When it comes to postseason awards, all most people really care about is the race for Most Valuable Player. However, this year it really doesn’t look like much of a race at all considering how many games Golden State has won behind Stephen Curry’s insanely efficient and entertaining play.
There are, of course, other postseason awards that matter, including the Sixth Man of the Year Award, which has been doled out every season since 1982-83 to the players who have offered up the strongest performances as reserves for their respective teams. It’s a severely under-appreciated award because every true fan of the game knows how integral a strong bench is to winning games, particularly in the postseason. To have the best reserve in the league is a massive advantage over other teams in the NBA because it essentially allows for starter-quality production to continue even when the starters are getting a breather on the bench.
Part of the reason it’s so underrated as an accolade is because the men that get awarded the trophy tend not to be the most recognizable of names. Only two players (Bill Walton and Kevin McHale) ever earned this award and then later made it to the Hall of Fame, while several players on the list never even were named to an All-Star team.
They deserve an All-Star team of their own, though, which appears below. The following is a list of the best reserves at each position in the NBA including, ironically enough, a sixth man, just to keep with the spirit of the thing. One of these players likely will win the actual Sixth Man Award later this spring, but for now it feels like enough just to recognize those players that contribute the most to their current teams despite not being regular starters.
This is the 2015-2016 All-Reserve All-Star Team:
G – Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets – The years following the Linsanity breakthrough in New York have been at times rather trying for Jeremy Lin, but he looks like he’s finally found a bit of comfort on this blossoming Hornets team playing behind Kemba Walker. In 26 minutes a night, Lin is averaging 11.4 PPG and 3.0 APG, while turning the ball over only 1.8 times per game. Ever since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was declared injured for the season, Lin has stepped up considerably and really helped the Hornets establish themselves as what appears to be a sure-thing playoff team. That early-season Mohawk was the real MVP, though.
G – Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers – While it seems like Crawford injects himself into the conversation for the Sixth Man Award every year, the two-time winner of the award only continues to end up there because he deserves it. Even at age 35, Crawford is still filling up the stat sheet, and in the months of February and March, no reserve player in the NBA has scored more than Crawford’s 15.6 PPG, meaning he’s finishing off strong enough to once again earn himself consideration for the award that could someday be named after him, especially if he ends up winning a third one this year. No other player has ever done that.
F – Evan Turner, Boston Celtics – While his numbers probably aren’t massive enough to win big money consistently in nightly DraftKings contests, they haven’t been bad, either. In fact, his all-around averages of 9.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG and 4.5 APG are pretty well-rounded on a team with so many contributors, and he leads the league’s reserves in 10-point/5-assist/5-rebound games with ten this season. Also, no other reserve in the league has more assists than Turner, which is surprising considering he’s not a point guard. While scorers typically win Sixth Man of the Year, Turner deserves a spot on the All-Sixth-Man Team for his versatility. The points might not be there, but everything else sure is.
F – Will Barton, Denver Nuggets – For a good chunk of December and January, Barton was the trendy pick for Sixth Man of the Year, and really there’s little reason for those good vibes to dissipate considering he’s now the team’s leading active scorer despite his coming off the bench. His quick, athletic play has helped the Nuggets be a good running offensive team, and while Denver is 12 games under .500, they’re still a lot better than anybody thought they’d be, and Barton deserves considerable credit for that. As a sixth man, he’s been absolutely elite this year.
C – Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder – While the Thunder sure have received a lot of grief for giving Kanter what could have been James Harden’s money, there’s no denying the fact that the Turkish big man has been a considerable asset to that team since signing his big contract. He hasn’t started a single game, but is averaging 12.3 PPG and a team-leading 7.8 RPG, all in just 20.6 minutes per game. Kanter’s per-36-minute stats are All-Star caliber, and his team is one of only three or four that have any sort of real shot at winning the NBA title this year. Come playoff time, OKC will be glad they’ve got such a bruiser headlining their second unit.
6th Man – Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors – While his numbers aren’t staggering (7.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.4 APG), the reigning Finals MVP has a huge positive impact on his team when on the floor, particularly on the defensive end. The fact that he’s the key reserve for arguably the greatest regular-season team in the NBA earns him the honor of being the key reserve for arguably the greatest all-reserve team ever (hypothetically) assembled. The Warriors are a lot worse without this guy, which is what makes him so valuable, even if the stats aren’t as sexy as those put up by some other guys on this team.
Great NBA reserves are hard to come by, which is why the Sixth Man of the Year Award is so important. Not all of these guys can win that award, though, so as a consolation prize they get a spot on this All-Star team of reserves. It’s not much of a silver medal, but it’s better than nothing.
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