Ranking Early Candidates for NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award

Eric EdelmanCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2013

Ranking Early Candidates for NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award

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    Among the most beloved roles in basketball, the sixth man is expected to come off the bench and give his squad solid production and sustain the energy established by the starting unit.

    Whether it's providing timely three-pointers or running the offense while your floor general is catching a breather, a solid bench can make all the difference between a win and a loss.

    Although the Sixth Man of the Year doesn’t necessarily have to be a scorer, there is a considerable bias toward those who do so—as evidenced by our most recent winners of the award.

    Let’s break down the top five early candidates for the league’s best off-the-bench role player.

No. 5: Ray Allen

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    Ray Allen brought his talents to South Beach this 2012-13 season, and so far, it’s showing.

    Allen is the Miami Heat's fourth-highest scorer, and he’s been playing big in key situations despite the Heat's recent struggles on the road. Considering his age and the Heat’s depth, Allen isn’t going to be playing huge minutes night in and night out, but the Heat essentially have a guy coming off the bench who could easily start on some teams in the league.

    Averaging 11 points in about 25 minutes of action per game is solid for Allen, and he has the second-highest three-point percentage (.442) for the Heat, despite shooting the second-most threes per game (3.9). His output justifies his consideration among the league’s best sixth men at the moment.

No. 4: Jarrett Jack

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    Definitely among the most underrated scorers in the league, Jarrett Jack is a flat-out machine when he’s on fire. Jack is an undersized guard, but he makes up for it with grit and a deadly shot off of the dribble. Whether it’s an elbow pull-up or spot-up three-pointer, he simply excels at getting timely scoring.

    A perfect piece for this upstart, fast-paced Golden State Warriors team, his scoring prowess is part of the reason the Warriors are a dreaded matchup for most NBA teams. Averaging a solid line of 11.8 points, 5.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game, Jack also does a decent job of getting others involved—another important part of being a reserve player.

    While Jack’s production definitely stands out as a great supplement for the Warriors, Carl Landry is also worthy of an honorable mention for his solid play off the bench. However, I give the edge to Jack as the best Dubs reserve for playing more minutes per game and giving his team a formidable backcourt while alongside Stephen Curry.

No. 3: Kevin Martin

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    One of the big-name acquisitions in the NBA this offseason, Kevin Martin has felt right at home with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Like most of his counterparts on this list, Martin is a scorer—and a great one at that.

    Martin is averaging around 15 points per game, and combined with the dynamic scoring duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, it’s no surprise that the Thunder are among the most formidable teams in the league.

    Martin is a very cunning scorer who is adept at attacking defenders at tough angles to draw fouls, and he has an unorthodox shooting form that allows him to get shots off from anywhere on the floor with a flick of his wrist.

    Given his talents, he’s a guy that loves his role—come off the bench, play around 30 minutes per game and get as many efficient baskets as possible. Considering the tremendous depth the Thunder have, it’s scary to think someone with Martin’s capability is coming off the bench.

    There’s no question that Martin could easily start for most teams in the NBA, something that could certainly be said for many players on our list.

No. 2: J.R. Smith

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    Perhaps no one on this list has as much potential as J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks. Smith has been a frustrating prospect for coaches and fans alike. While he has all the makings of an elite guard—shooting stroke, athleticism, ball-handling—his shot selection and decision-making are at times a killer.

    Despite all of this, he’s having arguably the best season of his career. He’s averaging career highs in minutes (33) and points per game (17).

    The only downside? He’s shooting around 40 percent in doing so.

    Despite his penchant for ill-advised shooting, when Smith is hot, he’s hot. Very few guys in the league can light it up as well as he does, and considering how much the Knicks rely on him to carry the scoring load at times, he’s been given a lot more leeway as far as what he can do offensively.

    Whether or not Smith will ever reach his full potential remains to be seen, but for now, he has solidified himself as one of the best off-the-bench scorers in the NBA.

No. 1: Jamal Crawford

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    A past winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award, Jamal Crawford may have finally found a home in Los Angeles. After bouncing around from Chicago, Golden State, New York, Atlanta, Portland and now L.A., Crawford may go down as one of the greatest pure-scoring reserves to ever come off the bench.

    Like J.R. Smith, Crawford also has a reputation for being a gunner, but aside from those rough shooting nights when his jump shot is clicking, he’s virtually unguardable.

    Out of everyone on this list, Crawford probably ranks highest as far as the “entertainment factor” goes. His patented shake-and-bake hop step, vicious crossovers and ridiculous off-the-dribble shooting make him a must-watch player whenever he has the ball in his hands.

    He’s averaging around 16 points per game, and along with the rest of the incredibly deep Los Angeles Clippers bench, he has helped make his team one of the more dominant groups in the league this season.

    His all-around impact and consistent output for the Clippers make him the current front-runner for his second Sixth Man of the Year trophy. But we still have a lot of basketball left.