At the end of each NBA season, the Sixth Man of the Year award is given out to the player voters feel makes the best contribution off the bench. Since the 1982-1983 season, 26 players have won this honor.
While these winners could easily be a starter on most teams in the league, their respective coaches use them to bolster the reserve units.
Most are impressive scorers who can create instant offense off the bench, while others have made impressive contributions rebounding, playing defense or making plays.
This article takes a look back through NBA history to rank the award winners per season. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts about these rankings, especially if a player was done a “gross injustice” and ranked too low.
Season Stats: 9.9 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, 0.3 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 57 percent FG, 64 percent FT
Despite standing just 6’7” tall, Anthony Mason was a feared power forward. He was a muscular force who displayed a well-rounded game on offense and defense.
While with the New York Knicks, Mason earned a reputation for his gritty play down low and his playmaking skills.
Season Stats: 9.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 54 percent FG, 79 percent FT
Bobby Jones was never known as a great scorer, but he was an excellent defender who wreaked havoc on opponents.
He was known for his hustle, selflessness and doing all the little things that don’t show up in box scores to help his teams win.
Season Stats: 7.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.3 BPG, 0.5 SPG, 56 percent FG, 71 percent FT
During his first season with the Celtics, Bill Walton played a career-high 80 games. While the statistics don’t seem to be the most impressive, Walton made a major impact backing up Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
In addition to providing his effective offensive and defensive abilities, Walton helped maintain a tall Boston frontcourt when he subbed into games.
Season Stats: 11.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 5.0 APG, 0.1 BPG, 1.4 SPG, 47 percent FG, 31 percent 3FG, 77 percent FT
Aaron McKie was a valuable reserve the last season the Philadelphia 76ers made a trip to the NBA Finals. He was a combo guard who could play small forward and both backcourt positions.
Along with his playmaking, McKie was known for his pesky defense and helped make his team one of the better defensive clubs in the NBA. His award-winning season was highlighted by back-to-back triple-doubles.
Season Stats: 13.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.1 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 43 percent FG, 37 percent 3FG, 77 percent FT
John Starks was one of the fan favorites in New York. With his tenacity, desire and highlight plays, Starks was a catalyst off the bench.
As one of New York's top scorers, his effective outside shooting touch helped spread the floor to create extra space for teammate Patrick Ewing in the paint.
Season Stats: 13.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.3 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 51 percent FG, 81 percent FT
Corliss Williamson became a major contributor for the Pistons with his hard work and determination. Along with his hustle, Williamson proved to be one of the most reliable scorers and perhaps the best defender for Detroit.
Not surprisingly, he helped lead the Pistons to the top of the Central Division that season.
Season Stats: 13.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.7 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 52 percent FG, 74 percent FT
Danny Manning had an impressive year for the Suns in providing valuable scoring and rebounding off the bench. He was instrumental in providing veteran leadership, which helped get the Suns to the playoffs.
Perhaps impressed with the fact that Manning was the first player to successfully return to the NBA after having reconstructive surgery on both knees, the media might not have given the award to the best bench player that season. By most measures, Kobe Bryant was the most dominant reserve player in the NBA that year.
Season Stats: 14.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 54 percent FG, 40 percent 3FG, 75 percent FT
After Antawn Jamison was traded to the Mavericks in 2003, he used his All-Star talents to become an effective and efficient scorer off the bench. Backing up a talented frontcourt that included Dirk Nowitzki and Antoine Walker, Jamison helped lead the Mavericks to the playoffs, which was also his first postseason appearance.
This season would mark career highs in field goal and three-point field goal percentages for Jamison. In fact, it would mark the only time he has shot greater than 50 percent from the field.
Season Stats: 15.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 41 percent FG, 41 percent 3FG, 86 percent FT
Ben Gordon is the only NBA rookie to win the award in league history. He was known for his superior play in closing situations, finishing the season with 21 double-digit fourth-quarter performances (second only to LeBron James).
Along the way, Gordon helped lead the Bulls to their first postseason appearance since the Michael Jordan era. His superior play was also captured by three Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month selections and election to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Season Stats: 13.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.6 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 49 percent FG, 44 percent 3FG, 64 percent FT
Rodney Rogers had one of his finest seasons when he won the Sixth Man Award with the Suns. Combining his strength and one of the most accurate marks from behind the three-point line, Rogers was one of the more difficult matchups in the league that year.
He helped lead the Suns to the playoffs before losing to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Season Stats: 19.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.3 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 53 percent FG, 11 percent 3FG, 88 percent FT
Ricky Pierce is the first player on this list to appear twice.
During this season, he served as the ultimate weapon off the bench, averaging nearly 20 PPG, while shooting quite efficiently.
Pierce was a remarkable jump-shooter who made opponents pay with his incredible free-throw shooting ability.
Season Stats: 13.5 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 50 percent FG, 74 percent FT
Roy Tarpley holds a distinction for being expelled from the NBA in 1991 for violating the league’s drug-use policies. Nevertheless, he was a force in the middle during the year he won the award.
While serving as a dominant defender and rebounder, Tarpley also was an efficient scorer. In fact, he still remains the only Sixth Man award-winner to average a double-double.
Season Stats: 13.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.4 BPG, 0.7 SPG, 47 percent FG, 41 percent 3FG, 80 percent FT
Mike Miller had an excellent season for the Grizzlies. As one of the better shooters in the NBA, he helped spread defenses with his accurate outside shot.
Miller was also one of the better rebounding wing players in the NBA, an ability that helped complement his playmaking skills. Partly due to Miller’s superior play, the Grizzlies would make the playoffs that year, despite being in the very competitive Western Conference.
Season Stats: 15.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.1 APG, 0.1 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 46 percent FG, 38 percent 3FG, 85 percent FT
Bobby Jackson had a career year for the Sacramento Kings, posting decent all-around averages. He would prove to be the most feared bench player, with a penchant for getting on hot scoring streaks and taking over games.
Despite helping lead the Kings to 59 wins that season, Jackson would fall short of making the NBA Finals at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks.
Season Stats: 13.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 6.7 APG, 0.1 BPG, 2.2 SPG, 44 percent FG, 37 percent 3FG, 90 percent FT
Although he only played 50 games that season for the Orlando Magic, it was a defining year for Darrell Armstrong. Along with this award, he also won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
He served as one of the quickest players in the league, which helped make him one of the premier thieves with the basketball. Armstrong combined his all-around shooting and scoring abilities with dominant playmaking. He also holds the highest assists and steals per game marks of any player on this list.
Season Stats: 13.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 0.3 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 49 percent FG, 40 percent 3FG, 77 percent FT
Toni "The Croatian Sensation" Kukoc remains the last player to win this award the same season as winning the NBA championship. He was the third-leading scorer behind Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for the Bulls on a team that won an NBA-record 72 wins.
With remarkable outside shooting and playmaking abilities, Kukoc was usually one of the closers for this dominant team. Along with sharpshooter Steve Kerr, Kukoc helped open the floor for Jordan and Pippen to effectively post up.
Season Stats: 16.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 0.3 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 46 percent FG, 40 percent 3FG, 87 percent FT
While playing with the Charlotte Hornets, Dell Curry was always among the leading vote-getters for Sixth Man of the Year, but he finally won the award in 1994. He served as instant offense off the bench and was noted as one of the best shooters in the league.
Curry’s ability to spread opponents' defenses helped open the middle for Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson.
Season Stats: 14.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.7 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 53 percent FG, 38 percent 3FG, 68 percent FT
As the latest winner of the award, Lamar Odom put up an impressive season, averaging career highs in field goal and three-point percentages. What's more impressive is Odom is perhaps his team’s most consistent player and is the only player in these rankings who could effectively play all five court positions.
His versatility, ball-handling skills and offensive footwork make him a difficult task for any opponent to guard.
Season Stats: 16.1 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.3 BPG, 0.7 SPG, 52 percent FG, 38 percent 3FG, 82 percent FT
Before Dirk Nowitzki came along, Detlef Schrempf was considered by many to be the best European to play in the NBA. The second player to appear in these rankings twice, Schrempf bolstered the Indiana Pacers’ bench with his brilliant shooting abilities and all-around skills.
Perhaps no other Sixth Man award-winner was a more dominant threat on the court both inside and out.
Season Stats: 18.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.2 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 45 percent FG, 38 percent 3FG, 86 percent FT
Jamal Crawford was the second leading scorer for the Atlanta Hawks last season. Although a streaky shooter, Crawford proved nearly impossible to stop when he was in the zone.
Crawford’s season ranks high because of his ability to take over games offensively by hitting difficult clutch shots. There has been perhaps no better player at converting four-point plays (making three-pointers while being fouled, then hitting the subsequent free throws) in NBA history.
Season Stats: 23.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 51 percent FG, 35 percent 3FG, 84 percent FT
Ricky Pierce’s second time winning this award was more impressive than his first. Compared to the 1987 season, Pierce became a better outside shooter. That season also marked the highest scoring average of any Sixth Man of the Year award-winners.
In fact, Pierce’s output came close to what some teams’ entire reserve units averaged in scoring.
Season Stats: 19.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.3 BPG, 1.3 SPG, 46 percent FG, 37 percent 3FG, 88 percent FT
Jason Terry served as the second leading scorer for the Mavericks behind Dirk Nowitzki and was one of the most difficult players to stop, especially when he got into a hot shooting streak.
He was known for using his pull-up jumper and speed to get open shots, as well as coming up with timely steals, leading to easy fast-break scores. Although he primarily played shooting guard, Terry was also effective running the point for stretches.
Season Stats: 21.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.7 SPG, 50 percent FG, 41 percent 3FG, 87 percent FT
Eddie Johnson’s award-winning season was definitely an impressive one, as he posted the second-highest scoring average on this list. From an offensive standpoint, Johnson’s season was so remarkable that he almost became a member of the exclusive “50-40-90” shooting club.
He was the second-leading scorer on the team behind Tom Chambers and helped teammate Kevin Johnson tally many assists.
Season Stats: 18.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4.0 APG, 0.2 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 48 percent FG, 43 percent 3FG, 85 percent FT
As one of the fastest players in the NBA, Leandro Barbosa was one of the most difficult players to guard in the NBA. While primarily playing shooting guard and backing up Steve Nash at the point, Barbosa became one of the league’s most efficient scorers.
His speed allowed him to continually beat defenders off the dribble, while his pull-up outside shot proved to be quite consistent, especially on the trailing break.
Season Stats: 18.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.5 BPG, 0.3 SPG, 56 percent FG, 77 percent FT
Kevin McHale was the first player in NBA History to win the Sixth Man Award twice. In a sense, he helped define what a dominant bench player looks like.
Despite not starting early in his career, McHale was grouped with Larry Bird and Robert Parish, which NBA fans referred to as the Celtics' "Big Three."
McHale seemed to be unstoppable in the low post with his mastery of moves and long arms. He helped lead the Celtics to 62 wins, the best record in the league, and eventually a championship in the postseason.
Season Stats: 19.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.2 APG, 2.0 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 47 percent FG, 25 percent 3FG, 69 percent FT
Cliff Robinson was an essential part of the great Portland Trail Blazers teams of the early 1990's. With his strong scoring ability and solid defensive skills, Robinson might have been the team’s second-best player after Clyde Drexler.
His versatility allowed him to play either forward position. Of all the players on this list, Robinson’s stellar season has the highest blocks average.
Season Stats: 17.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.9 APG, 0.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG, 54 percent FG, 32 percent 3FG, 83 percent FT
Detlef Schrempf followed up his first award-winning season with an even better performance the next year. Barely missing out on averaging a double-double, Schrempf averaged career highs (up to that point) in every major statistical category besides three-point shooting.
Along with Reggie Miller and Chuck Person, he helped make the Pacers one of the best shooting teams in the NBA.
Season Stats: 19.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.5 APG, 0.4 BPG, 1.5 SPG, 46 percent FG, 40 percent 3FG, 86 percent FT
The year Manu Ginobili won the Sixth Man award was also the year he averaged a career-high in scoring. Considering there were many seasons Ginobili started, that fact says a lot about this particular season.
Ginobili displayed his all-around brilliance, including playmaking and defense, while sparking the offense with his signature drives and step-back outside shots. Unfortunately for the Spurs, Ginobili would injure himself at the end of the season and was less effective for his team in the ensuing playoffs.
Season Stats: 19.8 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.5 BPG, 0.4 SPG, 57 percent FG, 76 percent FT
After having a better season than the previous year, it was only natural that the NBA awarded Kevin McHale a second award. This season, McHale was so dominant from both ends of the floor that the Celtics played better when he was in the game.
McHale helped lead the Celtics to another appearance in the NBA Finals that season. But when considering his overall impact in the game, this season by Kevin McHale has to be the best season of any NBA Sixth Man award-winner.