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The Top 10 Candidates For NBA Sixth Man Of The Year This Season

Being a great sixth man is all about energy. Currently, the NBA’s Sixth Man award’s criteria is quite simple: a player must play more games coming off the bench than they start. The rule has no minutes per game requirements. Why is this important? Last year, J.R. Smith won the award playing 32.5 minutes a game, which was second most on his team. Essentially it doesn’t matter if you’re a key guy on your squad — players like Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry and Lamar Odom have all won the award in recent years while being one of the top players on their teams.

This year the top guys in the running are primarily guards and wings. It’s an incredibly tough award to win as a legitimate big man. Players in possession of the offense can stuff their box score numbers more quickly than the third big coming off the bench, often asked to rebound and defend. The last time a true center won the award was in 1987-88 when Dallas’s Roy Tarpley won the award.

Below, I’m ranking the top ten candidates for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year this season.

[RELATED: The Top 10 Candidates For The NBA MVP This Season]

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10. MICHAEL BEASLEY
It’s crazy that a guy who was on his last legs in the NBA is this high in the rankings. Beasley has had his problems but he’s always been a capable NBA scorer. He’s had trouble finding the right team, and keeping himself focused but playing with the league’s best player has done wonders. In all seriousness, find me one player who was worse off playing with LeBron. (Chris Bosh doesn’t count — screw the numbers he has two rings.)

Beasley has come off the bench in relief of the four-time MVP and is providing valuable minutes of rest for the superstar. He’s filling the offensive void efficiently, averaging the least minutes of any player on this list and still dumping in 11.1 points a game at 53 percent shooting, which leads all players on this list. Beasley, who also sports a PER of nearly 20 (40th in the NBA), could be the difference-maker in a tough series where Bosh or Wade isn’t producing offensively.

9. RODNEY STUCKEY
Stuckey is having a quiet and yet productive season. It’s hard to grab attention when Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are on your team, not even mentioning Detroit’s two best players in Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, but Stuckey had a run earlier this year of 11 straight games with at least 16 points.

I put Stuckey so high because he’s been asked to play primarily at the shooting guard position. Stuckey is undersized for the role and on a nightly basis has to battle with bigger and more talented players. Not only that, but he has to fight his own team for shots. Stuckey shoots 11 times a game at 45 percent while Smith and Jennings each shoot 15 times a game, at 40 and 39 percent respectively. The guy who starts over Stuckey, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, is one point away from regaining membership in the “more shots than points” club.

Things are going to change in Detroit, at some point they will realize it’s not working. Stuckey may or may not be a part of that future, but at this point he’s been one of their most productive players.

8. DION WAITERS
The second-year player has had his struggles this year, both on and off the court. The Kyrie Irving/Dion Waiters relationship is murky, and there have been several trade rumors about the explosive scorer from Syracuse. He is erratic with his shooting and his percentages aren’t where you want them to be (42/38/70), but the guy can score. If he doesn’t find a home long-term in Cleveland, I’d love to see him get a chance to really run an offense somewhere else. (He appears to think the same way, reportedly pushing to get traded to Philly so he could run his own team.)

Coming off a six-game losing streak, without Irving or Andrew Bynum, the Cavaliers got a good win in overtime against the Orlando Magic last Thursday. Dion Waiters was the catalyst in that game. Watching him play with the ball in his hands at the end of the game was something special. Not once, but twice in the last 24 seconds he attacked the basket and he got to the rim, scoring, and keeping the Cavaliers alive. The Cavaliers’ shameful record, along with the up and down nature of Waiters’ game, has held him down this list, but things could change if Pau Gasol does come to town. As it is, Waiters has been a better player coming off Cleveland’s bench, averaging 16.1 points on 43 percent shooting in that role.

[RELATED: The Top 10 Candidates For NBA Defensive Player Of The Year This Season]

7. JAMAL CRAWFORD
The 2009-10 winner will have a lot of pressure to produce with Chris Paul out for 3-5 weeks. The Clippers will rely on Crawford and Darren Collison to run an offense full of role players whil their captain is out. In the Clippers’ first game without CP3, a blowout against the Spurs, Crawford rang up 24 points and seven dimes, while taking 22 shots. The opportunities will be there, regardless of if the team’s starting point guard is dressing. The Clippers will need a continued, steady, output of offense from the combo card if they hope to stay within range of the top of the Western Conference.

Of this ten-man list, Jamal Crawford has the ninth-best player efficiency rating (14.67). Crawford’s flashy play style can be disruptive to his team as is one of those guys who will just launch shots up without thinking. That being said, Crawford has had the same story since his first year in the league. He’s incredibly talented but still hasn’t quite put it all together.

[RELATED: The Top 10 Candidates For NBA Most Improved Player This Season]

6. TAJ GIBSON
The first of two bigs on this list, Gibson is quietly having a career-year. Although his statistics aren’t mind-blowing, you can see his mentality has changed. The talent is there — in two games as a starter, Gibson is averaging 15.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks — and he’s now showing he can be aggressive and isn’t the crutch he used to be on the offensive end. He’s always been a very good defensive player, but whether you attribute that to him or coach Tom Thibodeau is up to you.

Gibson rarely gets mentioned in the tabloids or appears on a SportsCenter highlight (unless he’s dunking on someone), but he’s a hard-working glue guy who is averaging 11.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and leading all bench players (minimum of 15 games off the pine) at 1.4 blocks per game. It’s not entirely his fault, either, that people overlook him. The only thing people seem to care about with the Chicago Bulls now is the Derrick Rose injury.

Unlike most the guys on this list, Gibson will never be a starring scorer, but he knows his role and he plays hard within it. There is something to be said about hard-working role players who don’t disrupt their team’s flow for personal gain.

Keep reading to see which bench players are most likely to win the award this year…

5. REGGIE JACKSON
With Westbrook out, Jackson will have his chance to showcase his full arsenal. He could push to the top of this list or fall off over the next month. (Similar to teammate Kevin Durant in the MVP race… although it’s safe to assume KD is going to put up MONSTER numbers without Westbrook.) Jackson has a knack for scoring and like Evans, can contribute in other places on the court. Given that he will likely start a lot over the next month, his per game numbers should see a spike, rising from their current averages of 12.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 dimes.

Against the Timberwolves on Saturday, Jackson only took six shots and Kevin Durant was forced to carry the offense, taking 32. No doubt Jackson was told after the game he needed to be more involved. And so he came back Sunday against the Celtics and had 27 points on 12 shots, shooting 75 percent at home. Those numbers aren’t sustainable but Jackson’s contributions allowed Durant to play within himself, only taking 13 attempts. Jackson isn’t Westbrook but he will have to do his best Westbrook impression if the Thunder want to retain the West’s No. 1 seed.

4. NICK YOUNG
Swaggy P is similar to Jamal Crawford in that he comes off the bench and gets the green light to shoot away, especially now that he’s in L.A. Nick Young is also higher on this list than Crawford, despite similar raw statistics, because he has slightly better percentages across the board. Over the last 10 games, Young has averaged over 21 points per game and is shooting 43 percent on the year, and 83 percent from the line. He’s a scoring machine even if it hurts the team at times, proven by the fact that over that ten-game stretch he shot under 40 percent five times.

With Kobe on the shelf, Pau Gasol halfway out the door and a limited group of role players filling out the Lakers roster, Young will be leaned on heavily to supply offense. Ironically, he’s been much better coming off the bench (26 games, 45 percent shooting, 18.0 points per game) than he has been as a starter (eight games, 36 percent shooting, 12.3 points per game).

3. MARKIEFF MORRIS
I’m going to list the Western Conference Players of the Week thus far. You tell me who seems out of place:

Kevin Love
Markieff Morris
Blake Griffin
LaMarcus Aldridge
Kevin Durant
LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge
Blake Griffin

Phoenix has been special, and Morris is a big part of that. The Suns were a sure bet to utterly suck this year. Somewhere between a Jeff Hornacek meeting, an Eric Bledsoe highlight, and several light bulbs turning on in young players who hadn’t put it together, this team is making noise. I think they know the secret, word to Bill Simmons. Regardless, Morris has the second-most win shares of players mentioned on this list. He has the second-highest field goal percentage (nearly 49) and he’s the only one to win a Player of the Week award. Morris is also a big man, so more power to the guy. He makes great use of the 25 minutes a game he’s given, bringing energy, scoring, rebounding, and efficiency to the lineup. He also is a solid free throw shooter, further adding to his value, which currently sits at 12.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game.

2. TYREKE EVANS
Remember when he was an electrifying rookie and we all thought he was a mini LeBron James? Evans never again found the magic that led to such a great first season, but now in New Orleans, Evans has begin to sink into a new role. He was awful — repeat: AWFUL — to start the season, twice being shut out and earning himself a negative PER at one point. But since then? He’s been fantastic, averaging 17.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists over his last 10 games. His shooting percentages are terrible — 42 percent from the field and 17 percent from the three-point line — but he’s contributed in a jack of spades role and at least makes his freebies. He scores, rebounds and assists at above-average rates, all while subbing in at different positions.

According to 82games.com, the Pelicans’ five best units in terms of +/- all have Evans on the floor at either the shooting guard or small forward position. Evans is the only Pelicans player who resides in all five, and with the way he’s improving as the season goes, Evans could easily end up winning this award.

The biggest reason why we rated Evans above players like Young and Morris is because he’s been so utterly unstoppable for the last few months, scoring in double-figures in 21 of his last 23 after such an embarrassing start to the season.

1. MANU GINOBILI
Ginobili won this award back in 2008 on much prettier per game numbers. I concede that whole heartedly, but, remember, he’s playing eight minutes less a game this season than he did in 2008 and oh yeah, he’s also still playing for Gregg Popovich, who always finds a way to limit his players’ minutes/statistics.

In 2007-08: 46 percent field goals, 40 percent three-pointers, 86 percent free throws, .232 WS/48 (win shares over 48 minutes)

In 2013-14: 47 percent field goals, 37 percent three-pointers, 91 percent free throws, .200 WS/48

We’re talking about a 36-year-old who is still taking the kids to school. And although, on the season, his numbers are down, he also had a slow start. Since December, Ginobili has averaged 15 points, five assists and four rebounds a game on 50-39-90 shooting. That’s damn good and would put him in the upper echelon of NBA shooting guards.

Ginobili may run out of gas. His numbers may level out and he may fade into the background just as he did during last year’s postseason, but we’ve been saying this about the Spurs as a whole for years now. If the season ended today, I’d have to give it to Ginobili, who leads this list in win shares, WS/48 and player efficiency rating.

A few guys who didn’t make the cut were Jeremy Lin, who has now started too many games, and Isaiah Thomas, who is a full-blown starter at this point. There’s also Victor Oladipo, who will also likely have started too many games at the end of the year. Finally, anyone wondering where Harrison Barnes is, make sure to look his numbers up and then look at Michael Beasley’s numbers and you will have your answer.

Who do you think deserves to win this award?

Follow Josh on Twitter at @JoshEberley.

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