If there is one thing that separates the NBA’s top teams from the rest, it’s their depth and production off the bench.
Having good contributions off the bench is crucial to every team’s chances of being successful, which is why the likes of the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs have been enjoying stellar seasons and are way ahead of the pack.
NBA legend and analyst Shaquille O’Neal used the term ‘others’ to describe those players outside of the superstars and the franchise players, who make important impacts on their team.
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The sixth man on each team is usually tasked with leading the second unit and though many players don’t particularly like coming off the bench, there are those who embrace the role, especially with the incentive of winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Here are the top five candidates for the award so far this season:
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1. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
The 25-year-old small forward is having the best season of his career so far in Denver. Despite coming off the bench, Barton is the team’s second-leading scorer and is averaging career-highs across the board with 15.5 points, 2.4 assists and six rebounds per game.
Barton is also shooting a career-high 45.5% from the field, 38% from three and 85.5% from the free throw line. Much can change in the second half of the season but Barton can certainly be viewed as the frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year award thus far.
2. Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder
It may have come as a surprise to many people that Kanter has been a bench player for the Thunder this season after signing a four-year $70 million deal with the franchise in the summer, but he has been a key figure off the bench offensively.
The Turk plays around 20.8 minutes per game and his numbers in that time have been relatively good as he averages 11.9 points and 7.7 rebounds. His limited minutes, however, are largely down to his defensive limitations. With Dion Waiters being moved to the starting
With Dion Waiters being moved to the starting lineup for OKC, Kanter has taken on the Sixth Man responsibilities and has been a big factor offensively, as evidenced by his performance against the Golden State Warriors recently.
3. Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans
The sharpshooter has offered a much-needed scoring option off the bench for a Pelicans team that has been short-handed for much of the season due to multiple injuries to their better players. Anderson has helped in some way to take the load off Anthony Davis by averaging an impressive 16.7 points and 5.9 rebounds off the bench, which are starter level numbers.
The Power Forward is regularly involved in trade rumours as he could easily be a starter on many other teams in the league due to his ability to space the floor with his shooting. He’s had some noticeably big games off the bench, scoring 30 points against the Spurs and 29 against the Phoenix Suns and he’s a strong contender for the award.
4. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Oladipo has been a starter since he came into the NBA with Orlando Magic, but Coach Scott Skiles has decided to use the young point guard off the bench this year. To his credit, Oladipo has embraced his new role leading the Magic’s second unit and performed reasonably well averaging 14.3 points, four assists and 4.6 rebounds.
Being the primary ball-handler off the bench, Oladipo has been able to be more aggressive and has scored in double-figures in the majority of the games when he’s come off the bench. Orlando has slipped out of the playoff positions over the last month and now has a 23-29 record, so if Oladipo manages to get the team to the playoffs, he will firmly be in that Sixth Man of the Year conversation come the end of the regular season.
5. Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets
After bouncing around for a few years from the New York Knicks, to the Houston Rockets and then the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin seems to have found a settled home and role in Charlotte. It’s been several years since Lin exploded onto the NBA scene with ‘Linsanity’ in New York but he has finally overcome that period and now established himself as a solid point guard in the league.
He has relished playing as the backup option to Kemba Walker and done reasonably well. Even though Lin has been averaging similar numbers to last year, 12.1 points, 3.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds, he has played with much more confidence and has done a great job leading Charlotte’s bench.