J.R. Smith is trying to earn Sixth Man of the Year honors.
The best teams in the NBA rely on their bench to give them a spark. Just the fact there is a Sixth Man of the Year Award is an indication of this.
A team can’t win with just five players; it's contributions from the bench that turns a franchise into a contender.
There have been many players step up in their bench roles this season and lead their respective teams when the starters need a rest.
Some of the same faces are continuing their excellence as sixth men, but we’ve seen some new players make a strong case the league's best bench player.
Let’s take a look at them.
**All statistics courtesy of ESPN.
Ryan Anderson is having a career year.
Ryan Anderson: F, New Orleans
The Sixth Man award generally goes to a player who helped his team reach the playoffs. That leaves Ryan Anderson, who plays for a 21-40 New Orleans Hornets team, seemingly out of the conversation.
Though he has started 19 games this season, when the Hornets are at full strength Anderson is coming off the bench.
A prolific three-point shooter, he is posting a career best 39.4 percent from long range and averaging a career-high 16.7 points per game.
He has an impressive 19.36 Player Efficiency Rating and has emerged as one of the biggest shooting threats on the Hornets.
At 6’10”, he grabs 6.5 rebounds per game while averaging 31 minutes.
If the Hornets were in playoff contention, Anderson would be seriously considered for the Sixth Man award.
Ray Allen: G, Miami
One of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA, Ray Allen went to Miami to try and win another championship.
He knew he wouldn’t be the first or second scoring option on the team, but he has embraced his role and has performed consistently.
Averaging just under 11 points per game in about 26 minutes a game, his 45 percent shooting provides the Heat with a reliable scoring alternative to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. In terms of percentage, he’s the second best three-point shooter on the team (42.5), behind only Shane Battier.
Though he has some steep competition in the Sixth Man field, Allen is playing his part on the Heat and is giving LeBron and company a reliable kick-out option on the wings.
Manu Ginobili: G, San Antonio
Ginobili has dealt with injuries for the majority of the season, but he should still be mentioned in this group.
He’s been a reliable sixth man in the NBA for years and this year is no different. Ginobili is averaging 12.4 points and 4.5 assists a game in 48 games this season.
In recent weeks, his production has improved, and he’s a big reason why the Spurs are ahead of the pack in the Western Conference.
With Tony Parker set to miss time, the responsibility of Ginobili is going to increase. He had a career high 15 assists on March 1 against Sacramento.
He’s getting healthier and is a still a threat with the ball in his hands. He can score, find an open man and move without the ball.
Ginobili likely won’t win the award for Sixth Man this year, but he deserves the recognition.
Martin is a big contributor to the Thunder offense.
When the Thunder traded James Harden to Houston, they lost the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
Kevin Martin has come in and filled Harden’s role to the best of his ability.
Martin has displayed his scoring proficiency as part of one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA,. The Thunder are second in the NBA in scoring with 106.9 points per game, behind only Harden’s Rockets.
Averaging 14.5 points per game, Martin is shooting 45 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from beyond the arc.
His turnovers are down (1.5 per game), as well as his assists (1.2 per game), which shows his role is to provide points off the bench.
When he’s on the floor with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, he garners the attention of the defense with his shooting prowess. He moves off the ball to create scoring chances and free up lanes for Durant and Westbrook.
Though his numbers are great for a bench player, his defense has never been a strong point, which could hurt him in the hunt for this award.
Gordon Hayward is a reliable option for Utah.
Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz fly largely under the radar in a competitive Western Conference.
Coming off the bench in all but the first 10 games of the season, Hayward is averaging 14 points (good for third on the team) and has hit a slew of clutch shots for the Jazz.
Averaging just over 27 minutes per game, Hayward is making 42.9 percent of his shots and 39 percent of his threes. He is behind only Randy Foye in three-point percentage for the Jazz.
This season, he has shown his ability to get to the foul line, attempting 218 free throws and converting 182 of them, or 83.5 percent.
His perimeter shooting has been lights out, and he’s good for about five to seven field goals a game. His value to this team goes largely unrecognized, but his contributions are crucial to this team.
Currently seventh in the Western Conference with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers creeping up the standings, the Jazz are going to rely on Hayward making his presence known on the floor.
With strong performances down the stretch, Hayward and his 17.2 Player Efficiency Rating will make a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year.
Smith has been one of the best bench players this season.
A few months ago, J.R. Smith was the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
After a rough January and an inconsistent February, the award is in doubt.
Smith’s still averaging 16 points per game and currently has a career high 5.1 rebounds per game, but his inconsistencies are a concern.
He’s seen double figures in scoring in all but nine games this season, and he has been a crucial part of the success for the Knicks. However, he’s shooting only 40 percent from the floor and 34.8 percent from three-point range.
Smith has transformed into a player who knows when to pass up a shot. In recent years, he took many that were off-balance and contested. He’s learned to pass up those ill-advised shots and find open teammates instead.
Smith is a game-changer. He can score from anywhere on the court, and his slick ball-handling ability enables him to shake off defenders and create some open space.
This season, he hasn't just been a scorer; he's also has made himself a presence on defense. He's not the best defender but has 72 steals to date and has played tight lock-down defense for some stretches this season.
When the season concludes, he will have a career high in rebounds. Smith has grabbed 288 boards this year, with a career high of 322.
While a player like Smith will go through ups and downs during the course of the season, he can still prove to be the Sixth Man with impressive performances as the season winds down.
Crawford is vital to the success of the Clippers.
Crawford has been a steady contributor to the Clippers this season. His ability to hit the three-ball and consistently post solid shooting totals has brought him to the forefront of the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.
He’s averaging 17 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field. Since the beginning of February, Crawford has scored more than 20 points in nine games.
He’s been a key cog in the Clippers rotation this season and has lessened the pressure on the likes of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Crawford is a streaky shooter, and like J.R. Smith, has tremendous ball-handling ability. His flashy dribbling and slithery moves can frustrate defenders.
While with Atlanta, Crawford won the Sixth Man award for the 2009-2010 season, and he is putting up similar shooting numbers this year.
He’s never been a big factor on defense, but he has been able to hold his own this season.
Paul enables his teammates to get open looks, and Crawford as much as anyone has been taking advantage the point guard's superior floor vision. And Crawford's ability to find open space plays a big factor in his success.
At this point, Crawford is in strong contention for his second Sixth Man of the Year award.
Jarrett Jack is in line for Sixth Man of the Year.
Jarrett Jack has emerged as one of, if not the top, bench players in the NBA.
He’s on the court in crunch time and has earned his teammates trust. His number has been called to take the final shot in tight games on multiple occasions this year.
Jack is the perfect complement to Stephen Curry and is shooting a steady 45.8 percent from the floor in just over 29 minutes a game. He averages 5.7 assists and contributes 3.1 rebounds per game.
His versatility and athleticism make him a dangerous player for Golden State.
Jack has been clutch all season, but none more so than his 30-point effort in a win against San Antonio on Feb. 22. As noted by AP's Antonio Gonzalez, Jack became the first NBA reserve to score 30 points and dish out 10 assists since Magic Johnson achieved that in 1996.
The 29-year-old journeyman has become a force off the bench and gives the Warriors a legitimate scoring threat behind Curry and David Lee.
He's opened some eyes with his ability to be a steady contributor night in and night out.
A red-hot February saw Jack average 18.4 points in nine games played. If he can continue to play at that level for the remainder of the season, Jack will end up with the award for Sixth Man of the Year.