In almost every other sport, being marked as a bench player is a designation that no player wants. Basketball does not have that issue. Some players, as talented as they may be, simply have a knack for giving their best production to a club by coming off the bench.
Going as far back as the days when Kevin McHale began his Hall of Fame-worthy career off the bench, making it difficult for opposing second-team defenses to deal with him (not that first team defenses had a better chance against the man with quite possibly the biggest arsenal of post moves in the history of the game).
In today’s NBA, almost every team has their own adaptation of what the Celtics did with McHale in the 1980s. The title of 6th man is usually occupied by guards, whose job are to push the offensive tempo, forcing the defense to change their strategy. Obviously, there are exceptions to this new rule, with a guy like Carl Landry being a great example.
With this still-new trend that continues to sweep basketball, there are several candidates that are under consideration for Sixth Man of the Year this season. A year ago, the award went to James Harden, whose chance to take the national spotlight is being taken to its fullest advantage in Houston, where he is quickly turning into a superstar in the Rockets’ starting lineup, coached by, ironically, Kevin McHale.
The list this year has a fair share of faces that one would have expected to see when the season began, while there is still plenty of players that the average, or even the well-informed NBA fan may not have seen coming in terms of candidacy for this award.
When the Thunder were shopping James Harden around the league, it was obvious that in return they wanted someone who could fill the scoring void that would be left vacant with Harden’s departure. Odds are they wanted to replace that beard as well, but sadly, Brian Wilson wasn’t available at that time.
Instead, they ignored the facial hair criteria and ended up with Kevin Martin, a guy with an unfortunate history of injury concerns, along with an ability to put the basketball in the hoop better than almost everyone else in the NBA. What gives Martin an advantage is his ability so make plays without the ball; get open and hit jumpers off the pass. That ability seems like a simple one, but is losing its normality around the league.
With all this said, it was expected that Martin, while not planned to be in the starting lineup, was expected to be the third scoring option for the Thunder behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. His odds of making a splash in the Sixth Man of the Year rankings were there right from the beginning. So far, he’s earned every bit of high praise that he received once the trigger had been pulled, making him a member of the Thunder.
Some players that haven’t always been known for their consistent productions have made a serious turnaround, and helped their teams become legitimate championship contenders. Others have put up similar numbers their entire careers, but have been overlooked for the majority of their careers. Others continue to put up the same type of production they’ve put up for years, only now it’s on a much bigger stage. All of these players are on this list, and all of them have made their names in the NBA in different ways, but most of them aren’t really known for their production as a bench performer.
There is one disclaimer that needs to be brought up: Ryan Anderson is not on this list. If Anthony Davis was able to evade the injury bug better than he did, odds are Anderson would be near the very top, but to this point, he has started more games than he has come off the bench for, so, for that reason, we will not see him here.
Who you will see, however, are guys that have changed the landscape of their ogranizations in a plethora of different ways.
Starting off at the no. 1 spot is a guy that is the arguably the second-best shot creator on what has been (not arguably) the best team in the NBA over the past month-and-a-half.
The rankings are as follows:
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