Top NBA Sixth Men of All Time
It is often said that it doesn't matter who starts, but who finishes.
Throughout the history of the league, this saying has proven to be quite true indeed. Each year, the top teams have one thing in common, a strong bench.
Typically, the first one off the bench sets the tone for the rest of the game, and the truly great ones tend to end the game playing a major role in the outcome of the game.
They typically aren't nearly as celebrated and only in the past 30 years have they been recognized at all. But make no mistake about it, the sixth men of the league have been just as important as those that proceeded them.
Here are the Top 10 sixth men of all time.
10. Jason Terry
I'll admit, part of the reason Jason Terry is on this list is because his Mavs won the title this year. Had they not, I think Ben Gordon would have merited serious consideration for this spot.
But it is hard to argue with his numbers. Since he became a primary sixth man in 2008, he has consistently been over 15 points per game while delivering clutch three-point shooting and lightning quickness.
The interesting thing about Terry is that he was actually a pretty successful player as a starter, but it took going to Dallas and their coaching staff having better options at point guard to move him to the sixth man spot. But he truly is becoming one of the great ones before our eyes.
9. John Starks
I will admit, I took plenty of criticism for leaving John Starks off of my "Most Underrated" list. And although I still maintain that it is impossible to be considered underrated when playing in New York, Starks' career was nonetheless noteworthy.
Though he was only a sixth man for about half of his career, that is where he was his most effective, helping to lead the Knicks to a number of deep playoff runs.
Starks was the perfect fit on his team, a very good perimeter defender, a three point specialist on offense and an athletic marvel in the open court.
Starks was a one-time All Star, one-time Sixth Man of the Year winner and a one-time second team All-Defensive team selection.
Though known as a trash talker, his 17 points per 36 minutes did the real talking.
8. Eddie Johnson
True, Johnson was not a primary scorer on a lot of winning clubs. And true, he didn't have the name brand recognition of others on this list.
But what he was, however, was a tremendous scorer off the bench.
From 1986 until the end of his career in 1999, Johnson became a super sub. Over that course of time, he averaged over 14 points per game eight consecutive seasons with a high tide mark of 21.5 in 1989. He did that in just under 30 minutes per game.
He was a solid three-point shooter, but above all, he could get his shot off against anyone.
A truly remarkable scorer, especially off the bench.
7. Toni Kukoc
For the longest time, basketball fans had heard about the "Euro Magic" that was playing in Croatia. The Chicago Bulls drafted Kukoc in 1990 but it took nearly four years and Michael Jordan's retirement to bring the 6'10" swingman to the states.
Though he never lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him, he was a tremendous talent that was known for his flawless passing ability, deft left-handed touch and range that exceeded the three-point line.
Kukoc's style fit in perfectly with the Bulls' triangle offense, helping them win their second three-peat of titles in the 1990's.
Kukoc won NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 1996. For his career, Kukoc averaged 16 points, six rebounds and five assists per 36 minutes.
6. Ricky Pierce
Also perhaps one of the most underrated players of all time, Ricky Pierce was, like Vinnie Johnson, the epitome of instant offense.
What typically keeps Pierce off of lists of all-time greats is the fact that he rarely played on relevant teams. Though he made the playoffs 12 of his 16 seasons and with four different teams, his teams typically did not advance far and he never won a title.
He did, however, light up the stat sheets, scoring 20 points per game in four seasons despite coming off the bench and never playing much more than 29 minutes per game. Even more impressive is the fact that he averaged 22 points per 36 minutes.
Pierce was a pure shooter and able to connect at any range, as evidenced by his career 49 percent field goal percentage, 32 percent three-point shooting and torrid 88 percent free-throw shooting.
Pierce won the Sixth Man of the Year award twice and was a one-time All-Star.
5. Michael Cooper
But, however, I did appreciate a few of their players. One that stood out was Michael Cooper.
Cooper had the type of game that I could appreciate: strong defender, good shooter and smart player.
Cooper relished the opportunity to match up with the opponent's best player, and this made him a unique sixth man. Typically sixth men are known for coming in off the bench and providing instant offense. Cooper came in and shut down the opponents.
He also was fun on the break, and who can forget those iconic knee-high socks!
4. Detlef Schrempf
For many basketball fans in the 1990's, Detlef Schrempf was what they thought of when the words "sixth man" were used.
Blessed with tremendous size and athleticism, the German product could do just about everything on the court. He was an excellent mid range shooter, averaging nearly 50 percent from the field for his career. He later developed a consistent three-point shot to go along with a sneaky ability to get to the hoop.
In addition to his scoring, Schrempf was an underrated passer and a very good rebounder.
Schrempf never won it all, but was a two-time Sixth Man of the Year winner, three-time All Star and was once selected to the All-NBA third team.
Schrempf truly knew how to play the game the right way.
3. Vinnie Johnson
Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson was the epitome of instant offense in the 1980's. Backing up Hall of Fame guards Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, Johnson was asked to do one thing and one thing only and that was score.
Johnson earned his nickname for the way he was able to heat up so quickly. But it didn't start out so well for Johnson.
After being drafted with the seventh overall pick by Seattle in 1979, Johnson endured a few unspectacular seasons playing for the once great Sonics.
He was eventually dealt to Detroit for Greg Kelser and after backing up John Long, the Pistons drafted Dumars and the rest is history.
Johnson found his niche in Detroit and was known for his clutch scoring, evidenced by his championship-clinching shot with 0.07 seconds left in Game 5 of the 1990 Finals. Johnson also won a title in 1989.
Though he never won NBA Sixth Man of the Year, he is still a legend in Detroit. It's easy to see why considering that for his career he averaged 18 points per game per 36 minutes.
2. John Havlicek
John "Hondo" Havlicek is generally considered the original sixth man.
Blessed with tremendous athleticism (he briefly played wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns) and a gritty determination that refused to die, Havlicek was the bridge between two great generations of Boston Celtics basketball.
Havlicek was an eight-time NBA champion, one-time NBA Finals MVP, 13-time All Star, four-time NBA first team, seven-time NBA second team, five-time NBA All-Defensive first team and three-time All-Defensive second team.
Havlicek could do it all, but was known most for his defense and clutch shooting, not to mention a level of hustle rarely seen in basketball.
Although later in his career he became a starter, he was the original sixth man and would have been a multiple winner had the award existed back then.
1. Kevin McHale
Perhaps the most awkward looking player to ever play the game, Kevin McHale was a true throwback to an older age where fundamentals and intelligence won out over athletic ability.
McHale burst onto the scene as a rookie in 1981, backing up Larry Bird and Robert Parish and helping the Celtics win the title. The Celtics went on to win two more titles with McHale, who utilized a string of amazing low-post scoring moves, great passing (especially on outlet passes), excellent rebounding and underrated defensive skills.
McHale was a seven-time All Star, three-time All-Defensive first team, three-time All-Defensive second team and won two straight Sixth Man of the Year awards.