September 15, 2009
OK, we know the first decade of the 21st century doesn't really end until 2011. We think. But we also know there have been 10 full NBA seasons played since the phrase "Y2K" was on all of our lips (1999-2000), and here at Ball Don't Lie we've decided to use this as an offseason excuse to rank some of the best and not-so-brightest of the 10 campaigns in question. The result? Why, top 10 lists!
We're not buying the idea that a sixth man has to be some shoot-first combo guard, too small to start at off guard (though he's often heaps better than the bigger, more palatable off guard he's replacing), too shot-happy to be considered at point guard. Not buying it.
So why is most of our list composed of shoot-first guards? Hey, we told you we're not buying, buddy. Leave us alone. Things just happen that way.
What follows is a list of the 10 best sixth men of the last decade. Sub!
The journeyman forward wasn't a true sixth man. Year to year, he often started more than half the games he appeared in during the decade in question, as his mix of long-range shooting, sound D and stout rebounding was too good to keep out of the starting lineup. But ‘Yell did make a mark as a bench performer with the Jazz, Bulls, Raptors and Cavaliers.
He also may have enjoyed the best reserve season of anyone who hasn't won the actual Sixth Man award over the last decade, averaging 11.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in 2004-05. Marshall only played 25.6 minutes per game that year, precious few considering his per-game averages, alongside 41.6 percent shooting from behind the arc. Considering the per-minute play, and David Lee's(notes) (his closest competitor) defensive issues, I'm pretty confident in that assertion.
Boykins wasn't ever spectacular or award-worthy during his time in the NBA, but he did come through with six seasons of sound sixth man hoopage from 2001 to 2007, providing the sort of instant offense that seems to typify most fans' sixth man expectations.
At 5-5 and 33 years of age, Boykins is unlikely to see more than a camp invite or scant NBA minutes at this stage of his career, but his ability to weave in and out of defenses for so long was quite the accomplishment.
I'm a huge Terry fan, and I think he's been long underrated despite his high recognition level even among casual NBA fans. That said, I can't rank the 2008-09 Sixth Man award winner too high because of his only recent introduction to the ranks of pine-based contributors. JET has been a starter for the bulk of his career.
The Mavericks have made a point to bring Terry off the bench over the last two seasons, but even with that it hasn't been a complete dedication to the crafto del six-o: Terry has started 45 out of a possible 156 games over the last two seasons.
And he's been absolutely brilliant over the term. Averaging 17.5 points per game with a few assists, Terry has spread the floor, run the offense in a pinch and taken advantage of every bit of those 32.5 minutes per game.
Smith's youth, inconsistency, iffy defense, inattention to facets of the game outside of shooting and scoring ... we'll stop. We know what his issues are. And, we swear, he's just pointing out how great a sixth man he is in the photo above. Check the digits. Everything's fine.
Smith can score. That's it. He's one of the best in the league at it, it takes him no time to warm up, he can take some bad shots but ... again, it hardly matters. Almost 12 points per game in almost 23 minutes on his career, he just turned 24 last week, and few public complaints thus far as to his role as Denver's backup scorer.
6. David Lee
I'm wary of my own reputation and the fact that Lee is the darling of the per-minute set, but his first three seasons were absolute killers, and the guy just couldn't buy a start.
PERs of 15.4 (average, as a rookie), 20.2 and 18 for Lee in his first three seasons, with just 55 starts combined over that stretch. You want to tell me he has no real moves down low? Fine. That he relies on good passes and garbage pick-ups? Sure. At the end of the night, he's scored efficiently and he's rebounded expertly. Doesn't matter how he does it, he's done it. Thank Jeebus he's starting now.
As noted above, Big Nasty won a Sixth Man award, so he's hardly unheralded. But it wasn't a flashy turn for Williamson during the decade in question.
Starting with a trade that sent him to Detroit in 2001, Williamson turned in consistent, solid turns as the first man off the bench for the Pistons. Sure, he was a shockingly poor rebounder, and his defense (given the wrong matchup) was pretty suspect, but the man could score. In any situation, not just mismatch heaven. And his drawn-out turn as that sort of scorer has him at the midpoint on this list.
Despite a sound reputation, Barbosa was actually pretty subpar in his first two seasons (his 19.5 turnover rate in his rookie season is about as bad as we've ever seen for a guard playing big minutes), but his ability to get to the rim allowed him to work and grow with the benefit of a rotation slot in hand. That always helps.
And Barbosa helps, these days. I'm not going to tell you he does anything else but score, score, score; he's started fewer than a quarter of his career games, and he's coming off a career year. This will only get better.
Gordon's actually started about 40 percent of his career games, he hates coming off the bench, there's no real statistical difference between his bench work and starting production (especially when you account for his typical slow starts to the season, and the caliber of opponents), but the stigma remains. Especially during the Scott Skiles era in Chicago. Gordon came off the bench ... well, just 'cause.
Silly, that. But Gordon kept at it. Won a Sixth Man award in his rookie year, the first time that's ever happened, and dealt with having to point at and replace Chris Duhon(notes) at the six-minute mark of every first quarter, with the Bulls already down 12-4. He averaged 18.5 points in 31.4 minutes in a five-year run, and signed with Detroit over the offseason.
You remember Detroit. They start Rip Hamilton at off guard.
As a combo guard, the first thing off the bench, Jackson was just damn good for years.
For the purposes of this list, he worked quite well for the Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Hornets and Rockets - but especially for the Sacramento Kings. He won the hearts of that city with his all-out hustle, quick scoring, opportunistic passing, fine rebounding and leadership qualities. They/I loved watching that guy play.
I'm aware of the history of the role, I'm aware of the Hall of Famers who have taken to the role, and I understand that Manu hasn't been able to walk straight for 82 games in a row for most of his career.
I'm also confident in calling Manu Ginobili the most potent sixth man in recent NBA history.
John Havlicek still has his number, overall. But Manu tops Frank Ramsey and Kevin McHale, at least in comparison to McHale's time coming off the pine. We've been over this before, and while it pains me that Manu is often in pain, that shouldn't take away from how brilliant he's been when he's healthy.
And for the purposes of our little run. Our little decade? Manu's it. Drives at all angles, defends, boards, passes, plays tough, plays smart, plays passionately. We just wish he'd play more.
Questions? Comments? Furious and righteous anger at a world, not to mention top 10 list, gone wrong? Swing by later today at about 3 p.m. Eastern for a BDL mini-chat regarding this very list.