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10 Greatest Sixth Men In NBA History: Lou Williams And Jamal Crawford Really Understood Their Role

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10 Greatest Sixth Men In NBA History: Lou Williams And Jamal Crawford Really Understood Their Role

Watching Derrick Rose these days makes you hope that he can win the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Rose, a former MVP, has gone through some really hard times in his career, recovering from multiple major surgeries and nearly leaving the league completely. Instead, Rose has reinvented his game and made himself a new impact player for the New York Knicks. The way Rose has played early on this season, he is a lead contender for the award.

The Sixth Man of the Year Award is an annual award, given since the 1982-1983 season, handed out to the best player coming off the bench as a substitute. To be eligible, a player must come off the bench in more games than he starts. The most recent winner was Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz, while Kevin McHale, Toni Kukoc, Bobby Jones, and Bill Walton are the only Hall of Famers to ever win the award.

If Rose can keep up the production off the bench, he can join Walton and James Harden as the only award winners to have earned an NBA MVP in their career. Both Harden and Walton do not make this current list because they were predominantly starters in their career. There is some meaning in knowing your role. These players knew their role and ran with it. These 10 players are the best sixth men in NBA history.


10. Leandro Barbosa

Leandro Barbosa

Sixth Man Awards: 1

Career Stats: 10.6 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.1 BPG

Barbosa was selected with the No. 28 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs, but his rights were acquired by the Suns in a trade for a future first-round pick. Barbosa was on the smaller side at 6-foot-3 but owned a 6-foot-10 wingspan which gave him some appeal as a wing defender.

During his rookie year, Barbosa set a Suns record for points scored in a game by a rookie as a first-time starter with 27 against the Chicago Bulls. After that, Barbosa saw more time in games He set the Suns’ record for three-point field goals by a rookie in consecutive games when he hit at least one trey during a 10-game streak.

During the 2006-2007 season, Barbosa won his lone Sixth Man of the Year Award when he averaged 18.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. Barbosa averaged 32.7 minutes of playing time each night despite coming off the bench. Barbosa proved that he was a pure closer, which saw him playing at the end of games. Among players who came off the bench, Barbosa ranks 11th all-time.


9. Jason Terry

Jason Terry

Sixth Man Awards: 1

Career Stats: 13.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Terry owns the record for the most playing time of any sixth man that won the award. In 2008-2009, Terry averaged 33.7 minutes per game with the Dallas Mavericks. He played as a sixth man in 63 of the team’s 74 games, where he averaged 19.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.3 steals. From the field, Terry shot .366 from beyond the arc and .880 from the free-throw line. He was among the leaders in three-pointers, free-throw percentage steals, and finished 22nd overall in scoring.

This isn’t the first time that Terry has displayed a great season coming off the bench. Terry teetered back and forth from the starting rotation when the Mavericks made the NBA Finals in 2006 and 2011. In the 2011 NBA Finals, Terry worked his way into the starting rotation for his consistent play.

Among leaders coming off the bench, Terry ranks fourth with the most steals and sixth in assists. When it comes to productive guards, Terry was a consistent contributor.


8. Eddie Johnson

Eddie Johnson

Sixth Man Awards: 1

Career Stats: 16.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Who is Eddie Johnson? You might be asking yourself that question, but he is a recognizable name for those who followed basketball in the 90s. Johnson would play for the Kings, Suns, SuperSonics, Hornets, Pacers, Rockets, and overseas before retiring from basketball in 1999. His 19,202 points were the 22nd most all-time over 1,199 games at the time of his retirement.

Johnson was never selected to play in the All-Star Game as he was a consistent player coming off the bench in his later years. Johnson owns the fourth-most points among players coming off the bench all-time. His best season came during 1988-1989 when he averaged 21.5 points per game to claim the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Overall, Johnson embraced his new role when he turned about 30 years old. For seven years, he was a pure role player that shot close to 50% from the field, as well as 80% from the free-throw line. Some players can’t live with transitioning from starting to role-playing. Johnson did it well, as well as providing products for his teams.


7. Detlef Schrempf

Detlef Schrempf

Sixth Man Awards: 2

Career Stats: 13.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG

Schrempf was the eighth overall pick by the Dallas Mavericks in 1985. For the Mavericks, he finished second in the NBA with a .478 three-point field goal percentage in 1986-1987. He eventually worked his way up into the starting rotation. Then, in 1989, the Mavericks traded Schrempf to the Indiana Pacers for center Herb Williams.

In 1991 and 1992, Schrempf won consecutive Sixth Man Awards. The following year, he was the only player in the NBA to finish in the top-25 in scoring (19.1), rebounding (9.5), and assists (6.0). The problem is that Schrempf was a starter this season. He became a product of what happens when you are such a good player off the bench.

Altogether, Schrempf was a late bloomer. From 1986-1992, he primarily came off the bench but began to start in the later stages of his career. Had he continued his role, he would have been higher on this list in many categories. Instead, he had to start because he was good enough.


6. Ricky Pierce

Ricky Pierce

Sixth Man Awards: 2

Career Stats: 14.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Pierce had a fantastic season in 1986-1987. He won the Sixth Man of the Year Award when he averaged 19.5 points and shot 53.4% from the field in his third season with the Bucks. In the postseason, Pierce made a name for himself when he scored 29 points off the bench in a Game 3 win over the Boston Celtics.

Pierce won the award three years later when he averaged 23.0 points per game. That year, he set an NBA record by scoring that high number without starting a single game all season. That included a career-high 45 points in a loss to the Kings.

In his career, Pierce knew his role. He was primarily used to score off the bench. He had the strength and scoring ability to lead the second unit to big baskets. On the all-time rankings, his 9,513 bench points rank fifth.


5. Dell Curry

Dell Curry

Sixth Man Awards: 1

Career Stats: 11.7 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Curry was the No. 15 overall pick by the Utah Jazz in 1986. After one season, he was traded to the Cavaliers, where he also spent one season. Curry spent the bulk of his career with the Charlotte Hornets, who were a newly developed expansion team. He played 10 seasons there, posting coming off the bench to provide instant offense.

Curry owns the most games ever coming off the bench with 984. Curry was a three-point specialist who was regularly discussed for Sixth Man of the Year but did not win the award until 1993-1994. When Curry left the Hornets, he was the franchise’s all-time leader in points, games, three-point field goals, and three-point field goal percentage.

Off the bench, Curry is one of three players to average over 40% from the three-point range. He is also one of three players to score over 10,000 career points off the bench. Curry scored 11,279 points off the bench, ranking third all-time.


4. Kevin McHale

Kevin McHale

Sixth Man Awards: 2

Career Stats: 17.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.4 SPG, 1.7 BPG

McHale won his first consecutive Sixth Man Awards when the Celtics won 62 games in 1983-1984. Boston was primed to win their 15th championship when the team hired new head coach KC Jones and acquired Dennis Johnson. In the NBA Finals, the Celtics played the Lakers, where McHale was used as an enforcer. In Game 4, McHale ignited a bench-clearing scuffle when he committed a hard foul to Kurt Rambis. Boston won the game in overtime to tie the series and then the next two games to secure the championship.

The following year, McHale won his second Sixth Man Award despite being moved to the starting lineup in February 1985 when Cedric Maxwell suffered a knee injury. On March 3, McHale set a single-game scoring record with 56 points. Two nights later, McHale scored 42 points against the Knicks. The 98 points over two days are still a record for the Celtics. Later that year, the Celtics were upended by the Lakers.

Among bench players all-time, McHale is No. 1 in rebounds with 6.5 per game. However, he is third all-time among total rebounds, trailing Thurl Bailey and Detlef Schrempf. Among the top-10 in scoring, McHale ranks at the bottom with the fewest games played, playing as many as 100 games less than his counterparts, but he ranks ninth all-time among bench points.


3. Manu Ginobili

Manu Ginobili

Sixth Man Awards: 1

Career Stats: 13.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG

Ginobili is one of two players to have 843 steals coming off the bench, which is tied for the most all-time among players that come off the bench. This should not surprise us that Ginobili is a leader given his run with the San Antonio Spurs. In 2008, Ginobili carved out a role for himself coming off the bench and he became one of the best bench guys in the league.

During that season, Ginobili became the first player to have at least 15 points and 15 rebounds in franchise history when he recorded 34 points and 15 rebounds in a win over Toronto. His play landed him the Sixth Man of the Year with 123 out of 124 votes. He finished with a stat line of 19.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds. In the playoffs, Ginobili was moved to the starting lineup where he averaged 21.3 points, but the Spurs lost to the Lakers in the Conference Finals.

Ginobili was a player that redefined himself as he got older. Some say that he s a better player off the bench than when he started. The stats say he was great in this role, ranking in the top-10 in points, assists, and steals for those coming off the bench.


2. Jamal Crawford

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

Sixth Man Awards: 3

Career Stats: 14.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Crawford ranks among the greatest players coming off the bench in NBA history. Crawford is one of two players to win three Sixth Man of the Year Awards. His tear started in 2009-2010 where he backed up Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby. He averaged 18.0 points, which led all reserves. He was later named the winner of the Sixth Man of the Year.

His second award would come in 2014 when he helped the Clippers win a franchise-record 57 games. His third came in 2016. During these years, Crawford was one of the most lethal outside threats on the court. He recorded the 46th four-point play of his career in 2016. He was also the oldest winner when he won the award at 36 years old.

The stats back up Crawford’s career as well. He is one of three players to score over 10,000 career points off the bench. He is second all-time with 11,279 career bench points. Crawford also owns the third-best free throw percentage off the bench with 86%. Crawford put in a lot of time though, as he owns the most minutes coming off the bench in NBA history with 22,611.


1. Lou Williams

Lou Williams Says The NBA Is Too Political: “There Are Guys In The NBA That Should Be In No F*****g League”

Sixth Man Awards: 3

Career Stats: 14.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG

The greatest sixth man has to be another Los Angeles Clippers favorite in Lou Williams. In 2014, the Raptors traded John Salmons and a second-round pick for Williams. Later that season, Williams scored a career-high 36 points. Williams continued to go on a tear that year, where he averaged 15.5 points per game. He became the first player in Raptors’ history to win Sixth Man of the Year.

In the offseason of 2017, the Clippers acquired Williams and a slew of players for Chris Paul from the Houston Rockets. Williams rewarded the Clippers with 40 points off the bench two times leading into the year 2018. In January, Williams scored 27 of his career-high 50 points in the third quarter, which included shooting 16-of-27 from the field. It was the highest-scoring effort by a Clippers player since Charles Smith tied a franchise record with 52 points in a game in 1990.

Later that month, Williams scored 31 points, set a franchise record of 10 steals, and dished seven assists. He became the first player in league history to have a 30-10-7 game since steals became a stat. For many reasons, Williams was named Sixth Man of the Year for the second time in his career.

The following season, Williams secured his third award, tying Crawford for the most in league history. On January 25, 2019, Williams recorded his first career triple-double with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. He joined Detlef Schrempf in 1993 as the only player to ever record a triple-double off the bench. In the middle of the year, Williams recorded his 28th game with 30 or more points off the bench, which broke a record set by Ricky Pierce.

In the history of bench players, Williams owns the most points with 13,056. He also owns the second-most games played off the bench at 947. He is also the leader in assists with 3,159, which is a vast lead over runner-up JJ Barea (2,707). He also ranks third in steals with 783. At 35 years old, Williams continues to come off the bench for the Hawks, so he could pad or jump some of these records over time. 

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