“Spark plug.” “Energy man off the bench.” “Captain of the second team.” All of these phrases and terms are used to describe some of the players who went on to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. The Sixth Man has increasingly become an important position in today’s game. A lot of the guys coming off the bench are big scorers that can pour in twenty points on any given night. Not only can these guys score, but a lot of the time they bring an energy with them that hypes up the whole team. Jamal Crawford showed us all last year that a sixth man can come in and do even more damage than a lot of starters. So, let’s get down to previewing the race for this award.
Five teams in six seasons isn’t much of a stat to brag about, but that’s what D.J. Augustin has to his name coming into this season. He seems to be like a traveling sixth man that can go into a city and help their team’s bench squad with varying success. Last season he went into Chicago to help out the Rose-less Bulls and he did so with energy and poise. While playing for the Bulls, Augustin averaged 14.9 points and 5.0 assists while shooting 42% from the floor. This season, however, he’ll be playing for the Pistons who are in a bigger state of flux. He most likely won’t be logging as many minutes this year, and he doesn’t have as complete of a unit around him which is why he lands in the honorable mentions section.
Going from one journeyman to even more well-traveled journeyman. Shaun Livingston will be playing for his ninth(!!) NBA team in his 9-year career. Livingston is as tough of a player as they come though, especially after fighting to come back from the horrid knee injury that he suffered in 2007. He had one of the best seasons of his career last year with the Brooklyn Nets, which landed him a multi-year contract with the Warriors. The Warriors tried to play Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford at the backup point guard spot, but they just didn’t turn out to be what they wanted. Now, they have a physical point guard with length who can change the style of play when Steph Curry has to come off the court. Livingston will be a great sixth man for the Warriors due to the style change that he brings to the floor, but the main emphasis is still on the starting squad in Golden State and he won’t have much of a chance to put up big numbers from the sixth man role.
If the term “sixth man” and Manu Ginobili’s name aren’t used in the same conversation, then something is very wrong. He has been one of the most consistent players to play the sixth man role since he was put in that position. Ginobili will always be in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year as long Coach Popovich keeps him in that role. The Popovich system allows Ginobili to come in and play his own type of game off the bench. When Parker and company need to rest, Manu comes in as a sort of savior. The past finals matchup is proof enough that Manu belongs in every sixth man conversation, but the only question is how much longer can he keep himself there?
5. Nick “Swaggy P” Young
Glitz, glamour, flash, and Nick Young. Los Angeles has to be the perfect place for Nick Young, not only due to the big lights and celebrity atmosphere, but because he can stay in his normal sixth man role as well. You won’t find a much more entertaining sixth man on and off the court than Swaggy P. He has a knack for coming into a game and sparking his team to make a run, especially when he hits his first couple shots. He’s a volume shooter, so there will be games when he misses a good amount of shots, but his on-court antics can get any crowd going. Young was in the running for 6MoY last year, but he wasn’t heavily considered. Last season, Young averaged 17.9 points, 1.5 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game while shooting 43.5% from the floor. If he increases the assists and rebounds, then he could rise right up the ranks. We all know the Lakers aren’t competing for a ring this year, but that doesn’t mean Swaggy P can’t go out there and have some fun being a big time scorer off the bench.
4. Isaiah Thomas
Phoenix has a scary backcourt this year. Just the rotation of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas is as dynamic of a trio as anyone could want. Thomas will have to transition from being one of the go-to starters, to a sixth man that needs to provide the team with scoring depth. There’s no doubt that he can score and distribute the ball, but he needs to do that with some limited minutes. Last year, Isaiah Thomas averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists while playing close to 35 minutes a game. He did boast a 20.5 PER last season, so now he needs to keep it up while playing 6-8 minutes less per game. That being said, Phoenix should be confident in his ability to keep doing what he’s been doing. Make sure you keep an eye on Thomas this year, because he has a serious ability to light it up when he’s needed. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see a “little guy” get recognized for an award?
3. Taj Gibson
Taj Gibson had a serious case to win this award last season. He had the best season of his career, and just fell short of Jamal Crawford. Now, with Pau Gasol on the team, it looks like he’ll be playing the same role this year. His midrange shot has looked smooth, his post game is no joke, and he crashes the boards well. Gibson has an attitude that lifts the team’s spirits when he steps on the floor. He plays with a fiery, competitive side and you can see the impact that it makes on the team and the crowd in Chicago. 13.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks were the averages of Gibson last season. He improved on almost every category and was a big reason the Bulls won as many games as they did. This coming season he’ll definitely be in the top 3, but it will be a battle with the top 2 to see who walks away with the hardware.
2. Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson was looking like an early favorite for this award last season. He was pretty much a Russell Westbrook 2.0 coming off the bench for the Thunder. He brought the same kind of intensity and explosiveness that Westbrook has, but he needed to do it in a more team oriented way before. Jackson will fire up the whole team when he subs in and hits a huge shot or big dunk, and he started to get his teammates more involved last season too. Jackson has the big play capability, and the ability to have a big time scoring night. The one thing that would push him over the top, would be to start distributing the ball more on top of that. That being said, he has improved in all facets of the game, and he’s getting the minutes he deserves. Jackson averaged 13.1 points, 4.1 assists, and shot 44% from the floor last year. It’s a contract year for Jackson this coming season, so fans might be seeing an even hungrier sixth man stepping on the court this year.
1. Jamal Crawford
The reigning sixth man of the year comes back as the favorite to win the award again. Jamal Crawford is 34-years old and still one of the most exciting players to watch. He has crazy ball handling skills, a great jump shot, and a knack at finishing in the paint. He can pass the ball with a great court sense after making a guy fall with his killer crossover. Crawford actually owns the NBA record for the most 4-point plays in a career. All the accolades aside however, Crawford is one guy that looks like he just goes out on the court and has fun playing basketball every night. It seems like he brings something new to the floor every night and it keeps the opponent and even fans guessing what he’s going to do next. Crawford shot 41.6% from the floor while averaging 18.6 points and 3.2 assists per game. Sure, the shooting percentage and assists aren’t that high, but it’s the way he makes the plays and the timing that makes him a great sixth man. He’ll have a couple mediocre nights here and there, but he still has at least one play a game that has people saying “wow!” Look for Crawford to continue his playmaking ways this year while shocking the crowd and maybe even bringing home another award.