The sixth man is one of the most important roles in the NBA, as they are typically tasked with providing instant scoring off the bench while also leading the team's second unit. Some of the best teams of all time have had memorable sixth men. So with that in mind, let's see who made the cut for the greatest sixth men of all time.
Jamal Crawford is the greatest sixth man in NBA history. He won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award with the Atlanta Hawks in 2010 and the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 and 2016. Crawford could score in bunches and his killer crossover broke ankles on a nightly basis. Crawford also won Teammate of the Year in 2018.
Lou Williams is tied with Jamal Crawford for the most NBA Sixth Man awards at three a piece. Williams, who started his career with the Philadelphia 76ers, mastered the art of scoring with Allen Iverson as his mentor. He won the Sixth Man with the Toronto Raptors in 2015 and won it back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. Standing at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Williams became one of the best little guys in NBA history. He was a scoring machine off the bench.
Fun fact: Drake wrote a song about Lou Williams called "6 Man."
Celtics legend Kevin McHale won back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year awards in 1984 and 1985. He was a key contributor to the Celtics' three championships in the 80s. His post-moves were out of this world. McHale formed a Hall of Fame frontcourt with Larry Bird and Robert Parish and is considered one of the greatest power forwards of all time.
Manu Ginobili took the NBA by storm with the San Antonio Spurs dynasty of the 00s. The Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili won four championships together. Ginobili was crowned Sixth Man of the Year in 2008. He introduced the NBA to the Euro Step and had one of the best left-hands the game has ever seen. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2022.
Robert Horry won seven championships on his way to becoming one of the best winners in NBA history. A career role player, he was a starter for the Houston Rockets title run but assumed the role of the sixth man for the Shaq-Kobe Lakers. He capped off his career by winning two more rings with the San Antonio Spurs. Yes, his stats never jumped off the page. But when it mattered most, Horry was clutch. He hit the game-winning shot in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
Small forward Andre Iguodala spent the first eight years of his career in Philadelphia. The one-time All-Star accepted the role of sixth man with the Golden State Warriors dynasty that won four championships in eight years. Iguodala won Finals MVP in 2015 for his lockdown defense on LeBron James. Those championship Warriors teams wouldn't have been the same without Iguodala.
James Harden started his career as a sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder, winning the award in 2012. The Thunder were stacked that season. They had Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to along with a young Harden getting buckets off the bench. They couldn't get past the Miami Heat, who beat them in the NBA Finals in five games. Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets and became arguably the best shooting guard of his generation.
Vinnie Johnson was nicknamed The Microwave, and for good reason, as he famously heated up quickly on the court. Johnson provided instant scoring offense for the Bad Boy Pistons during their back-to-back championship runs. He hit the game-winning shot in Game 5 of the 1990 NBA Finals. A beloved athlete in Detroit, his jersey number was retired by the Pistons.
Most of the players on this list made the cut because of their offense. Michael Cooper earned his spot because of his defense. He was a great perimeter defender who was tasked with shutting down the other team's best player. He won five championships with the ShowTime Lakers of the 80s. Cooper had the best year of his career in 1987 when he won the Defensive Player of the Year award. And who could forget his iconic high socks?
The Croatian Sensation had a legendary overseas career in the EuroLeague before taking his talents to the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. He was the sixth man during the Bulls' second three-peat. In 1996, he won the Sixth Man of the Year as a member of the 72-win Bulls, of whom many consider the greatest team of all time. Kukoc was a crafty scorer who was ahead of his time. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.
This one might surprise you. John Havlicek spent the first seven years of his career as a sixth man for Bill Russell-led Celtics of the 1960s. Havlicek won eight championships in Boston and was crowned 1974 Finals MVP after willing the Celtics to victory. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
Detlef Schrempf won back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year awards with the Indiana Pacers in 1991 and 1992. Schrempf joins Kevin McHale and Lou Williams as the only players to win the award in back-to-back years. He enjoyed the most successful year of his career with the 1996 Seattle SuperSonics, who lost to Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.
The father of Steph and Seth Curry, he taught his kids the secret to draining threes. Before parenting one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time, Dell was getting buckets with the Charlotte Hornets. He won the Sixth Man of the Year award with the Hornets in 1994. It was a well-deserved honor for the three-point ace. He retired as the Hornets' all-time leading scorer, but was ultimately passed by Kemba Walker.
76ers power forward Bobby Jones became the first person to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 1983. The 76ers swept the Showtime Lakers in the NBA Finals that year. Nicknamed "The Secretary of Defense" for his shutdown defense, Jones was a pivotal piece to many deep playoff runs. He thrived as a sixth man for years but only won the award once.
A perennial starter with the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat before joining the Lakers in 2004, Lamar Odom accepted the role of sixth man with the Lakers. He helped the Lakers win back-to-back championships during the Black Mamba era and brought home the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011. He was a point-forward on the bench. On defense, his versatility allowed him to guard multiple positions.
Once a towering force in the NBA, Walton was on pace to become one of the greatest NBA centers of all time before injuries upended his career. He led the Portland Trail Blazers to their first and only championship in 1977, winning Finals MVP as the superstar. After a failed stint with the San Diego Clippers, his hometown team, Walton made a comeback bid as sixth man for the Boston Celtics in 1986. One of the greatest teams of all time, the '86 Celtics won the NBA Finals that year. The aging Walton was a key role player on this legendary team.
Shooting guard Jason Terry was a three-point machine for the Dallas Mavericks when they won the NBA Finals in 2011. His sniping ability off the bench helped them in their title run and earned him the 2009 Sixth Man of the year award. Nicknamed The Jet because of his Jet celebration after hitting a three, Terry finished his career seventh all-time in career three-pointers made with 2,282.
Ricky Pierce was an underrated player from the 80s and early 90s. He won two Sixth Man of the Year awards with the Milwaukee Bucks (1987, 1990). The flashy scorer averaged 23 points in just 29 minutes per game. While he didn't win a championship, he is still remembered as one of the greatest sixes of all time.
Before winning two championships with LeBron James in Cleveland and Los Angeles, Smith was a flashy scorer off the bench for the New York Knicks. The 2012 Sixth Man of the Year wowed fans with his scoring versatility and helped the Knicks make a playoff run.
When James Harden was the franchise player in Houston, he could always count on Eric Gordon getting open, knocking down a three, and giving Harden an assist. In 2017, Gordon won the Sixth Man of the Year award and the three-point shooting contest. He was a key role player on the 2018 Rockets team that took the Warriors to 7 games in the Western Conference Finals. Gordon is one of the only active players on this list.
Dan Majerle was a backup small forward for the majority of his career. He helped the 1993 Phoenix Suns reach the NBA Finals. Majerle was tasked with guarding Michael Jordan in the finals. A three-time All-Star, Majerle developed into one of the game's top forwards in the 90s.
Anthony Mason won the 1995 Sixth Man of the Year award thanks to his defensive prowess and hustle. He was the best player off the bench for a tough New York Knicks team. He played 90s basketball and the city loved him for it.
Leandro Barbosa was crowned Sixth Man of the Year in 2007 as a member of the Phoenix Suns. He was a solid scoring threat during the Steven Nash era, and the seven seconds or less offense they found so much success with there. He capped off his career with the 2015 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors as a bench player you had to respect with the ball in his hands.
One of Allen Iverson's best teammates during his run in Philly, Aaron McKie, was the floor general off the bench for the 2000-01 76ers. While they lost the NBA Finals to the Shaq-Kobe Lakers in five games, McKie was a solid contributor to the team. McKie is now the head coach of the Temple Owls basketball team, his alma mater.
David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He's a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn't watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.
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