NBA 2011-12 Predictions: 5 Candidates for the Sixth Man of the Year Award

Eric Johnson@<a href="" class="twitter-follow-button" data-show-count="false">Follow @EJisLegend</a> <script>!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src="//platCorrespondent IIIDecember 23, 2011

NBA 2011-12 Predictions: 5 Candidates for the Sixth Man of the Year Award

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    The role depth plays in a contending team's success should never be underestimated. In fact, the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award is one of the most prestigious accolades a player can pull in his career.

    Names like Manu Ginobili and Lamar Odom have earned their paychecks by putting in big minutes off the bench and helping teams win championships. With many rising or established players finding nice fits in a rotation, who will shine the brightest of all?

    Here are my top five candidates to bring home the award.

5. Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks

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    Jason Terry is an example of a player who has been a huge factor off the bench for the majority of his career but could make an impact as a starter as well.

    While 'The Jet' has watched his statistics drop over the past few seasons, there is no question that his importance has remained high. Terry can still knock down big shots and often helped put a dagger in Miami to help the Dallas Mavericks win their first NBA championship.

    Terry is known mostly for his scoring ability, but he also has the talents needed to be a nice distributor on the floor and help create plays for teammates. A veteran of the game, Terry is still a threat for a big game every night.

4. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls

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    It shocked me last season when Taj Gibson had his minutes on the floor cut down significantly, but it just shows how much front court depth Chicago has. He is a pure athlete whose contributions on the defensive end make him so valuable.

    Gibson will likely have a bigger role in the Bulls' rotation based on his improvement and energy from last season.

    Rightfully so.

    He swats away shots at an elite rate and can also provide double-digit rebounds with significant playing time.

    Chicago is primed to make another run at a championship this year and it wouldn't be surprising to see Gibson make a name for himself in the process.

3. Jamal Crawford, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Jamal Crawford was crowned the Sixth Man of the Year in 2010 and will now try to repeat that success with a different squad. Coming to Portland, the 31-year-old will face a lot of pressure to give a possible contender an offensive boost.

    It was sad to see Brandon Roy have to retire due to injuries, especially since he was so admired in the city of Portland and throughout the league. The positive out of this is the rise of young Wesley Matthews and just what he can do for the team in the near future.

    Crawford will be Matthews' main backup off the bench and will be expected to continue dropping buckets in good form. He's not going to give you much elsewhere as he is an average defender and ball handler, but Portland will desperately need his production to be true contenders.

2. Lamar Odom, Dallas Mavericks

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    Lamar Odom will average a double-double off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks which makes it really hard not to put him at number one. His importance to the team is much more than just statistics though.

    This is a guy who could go down as one of the best sixth men of all-time after his two championship runs with Los Angeles. He helped the Lakers have the deepest front court in the NBA and was possibly the second most important factor on the team besides Kobe Bryant.

    Now that his time in purple and gold is over, he will take the same role with a different contender.

    Dallas lost a major factor in their championship season with Tyson Chandler going to New York, but Odom will have to step up and have a similar impact. He's not as defensively sound as Chandler, but he possesses the great size and athletic ability that allows him to guard any position on the floor.

    Odom has great range and handles the ball extremely well for his size. He will help Dallas spread the court and have a more threatening arsenal than last year. If he co-exists nicely with Dirk, there aren't too many threats in the West holding the Mavericks back from another Finals appearance.

1. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    I'm convinced that James Harden could be a concrete piece in building a team's future, but for now he will help form a top three trio in the NBA with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    Some may think that Harden should be plugged into the starting lineup, but that's not the case. Having his explosiveness off the bench plays a huge key in Oklahoma City having a valid scorer on the floor at all times.

    Durant and Westbrook can each average 25 points a game to help the Thunder roll, but it wouldn't be out of the question to see Harden throw in 20 as well.

    Harden can drive, spot up for jumpers and perhaps his biggest asset, draw fouls constantly. He's becoming a better ball-handler and could see some time at the point if needed.

    Defensively he can create turnovers effectively and is becoming an option to take on tough assignments. He shows the confidence to really exceed his expectations and will earn his respect around the league.

    His improvement on both ends of the floor will continue to be noticed over the course of the season which will propel him into talks of accolades, but most importantly he will help Oklahoma City in the chase for a NBA championship.