James Harden and the NBA's Best 6th Men in the History of the Award
The Oklahoma City Thunder's James Harden was awarded the Sixth Man of the Year award last week and joined the ranks of some of the best players of all time who just happened to come off the bench.
Let's look at Harden and more of those players who made a name for themselves by anchoring the second units of some of the best teams in NBA history.
Being a good sixth man basically means knowing that you're good enough to start, yet having the humility and team-first attitude to come off the bench. The men in this slideshow had those qualities and often went on to start as great players in the league.
Here are some of the best NBA sixth men in the history of the award, which was first given out after the 1982-83 season.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
This season, James Harden ran away with the award, averaging 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists off the bench during the regular season. Those are historically great numbers by sixth-man standards.
Harden led one of the best second units in the NBA this season, and without him, that second unit would have probably been in the bottom third of the NBA. His playmaking and ability to get his own shots and shots for others make the Thunder so much better.
It should tell us something that the Thunder went to Harden to dig them out of a big hole late in their series-clinching win against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round—and that he delivered.
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
Manu Ginobili must be on this list. The Argentinian shooting guard won the award in 2008, averaging 19.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He has also won three championships with the Spurs in the last decade.
He did start during one of those championship runs, but he has primarily come off the bench during his NBA career. Ginobili has clearly been one of the best of all time in this role, thanks to his stats and the hardware he has won.
Kevin McHale, Boston Celtics
Kevin McHale is one of just three players to win this award twice since the award's inception in the 1982-83. He's also one of just two Hall of Famers to ever win the award.
The forward/center won the award in 1983-84 and 1984-1985, averaging over 18 and seven rebounds per game in each of those seasons.
McHale, like Manu Ginobili, won two of his three championship rings as a reserve in 1981 and 1984. He won his third as an All-Star and starter in 1986—not a bad haul.
Ricky Pierce, Milwaukee Bucks
Ricky Pierce is a name that you may not have heard, but he was one of the best sixth men in NBA history. For the Milwaukee Bucks, Pierce averaged 19.5 points per game in 1986-1987, winning the Sixth Man award for the first time.
During the 1989-90 season, Pierce averaged 23 points per game while not starting a single contest. That's an NBA record. Pierce also became the just the second player after Kevin McHale to win the award for the second time.
Bill Walton, Boston Celtics
The second and last Hall of Famer on this list, Bill Walton is the only player in NBA history to win an NBA Finals MVP, regular-season MVP and a Sixth Man award in his career.
In the 1985-86 season, Walton played in a career-high 80 games, avoiding injury and providing a backup for Kevin McHale.
He averaged 7.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Not super impressive stats, but he did help the Celtics win an NBA title that season.
Detlef Schrempf, Indiana Pacers
Detlef Schempf won consecutive Sixth Man awards in 1991 and 1992 for the Indiana Pacers, becoming the third and last player to win the award multiple times.
A 6'10" three-point marksman, Schempf had a long career even after his success as a bench player.
He's also important because he was one of the first international players to have success in the NBA, paving the way for guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Peja Stojakovic.
Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks
One of the best sixth men of the last decade, Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks also deserves to mentioned among the greatest bench players of all time. When he won the award in 2009, Terry averaged 19.6 points, 3.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds.
Since primarily coming off the bench starting in 2007-08 season, Terry has never averaged under 15 points per game. That's an impressive measure of consistency, and it's even more impressive when you consider that Terry was a starter for most of his first eight seasons.