In the modern, super-max era of basketball, teams are handing out big-money deals with aplomb, but only some of them are really getting a bang for their buck while others get stuck with albatross contracts on their books.
At the moment, 27 players are signed to deals that can be qualified as max contracts, and we at HoopsHype decided it would be fun to rank all of them from No. 1 to No. 27.
Now, how much these players earn will have no bearing on this ranking. We’re solely going by how we think these players should be sorted based on their current form and their overall level of production this season.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
27. CHANDLER PARSONS, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Contract: Four years, $94.4 million
The fact that Chandler Parsons has been hurt almost constantly since signing his max contract with the Memphis Grizzlies back in the summer of 2016 left us with no choice but to rank him last on this list. Parsons has missed a whopping 150 out of a potential 239 contests dating back to 2016-17, mostly due to lingering knee issues that have prevented him from regaining his excellent early-career form.
Parsons is averaging 6.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game as a Grizzly, shooting 39.5 percent from the floor and 33.5 percent from beyond the arc. His contract won’t expire until after the 2019-20 season.
26. HASSAN WHITESIDE, MIAMI HEAT
Contract: Four years, $98.4 million
Since losing his starting job to the younger Bam Adebayo back in early March, Miami Heat big man Hassan Whiteside is averaging 9.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 16.8 minutes nightly. That steep dip in production has drastically dragged Whiteside’s numbers down, as the athletic center is now posting his worst season since 2014-15.
Overall, Whiteside can still be a force on the glass and on defense when he’s locked in, but consistency issues have plagued the big man for far too long, leading to the lineup change by head coach Erik Spoelstra. Whiteside has a player opt-out option on his deal for next year, but considering he’ll earn $27.1 million in 2019-20, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll choose to exercise it.
25. GORDON HAYWARD, BOSTON CELTICS
Contract: Four years, $127.8 million
A catastrophic leg injury is to blame for Gordon Hayward failing to live up to his max contract. He missed basically all of 2017-18, and his play this season hasn’t provided much to write home about.
Hayward is averaging 10.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game this year, shooting 33.0 percent from three and 45.0 percent from the floor overall. Even coming off the bench against second units, Hayward has struggled to make an elite impact, outside of an impressive performance or two.
Still, at least the talented forward has flashed moments of greatness in the past, so hopefully another year removed from the injury once 2019-20 rolls around, Hayward can start living up to the rich contract given to him by the Boston Celtics.
24. ANDREW WIGGINS, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Contract: Four years, $147.7 million
The way injuries have hampered Hayward and Parsons, a lack of consistent effort and a lackadaisical attitude have killed Andrew Wiggins throughout his career. Some thought that maybe this year, after the dramatic way Jimmy Butler’s departure unfolded, a fire would be lit under Wiggins, one that would help propel him towards reaching his immense ceiling.
That hasn’t been the case. If anything, Wiggins’ play has regressed even further.
In 2018-19, Wiggins is putting up 17.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest while shooting a paltry 40.4 percent from the floor. The advanced stats have always disliked Wiggins and yet, this season, he has managed to put up career-worst marks in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WS/48).
The only saving grace for the Minnesota Timberwolves is that Wiggins is still just 24, so it’s way too early to give up on him entirely. But if his play doesn’t start to improve next season, Wiggins’ contract could end up looking like one of the worst in the entire Association.
23. HARRISON BARNES, SACRAMENTO KINGS
Contract: Four years, $94.4 million
Averaging 16.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this year, Harrison Barnes is a nice player being paid like an elite one.
Regardless, unlike some of the players below him in this ranking, at least Barnes can be relied upon to show up on a nightly basis, knock down some shots from the outside and defend multiple positions. He may run hot and cold at times, but Barnes is much more consistent than a Wiggins or a Whiteside, which is why he places higher than them on this list.
Barnes will never be mistaken for a star, but he’s a pretty good two-way complementary piece who understands his role, and performs it to the best of his abilities every time he steps on the floor.
22. OTTO PORTER, CHICAGO BULLS
Contract: Four years, $106.5 million
If Otto Porter hadn’t gotten traded to the Chicago Bulls midway through 2018-19, he definitely would have ranked near the bottom of this list. But the move to a team where the ball is actually swung around and not dominated by just two players has allowed Porter to prove he’s more than merely a 3-and-D specialist, as the Georgetown product now has the freedom to do more with the rock in his hands.
And with that newfound freedom, Porter has performed well.
As a Bull, Porter is averaging 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game on excellent 48.3/48.8/90.6 shooting splits. The points and assists would both be career-highs if extrapolated for the season, and should excite Chicago fans as to Porter’s potential after a full offseason and training camp with the team.
21. MARC GASOL, TORONTO RAPTORS
Contract: Five years, $113.2 million
At the time he signed his max contract back in 2015, Marc Gasol looked like he was worth every penny. After all, he was just two seasons removed from a terrific Defensive Player of the Year campaign, coming off a 17.4/7.8/3.8 year and, by all accounts, looking like one of the best centers in the NBA.
Today, though, the deal doesn’t look as team-friendly, as Father Time seems to have caught up to the big Spaniard just a bit.
Memphis traded Gasol to the Toronto Raptors at this year’s deadline, with Toronto hoping the big man will give them a boost during their impending playoff run. However, so far the returns from Gasol have been only decent. The 34-year-old is putting up meager averages (8.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game) as a Raptor, but his swing rating (+5.0) should give Toronto hope that his addition will pay off once the games start to matter more.
20. KEVIN LOVE, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Contract: Five years, $113.2 million
Had it not been for an injury that forced him to miss most of this season, Kevin Love probably would have ranked higher on this list. However, a foot ailment will ultimately allow Love to see action in just over a quarter of this season’s games, rendering it impossible to place him any higher than we did.
Nevertheless, when he’s been able to suit up in 2018-19, Love has proven to still be an All-Star caliber big man. Putting up 17.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.5 three-pointers per contest, Love is easily the Cleveland Cavaliers’ best player, and one of the top power forwards the Eastern Conference has to offer. What’s more, his stats are far from empty, as the UCLA product boasts an impressive +7.5 swing rating on the year, proving how valuable he is for Cleveland when he’s on the floor.
On the other hand, Love has typically been an injury-plagued player throughout his career, a problem that likely won’t get much better as he gets further into his 30s. Couple that with the fact his four-year, $120.4 million max extension won’t even kick in until his age-31 season (in 2019-20), and you have serious cause for concern about how that contract will look a few years down the road.
19. ANDRE DRUMMOND, DETROIT PISTONS
Contract: Five years, $127.2 million
The NBA’s leading rebounder three out of the last four years, Andre Drummond has blossomed nicely for the Detroit Pistons, becoming one of the better big men the Eastern Conference has to offer.
Drummond’s numbers on the year – 17.3 points, 15.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.6 steals per game – show that the center can fill the stat sheet like few other bigs can, and his swing rating (+8.6) proves his impact is felt every time he’s on the floor. If he can maintain this level of consistency in the future, Drummond’s best days could still be ahead of him, as the UConn product is merely 25 years old and already a two-time All-Star.
18. AL HORFORD, BOSTON CELTICS
Contract: Four years, $113.3 million
Boston Celtics big man Al Horford may not put up huge numbers, but his impact is felt in every facet of the game whenever he’s on the floor. Horford is putting up 13.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest this season, shooting 53.1 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent from three. Mundane numbers, for the most part.
However, his swing rating (+2.1) is a positive for the 10th year in a row (mostly thanks to his rare blend of defense and playmaking for a big man), proving that he’s a game-changer for Boston.
17. MIKE CONLEY, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Contract: Five years, $152.6 million
The Grizzlies have a decision to make regarding Mike Conley’s future with the club this summer. They decided against trading him away at February’s deadline, but could revisit talks this offseason, per reports.
It makes sense why, too. Although Conley, averaging 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game in 2018-19, is still playing some of the best basketball of his career, Memphis is in the midst of a rebuild, so paying the 31-year-old north of $67 million over the next two seasons just doesn’t make sense for the outlook of their team.
Regardless, Conley is still one of the league’s upper echelon floor generals, so the Grizzlies shouldn’t have a shortage of suitors if they do decide to move him this summer.
16. CHRIS PAUL, HOUSTON ROCKETS
Contract: Four years, $159.7 million
Future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul is currently on Year-1 of a monster contract, one which will culminate with the Houston Rockets paying him $44.2 million in his Age-36 season. And seeing as how Paul’s game has already started to show age-related regression, how that deal continues to age should worry Houston just a bit.
Still, the nine-time All-Star is averaging 15.6 points, 8.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game in 2018-19, helping him maintain his status as one of the NBA’s top lead guards.
15. JIMMY BUTLER, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Contract: Five years, $92.3 million
Butler’s numbers – 19.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game – may be a bit down this year, but an awkward early-season trade and even more awkward fit with his new team could partially be to blame for that.
We say his fit with the Philadelphia 76ers has been awkward because Butler, a naturally ball-dominant player, has had to share the rock with two other high-usage options in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and with another All-Star caliber player in Tobias Harris this year, which has slightly lessened his impact, at least on offense.
Nonetheless, Butler is still one of the top two-way wings in the Association, capable of efficiently getting buckets and checking top perimeter opponents on a nightly basis. He’s also in line for a pay raise this summer, as it’s basically a lock Butler will opt out of the final year of his deal this offseason in order to hit unrestricted free agency.
14. LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Contract: Four years, $84.0 million
With the supposed impending rise of the Los Angeles Lakers out west, many believed the San Antonio Spurs could be one of the teams to bow out of the playoffs to make room for LeBron James’ new team.
Of course, anyone who actually thought the Spurs would fall out of postseason contention was proven utterly wrong this season, as San Antonio will finish the year comfortably among the Western Conference’s top eight.
Apart from head coach Gregg Popovich, the person who is most responsible for the Spurs’ continued playoff streak is LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge, named an All-Star for the seventh time this season, is averaging 21.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game on the year, providing San Antonio with timely buckets and tough defense down low on a game-by-game basis. The Texas product’s current contract does expire this summer, but the Spurs have already locked him up to a two-year, $50 million extension, which kicks in for 2019-20.
13. BRADLEY BEAL, WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Contract: Five years, $127.2 million
Washington Wizards 2-guard Bradley Beal had already become an All-Star level player over the past few years. This season, however, he’s blossomed into something even better.
The former Florida Gator is averaging 26.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game on the year, showing an all-around game that not many high-volume scorers in the league can match. He may be getting a rich salary from Washington, but Beal is proving to be worth every penny and then some. In fact, one could even argue his deal may be a bargain at the moment.
He’s been that excellent.
12. BLAKE GRIFFIN, DETROIT PISTONS
Contract: Five years, $171.2 million
As healthy as he has been in quite some time, Blake Griffin has proven this year that he’s still one of the NBA’s best big men. Griffin is putting up 24.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game in 2018-19, elite numbers that can only be matched by LeBron and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Thanks to Griffin’s excellent all-around play, the Detroit Pistons are now pretty much a lock to reach the playoffs for just the second time in the last 10 years.
Detroit’s decision to trade for Griffin during the 2017-18 season was met with much speculation, mostly due to his injury history and the massive contract that came attached to it. But so far, the deal has worked out rather well for the Pistons, as Griffin is putting up some of the best numbers of his career. And as long as he stays healthy, that likely won’t change for the foreseeable future.
11. KYRIE IRVING, BOSTON CELTICS
Contract: Five years, $94.3 million
One of the most interesting subplots of the upcoming offseason will be what Kyrie Irving decides to do in free agency. At one time, it looked like it was gonna be an easy decision, as Irving told Boston Celtics fans that he planned to re-sign in 2019. However, since then, a lot has changed.
And if the Celtics, who have been pretty much a huge disappointment this season, suffer a quick ouster in the playoffs, things could really get interesting.
Regardless, although Boston has been disappointing as a whole, Irving’s play has not been. The 2016 champion point guard is averaging 23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and a career-high 7.1 assists per game on the year, performing like one of the top point guards the league has to offer… which would make it all the more painful for the Celtics if he does decide to move on this summer.
10. RUSSELL WESTBROOK, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Contract: Five years, $206.8 million
For the third year running, Russell Westbrook, averaging 23.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game this season, will average a triple-double for an entire campaign. What once seemed impossible Westbrook has now made look ordinary.
Nevertheless, this season has been far from perfect for the 2017 league MVP, as Westbrook’s jump shot seems to have all but abandoned him. The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is shooting a paltry 28.6 percent from three this year, making him the league’s worst high-volume three-point shooter. Even more concerning is the fact that Westbrook’s free-throw shooting, which was once a strength that would help give his efficiency a boost, has also plummeted down to 65.4 percent on over six nightly attempts.
Westbrook is still one of the most dominant guards in the NBA, but those shooting troubles could be quite problematic once the playoffs arrive.
9. ANTHONY DAVIS, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Contract: Five years, $127.2 million
There’s little doubt Anthony Davis, had he put up a regular Anthony Davis season, would have fared far better in this ranking. But with the brutally awkward way he handled his midseason trade request and the lackadaisical effort he’s shown on nights where he actually has played following the request, we had no choice but to dock him a few spots on this list.
For the year, Davis is averaging 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.4 blocks per game. Must be nice to be so talented that you can give less-than-max effort for multiple games and still put up numbers that nasty.
Anyway, it’ll be fascinating to see where Davis ends up next season, and if his wish to be a Laker is finally granted.
8. JOEL EMBIID, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Contract: Five years, $147.7 million
As Embiid’s offense has reached another level this season, his defense has fallen off a bit, which is the main reason he didn’t rank higher on this list.
In 2018-19, Embiid is averaging 27.5 points per game (No. 4 in the league), 13.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 blocks nightly. His Offensive Box/Plus Minus of +1.8 has shattered his previous career-high mark of +0.1, mostly thanks to his career-best 48.5 percent shooting from the floor and 81.0 percent free-throw shooting on over 10 attempts per contest. On the other hand, Embiid’s Defensive Box/Plus Minus has dipped from +3.2 his rookie campaign to +2.1 this year, and with it, the Sixers have dropped to 11th in defensive efficiency after ranking third last year.
Regardless, Embiid is absolutely dominant as evidenced by his insane raw and advanced metrics, and the fact he’s been able to stay mostly healthy the last two years speaks quite well to Philadelphia’s future.
7. KAWHI LEONARD, TORONTO RAPTORS
Contract: Five years, $94.3 million
There were questions regarding how Kawhi Leonard would look this season in his return from what was basically a yearlong absence due to thigh troubles.
Leonard has answered those questions emphatically.
The star wing is putting up a career-high 27.0 points per game this year, chipping in 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals to boot. He’s as efficient as ever, too, shooting 49.7 percent from the floor and 85.9 percent from the charity stripe.
At an annual average value of under $19 million on his current contract, Leonard has been playing at a bargain of a price for the Toronto Raptors this year. The question is, once he’s on his next deal, which will be of a much richer value, will he still be a member of the Raptors?
6. PAUL GEORGE, OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Contract: Four years, $136.9 million
The Association’s second-leading scorer this season, Paul George looked like a legitimate MVP candidate at one point in 2018-19. Since then, his play, along with that of the Thunder, has tapered off just a bit, pretty much ending any chance he had at claiming the award.
Even so, George, arguably the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year this season, has been outstanding overall this campaign. The 28-year-old is putting up 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and a league-leading 2.1 steals per contest in 2018-19, numbers that speak not to just an excellent season, but to an all-time great campaign. (Only Michael Jordan has likewise crossed the 28/8/4/2 threshold for a season, and he only did it once.)
On Year-1 of his new max deal, the Thunder have to be absolutely thrilled with how George has acclimated to playing in Oklahoma City, as he looks to be getting even better in his late-20s.
5. NIKOLA JOKIC, DENVER NUGGETS
Contract: Five years, $147.7 million
One of the two or three best centers in the entire NBA, Nikola Jokic has been an absolute monster for the Denver Nuggets this year, averaging 20.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game, and shooting 50.9 percent from the floor in the process.
Jokic has been so good for Denver that the Nuggets, after having missed each of the last two postseasons by just one game apiece, is currently in contention to finish the season as the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, an unthinkable feat for them just a few years ago.
What’s more, the most exciting part of all this for Denver has to be the fact that Jokic, still just 24 years old, is locked up through the 2022-23 season, meaning the Nuggets will be able to build around their star big man for years to come.
4. LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Contract: Four years, $153.3 million
This year may not have gone as expected for LeBron and Co., but that really can’t all be pinned on the four-time league MVP. After all, he did miss over a month of action this season due to a groin injury which all but ended the Lakers’ hopes of making the playoffs. Even so, James, widely considered one of the two greatest players of all time, is always going to be graded on a curve, so the abject failure that was Los Angeles this season is going to at least somewhat fall at his feet.
On the year, the 34-year-old James averaged 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game on 51.0/33.9/66.5 shooting splits. His swing rating for the season – +8.1 – proved how invaluable his nightly contributions were, too.
So no, this might not be peak LeBron anymore, which is understandable considering his age and the insane number of minutes he’s played throughout his career, but even at 34, he’s still without a doubt one of the best players the league has to offer.
3. STEPHEN CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Contract: Five years, $201.2 million
The greatest shooter of all time, Stephen Curry has continued his assault on opposing nets in 2018-19. The two-time MVP is pouring in 27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this season, attempting 12.0 threes per game and knocking down 43.7 percent of them.
When he’s on the floor, the Golden State Warriors are 13.9 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits, which shows just how absurdly valuable he is to the best team in the league.
Curry currently has the richest contract in the NBA, both by total worth (see above) and annual average value ($40.2 million), and despite the fact he’s 31, the deal should age beautifully considering the explosive sharpshooter isn’t all that reliant on his athleticism.
As long as Curry is around, Golden State will be contenders, no matter what happens to the rest of their roster.
His offense is that impactful.
2. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON ROCKETS
Contract: Four years, $118.0 million
One of the two favorites to take home MVP for 2018-19, James Harden has somehow continued to top himself every single season he’s been a member of the Houston Rockets.
In 2018-19, Harden is averaging 36.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists per contest. He’s dropped at least 30 points against every single team in the league, and had a streak of 32 games where he scored 30-plus. Harden’s 36.4-point scoring average is the league’s highest output since 1986-87, when Jordan averaged 37.1.
Harden’s scoring has gone from incredible to historic this season, and despite complaints about the aesthetics with his scoring performances (i.e., people don’t like that he draws a lot of fouls), no one can deny how amazing his bucket-getting has been in 2018-19.
1. KEVIN DURANT, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Contract: Two years, $61.5 million
For the first time in his career, it appears Kevin Durant has finally wrestled the mantle of best player in the league away from LeBron James.
The Warriors forward is putting up 26.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this year, shooting 51.6 percent from the floor and 88.4 percent from the foul stripe. More important than that, however, is the fact that Durant is now, for the first time since switching teams, Golden State’s leader in swing rating at +16.9. Previously, that honor had gone solely to Curry, but now, the stats tell us Durant has become even more impactful than his marksman of a teammate.
And it’s because of a ridiculously impressive feat that we went with the supersized wing as the best player on a max contract.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.
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