In NBA basketball, the role of a sixth man is a perennially underrated one. These players are often ruled out of all end-of-season or mid-season honours, except for this one dedicated to them - the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
They are necessary to keep the starters fresh and in the game, and quite a few of them are part of the closing lineups of their respective teams.
Over the past decade, this award has gone to high-scoring point guards as a prototype. This time around also, most of the top contenders are ball-handlers. Let's take a look at:
The top 5 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award candidates
#5 Derrick Rose
Post-ACL D-Rose isn't the same highlight reel player as he used to be in his All-NBA, MVP-mode Chicago days. But he's still a handful for defenses to deal with as he has continued to prove over the years.
While Rose's shooting is still not what one would expect of an elite perimeter player, his athleticism even these days is enough for him to score buckets as and when needed. Rose has averaged 18.1 points and 5.6 assists on 49% shooting from the field, coming off the bench for 26 minutes per game this season.
If the Detroit Pistons were doing any better at being in the playoff scene, Rose might have been rated higher up in these standings. But as things stand, the rest of the players on this list play for playoff teams, and team success has to count at some point.
#4 Goran Dragic
From being an All-Star and All-NBA player for the Miami Heat to a bench mainstay, the signs that Dragic's career is on the wane are clear. The Slovenian is now 34, and doesn't possess the sneaky athletic ability that once allowed him to befuddle defenders while sneaking to the paint.
But Dragic was never much of a driving player anyway, and his shooting fundamentals have always been sound. With a 3-point percentage of 37.3% on 5.8 attempts a game, the Slovenian keeps NBA defenses honest when he has the ball. Over 40% of those attempts are off pull-up jumpers too, displaying his proficiency from downtown.
With averages of 16.1 points and 5.1 assists per game for a defense-first Miami team, Dragic has put himself into the thick of the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.
#3 Lou Williams
The 3-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year and double defending champion of the award checking in at 3rd place? That has to be a bit surprising, considering the fact that the Clippers are better off this season than they were last year in the standings. The reason for this is definitely not a fall in his level of play.
Williams has continued in the same vein in 2019-20 as he did in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Averages of 18.7 points and 5.7 assists per game on 29.3 minutes are right in line with his averages last season. The difference is, there has been a clear increase in the amount of competition Williams faces from across the NBA, and indeed from within the team.
If anything could be pointed to as a flaw in his game, it is that the 33-year-old is getting a little worse at finishing around the rim, but that's about it.
#2 Dennis Schroder
One of the most fleet-footed guards across the NBA since he made his debut in the league, this is not the first time Dennis Schroder has featured in the NBA Sixth Man of the Year conversation. His name was in the mix of this discussion last year as well, and for his improved outputs on both ends this season, we can consider him a better candidate this time around.
Schroder's increased his scoring from 15.5 points to 19.0 per game, his field goal percentage from 41.6% to 46.8% and 3-point percentage from 34.1% to 38.1%. This hasn't compromised with his borderline elite defense - the former Atlanta Hawks guard was in consideration for NBA All-Defense teams in 2017-18.
As part of the 3-guard lineup that Billy Donovan likes to roll out at the end of games, Schroder has had many memorable moments this season, including a game-tying layup against the NBA-basement Minnesota Timberwolves.
#1 Montrezl Harrell
As far as two-way play goes, Harrell is the most effective player we have featured on this list. Despite being relatively undersized for the center position, Harrell uses his strength and length to be a successful paint protector. He's also got the footwork to deal with switches out on the perimeter at quite a successful clip.
But his real strength lies on the other end of the court. Harrell is averaging a career-high 18.6 points per game on 58% field goal efficiency. His two-man game with Lou Will has been the bane of a number of defenses across the NBA, and he's seemingly unstoppable after once putting the ball on the floor.
There are tons of 'energy' players in the NBA, but few of them compare to the monster that Harrell can be. Him coming off the bench has been a real blessing for coach Doc Rivers, and the Clippers need him back in action quickly to sustain their chances at an NBA title.
Published 28 Jul 2020, 22:08 IST