Last season, Jason Terry helped the Dallas Mavericks win the NBA Championship with his clutch shooting off the bench, showing it takes more than a great starting five to win it all in this league (see: L.A. Lakers).
These players not only provide a spark when they enter the game, but can play key minutes while the starters are on the bench. Past winners include Terry, Manu Ginobili and last year's recipient, Lamar Odom.
The only rule is that to qualify for the award, a player must come off the bench more times than he starts. Simple enough? Here are the top 10 contenders for the award so far this season.
2011-2012 Stats: 9.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG
The surprising Indiana Pacers are 17-7, holding the fifth-best record in the NBA. George Hill is a big reason why. He plays 24.7 minutes per game off the bench and is shooting 45.7 percent from the floor.
The three-year pro from IUPUI is settling into his role in his first year with the Pacers. Hill has scored in double figures eight times this season, with his team going 7-1 in those games. The Pacers are for real; guys like Hill will make them a tough matchup in the playoffs.
2011-2012 Stats: 9.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.9 APG
Ramon Sessions of the Cleveland Cavaliers is helping make basketball relevant in Cleveland. After going 19-63 last season, the Cavs are 9-14 through the first 23 games and are right on the bubble for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Sessions' command of the floor makes him a viable option off the bench, sporting a 2.57 assists-to-turnover ratio, good enough for 16th in the league.
His bench play could help Cleveland sneak into the playoffs just one year after having the second-worst record in the NBA.
2011-2012 Stats: 11.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG
The Boston Celtics are getting older, but Brandon Bass is making sure they stay a contender. Even with the four stars in Boston, Bass is eating up minutes—around 30 per game—and making his presence felt in the paint.
Acquired in an offseason trade with the Orlando Magic, Bass is making an immediate impact with his new team. Look for him to get big playing time down the stretch as the aging Celtics try to make another run at the title.
2011-2012 Stats: 12.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG
Nicolas Batum and the Portland Trail Blazers are making noise in the Western Conference. He and Jamal Crawford have made Portland's bench one of the best in the NBA.
After starting most of the season last year, Batum has found a way to be more efficient now that he's coming off the bench, with similar scoring numbers in decreased minutes.
He exploded for 33 points in just 25 minutes on Feb. 4 against the Nuggets and will be an integral part of the Blazers' playoff run this season.
2011-2012 Stats: 12.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG
O.J. Mayo and the Memphis Grizzles took the Thunder to seven games last year in the second round of the playoffs. They have started off slowly this year, but anything can happen in the Western Conference, especially when you have O.J. Mayo coming off your bench.
Mayo, who has finished in double figures in 18 of his 25 games, provides the Grizzles with a legitimate scoring threat that can play 25 minutes per game and hit a three when needed.
Memphis can make another playoff run, and Mayo can help take them there.
2011-2012 Stats: 15.2 PPG, 3.5 APG
The Dallas Mavericks are NBA Champions largely because of Jason Terry. He is a great long-range shooter with clutch written all over him. The Mavs are off to a slow start this season, but Jason Terry is not one to blame.
Terry is the leader of the highest-scoring bench in the NBA. His 39.4 percent three-point shooting is above his career average, and he is lights out at the free-throw line.
He'll have to keep this pace for Dallas to even have a chance at repeating.
2011-2012 Stats: 14.5 PPG, 3.8 APG, 1.2 SPG
Mo Williams and his Los Angeles Clippers are both off to blistering starts. The Clippers are 15-7, enough for second in the Western Conference. Williams is shooting 48.8 percent from the floor, including 43.1 percent from behind the arc.
Currently, Williams has only started one of his games this year with the Clippers, but with the injury to Chauncey Billups, he may be placed into a starting role and lose his sixth man eligibility.
Either way, Williams is having a career year and can help the Clippers go deep into the playoffs.
2011-2012 Stats: 15.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG
The Denver Nuggets are in prime position for a playoff spot with one of the top benches in the league, led by Al Harrington. The 13-year veteran is putting up big numbers in limited minutes and is controlling the paint.
Harrington's 49.1 percent shooting from the floor would be a career high as he looks to avenge the Nuggets' early exit from last year's playoffs.
Harrington and Denver are primed for another run into the playoffs this season, largely due to their bench depth.
2011-2012 Stats: 15.5 PPG, 3.7 APG
Lou Williams and the Philadelphia 76ers are taking the league by storm this season. Their 18-7 record is fourth in the league, trailing only the Heat, Bulls and Thunder. Williams' ball-handling ability makes him a valuable player off the bench and a top candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
His 3.41 assists-to-turnover ratio is third best in the NBA. Williams leads a talented Sixers bench along with Thaddeus Young that could pose some trouble for Eastern Conference teams in the playoffs this year.
2011-2012 Stats: 16.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG
The Oklahoma City Thunder started the season 20-5 due to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Harden is shooting a career-best 47.0 percent from the field while playing over 30 minutes per game for the Thunder this year.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to contend for the NBA Championship this season, and Harden will be key in getting them there. If he can keep these numbers up, there is no reason why he will not be named the 2011-2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year.