The greatest sixth man from each NBA team

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San Antonio Spurs

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

NBA teams need more than just their starters to compete. Here is the best sixth man from each NBA franchise throughout their history.

Basketball is not as simple as it may sound on the surface, and layers upon layers of strategy and management are required to put out a successful team. The NBA is not just trotting out the ten best players and rolling out the ball, rotations are key to winning basketball games.

Red Auerbach, one of the early pioneers of the NBA and among the greatest to ever coach the game, is often credited with the creation of the “sixth man” in basketball, the starter who came off the bench. This role would be a player who was talented enough to start, and would often close games, but for a variety of reasons might start the game on the bench — to decrease their minutes, or to create different lineups, etc.

Frank Ramsey came off the bench for seven titles on the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and 60s, a role he excelled at. The role was picked up in the 1970s by players such as John Havlicek and Bob McAdoo (the latter against his will) who boosted title teams without starting. In the 1980s the NBA formally recognized the strategic device and honored it with the annual “Sixth Man of the Year Award” in the 1982-83 season.

Vinnie Johnson, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton and Michael Cooper all won titles coming off the bench in the 80s, and since then the role has been consistently filled on many teams. In recent years the award has focused on offensive-minded guards playing starter’s minutes off the bench — players such as Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford have won the award multiple times.

While some teams have utilized the role more than others, every franchise has had a strong player come in off the bench at some point. From former MVPs (McAdoo, Walton) to smooth shooters (Eric Gordon, J.R. Smith, Steve Kerr, Jason Terry) the best sixth men in league history are worth knowing and celebrating.

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