10 Players Who Give the Biggest Boost off the Bench
The talk for Sixth Man of the Year is heating up, and this year there’s anything but a clear-cut favorite. Several players give their teams a big boost off the bench and are worthy of winning the award.
In order to narrow down the field, I looked at an objective list based on a relatively new statistic.
PIE measures a player's overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in. PIE yields results which are comparable to other advanced statistics (e.g. PER) using a simple formula. (PTS + FGM + FTM - FGA - FTA + DREB + (.5 * OREB) + AST + STL + (.5 * BLK) - PF - TO) / (GmPTS + GmFGM + GmFTM - GmFGA - GmFTA + GmDREB + (.5 * GmOREB) + GmAST + GmSTL + (.5 * GmBLK) - GmPF - GmTO)
The reason that PIE is beneficial is it eliminates certain biases, like pace. According to Sekou Smith of the Hangtime Blog,
PIE eliminates league- , season- or style-of-play bias, enabling comparison of a player (or team) across different eras. The PIE formula also includes the team's rate of success—which some see as the ultimate measure of a player's worth.
That’s why it’s expressed as a percentage, rather than just an accumulated number or average.
Using PIE as a reference, I looked at the top reserves who have played at least 30 games coming off the bench and averaged at least 20 minutes per game.
If players changed teams during the season, I only used the stats for their new teams.
While they are listed here in order of PIE, it should be taken as a starting point for consideration of the Sixth Man of the Year, not an iron-clad conclusion. The debate is wide-open.
10. Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs, 10.9%
Boris Diaw is a perfect example of the San Antonio Spurs’ super scouting system succeeding spectacularly. No too long ago, he was wasting away with the Charlotte Bobcats until they waived him in 2012. The Spurs jumped on the chance to ink him and haven’t regretted it for a moment.
While he’s been a solid contributor in San Antonio since it acquired him, this year has been his best yet, with the second-best player efficiency rating (15.5) of his career. He’s scoring 9.9 points per game, the most since the 2010-11 season, and shooting a career high .555 from the field, and that includes a career high .429 from deep.
He is the epitome of what makes the Spurs special. He’s part of a group of players that are too old, too slow, too unskilled or too something else to get it done, yet they still are holding the best record in the NBA.
Perhaps the real problem is that they’re too well coached and too underrated.
9. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans, 11.6%
Tyreke Evans has actually worked his way into the starting lineup, but only over the last six games, so he’s still qualified for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
It’s been a disappointing season for his New Orleans Pelicans, but there are signs of hope for next season. Anthony Davis is emerging as an elite player, Jrue Holiday will be back from injury and Evans is starting to regain the form that won him the Rookie of the Year in 2010.
Over his last six games, he’s averaging 22.0 points, 6.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game. On the season, he’s averaging 13.6 points, 4.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds.
The Pelicans are a team on the precipice of turning things around and regaining a winning form, and Evans will be a big part of the reason why, whether it’s as a starting small forward or running the point off the bench.
Either way, regaining his all-around game, as he has of late, is key to their fortunes.
8. Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors, 11.7%
Since coming over to the Toronto Raptors in a trade with the Sacramento Kings, Patrick Patterson has found his range, hitting on .439 of his three-point attempts.
He’s been a big part of the reason that the Raptors won the trade, which sent Rudy Gay to the Kings. In his new digs, Patterson is averaging 9.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game in 22.7 minutes.
While he’s on the court, the Raptors have an offensive rating of 107.4 and a defensive rating of 96.9. That’s a whopping net rating of 10.9. Compare that with 105.8 and 103.1 respectively when he sits.
That’s a tremendous two-way impact.
Sadly, Patterson is going to have to take some time off because of an elbow injury, but he’s already earned a spot on the list for top-10 boosts off the bench. Hopefully for the Raptors, he’ll be fully recovered and back to form in time for the playoffs.
7. Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns, 11.8%
If you’re looking strictly at total production off the bench, no one has given their team more help than Markieff Morris. No reserve has scored more points than his 831 or grabbed more rebounds than his 353.
He is averaging 13.4 points and 5.7 boards per contest.
His Phoenix Suns were expected to be a team on the tank, but thanks to several breakout seasons, including Morris', they’ve shocked the world and been in the hunt for a playoff spot in the highly competitive Western Conference.
He, along with his twin brother, Marcus, and his teammates, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic, are all having the best years of their careers. That speaks a lot to the accomplishments of the Suns’ rookie head coach, Jeff Hornacek, who is a heavy favorite for Coach of the Year.
If Morris wins the award for best reserve, it would mark his second honor of the season. He was previously named Western Conference Player of the Week for his performance from November 4-10, 2013.
6. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls, 11.8%
Taj Gibson has earned a reputation for being one of the top defensive players in the league, but this season he’s added a considerable amount of offense to his game as well. In fact, even though he’s coming off the bench, he’s leading the Bulls in scoring with 843 points.
His 13.4 points per game is significantly better than his previous career high of 9.0. And he’s doing that with a career high in efficiency, boasting a true shooting percentage of .528. It’s enough to have earned him buzz for Most Improved Player in addition to the sixth man honors.
Gibson’s defensive game has him generating talk for All-Defensive team as well. Per Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun Times, Tom Thibodeau, the Chicago Bulls head coach, thinks Gibson should get all three. Asked which honor the backup power forward deserves, Thibodeau responded:
All of the above. He has made that case by the way he’s performed. He’s invaluable to us. And just the way he works — he’s by far our best practice player. He worked extremely hard this summer. We have a lot of confidence in him. And I still think there’s room for growth.
Should Gibson win the Sixth Man of the Year while being named to the All-Defensive team, he would be the first player in history to get both honors in the same season.
5. D.J. Augustin, Chicago Bulls, 11.9%
D.J. Augustin has been a season-saving find for the Chicago Bulls. After Derrick Rose was lost to injury, they were in a downward spiral which had them more in the lottery hunt than the playoff chase.
Not having a true shot creator on the team, the Bulls offense was anemic, posting just 94.3 points per 100 possessions. Unsurprisingly, without scoring, they weren’t winning either, going 3-10 in those games.
After acquiring Augustin, who has been their leading scorer since arriving, their fortunes have changed. Their offensive rating has risen a full six points, to 100.3, and the record has changed with it, as Chicago is 26-15 with its new backup point guard.
The relationship is symbiotic. The Bulls have also helped resurrect Augustin’s career. The Raptors castaway has proven himself in the right situation, averaging 14.1 points and 5.2 dimes since landing in the Windy City.
4. Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder, 12.3%
Reggie Jackson might get dropped off some ballots because of being too good stepping in for Russell Westbrook in the starting role. According to awards rules, though, Jackson is eligible for the award because more than half his games (33) have come off the bench.
And, contrary to what one might expect, his production level doesn’t change that much whether he’s starting or leading the second squad. Backing up Westbrook, he still has fantastic numbers, averaging 12.4 points, 3.8 boards and 3.2 assists.
While starting so many games (30) might cost Jackson the Sixth Man of the Year award, it could mean bigger dividends for his Oklahoma City Thunder come playoff time. The biggest concern the team had in the offseason was who would replace the scoring production off the bench for the departed Kevin Martin.
Because of the extra minutes Jackson got in Westbrook’s absence, he’s shown that he can be the man. With his solid presence providing a spark off the bench for the Thunder, look for them to seriously challenge for the NBA championship, and Jackson would happily choose a ring over an award.
3. Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets, 12.8%
The expression, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” applies to Andray Blatche and the Brooklyn Nets quite well.
The most expensive payroll in the history of the league started off horrendously.
Through December 31, they were a meager 10-21. They closed out the calendar year getting their doors blown off by the San Antonio Spurs, 113-92.
Then, it was almost like the team made a collective New Year’s resolution to not suck anymore. On January 2, they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 95-93. Since then, the Nets are 22-9 and proud owners of the fourth-best record in the NBA.
Blatche has a lot to do with that, and his 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game only tell part of the story.
Since the start of 2014, when he’s on the court (subscription required) the Nets offense is far more productive, averaging 108.3 points per 100 possessions compared to just 101.6 while he’s on the bench.
Blatche was once a problem with the Washington Wizards, who amnestied him. But he’s found a place on the Nets, who rather than trying to force him to conform, have found a way to embrace his unique personality. As a result, they have one of the best reserves in the league.
2. Manu Ginobili San Antonio Spurs, 12.9%
Manu Ginobili is in the conversation for greatest sixth men in the history of the NBA. Of players who have logged at least 7,500 minutes career minutes off the bench since 1985, none have a higher average game score than the San Antonio Spur.
The winner of Sixth Man of the Year in 2007-08 also has been pivotal in the Spurs winning three of their four championships.
This year Ginobili is still producing, averaging 12.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.
It seems that age just cannot catch this particular trio of Spurs. The 36-year-old guard, along with Tim Duncan (37) and Tony Parker (31), just keeps churning out numbers and dominant seasons, as the Spurs, at 46-16, currently own the best record in the NBA.
There must be some sort of tap running from the Spurs training facility to the Fountain of Youth. That’s the only logical explanation. Occam's razor!
1. Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers, 13.8%
If you're using PIE as your measure, Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers is easily the top choice for Sixth Man of the Year, as he's nearly a full percentage point better than any reserve in the league.
He's coupling that with some nice volume scoring too, pouring in 18.2 points per game and doing so with an efficient .559 true shooting percentage.
However, if you're looking at his on/off numbers, there might be some reason to pause. The Clippers are barely more productive on offense with Crawford on the court, scoring just .1 points more per 100 possessions, and giving up 1.5 more points. This suggest his success may be, in part, due to the system he's in.
Crawford has an award already, won in the 2009-10 season, while with the Atlanta Hawk. It's not impossible that he wins a second, but it's not a guarantee either. In fact, the previous award could hinder him, as this seems to be one of those awards where repeat winners are rare.
It's been more than 20 years since Detlef Schrempf received the award a second time in 1991. He is only the second, and last, person to do so.
There are plenty of candidates who can make strong case for Sixth Man of the Year, and the winner may very well come down to which player finishes the season the strongest.