this Nets squad, and his $18.5 million salary this year adds credence to that. The Nets have certainly been struggling this year, as they still sit well under .500 and outside of a playoff spot. Unfortunately for Williams, he has been made something of a scapegoat for the Nets’ on-court struggles, as fans have complained about him being overpaid and looking tired and overmatched.
3 Dwyane Wade - Miami Heat ($18.5 million in 2013-14)
2 Chris Paul - Los Angeles Clippers ($18.7 million in 2013-14)
The number two baller on this list is also the shortest of the bunch. At 6’0”, it’s easy to see how Clippers point guard Chris Paul is dwarfed by his peers on the court. However, his ability to play basketball speaks massive volumes by comparison – just look at his salary of $18.7 million for the 2013-14 season. He’s been an All-Star six times, was Rookie of the Year in 2006, and has been named to the All-NBA First Team three times. All that’s missing for Paul now is a ring. Even though he’s playing for a team that has never won an NBA title and for so long has played second fiddle to their purple and yellow-coloured arena co-tenants in Los Angeles, he’s certainly talented enough to make it to the promised land.
1 Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles Lakers ($30.4 million in 2013-14)
He may be in the twilight of his career, but it has been absolutely nothing short of a decorated one. The Black Mamba has won five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVP Awards, has been an NBA All-Star 16 times, and has been the league’s MVP once. The list just goes on and on. Making it just under the league’s average height at 6’6”, Kobe has a salary of about $30.4 million this year, and the recently injury-plagued shooting guard is still among the NBA’s elite, despite disappointing point totals in the six games he’s actually played this year.