All things being equal, the NBA’s best sixth men would rather be starting, of course. On other teams, there’s a chance they certainly would be. You don’t have to look much further than Jason Terry. He’s been the second-best player on a championship team and one of the fourth quarter shoulders the Dallas Mavericks have leaned on for the past eight seasons. Is he good enough to start? Of course. Even though his numbers are down this year (13.9 points, 41 percent shooting), Terry’s been hitting big jumpers and spot up threes for the past decade. As a starter, he’d be a nice player. As a bench player, he became a staple of what it means to be a great sixth man.
The difference with these 10 and other bench players is that they’ve understood there are two ways to take the news of being a sixth man — feeling like first runner-up or a spark plug — and have thrived. Because sixth men are valued for their efficiency given their limited minutes, we took the Player Efficiency Rating into account heavily, but not as a final arbiter of their worthiness. Make no mistake, these 10 aren’t just efficient, they’re out to dominate once they check in, whenever that may be.
Besides Terry, here are the league’s 10 best sixth men this season.
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10. Carl Landry, New Orleans
Hope isn’t exactly springing eternal on the bayou this year after Chris Paul was dealt to the Clippers, but Landry is one of Monty Williams’ best off the bench or as a starter. His run of in-the-face slams alone is an interesting development: Greg Stiemsma, Chris Andersen and Nene (below) have all been caught. Landry’s proven he won’t lack for scoring in his limited minutes, getting at least 17 points six times this season. With six starts he has the most time logged in pre-game player introductions of any of this list, but Landry brings the team’s fourth-highest PER of 17.9 (against the 13.8 league average) off the bench for the Hornets’ frontcourt.
9. Nate Robinson, Golden State
In one of the best games of this young season, Robinson went for 24 points in the Warriors’ overtime win over Miami on Jan. 10 in front of a pulsating Oakland crowd. He wasn’t pretty from the field, just 4-of-12, but made all 14 free throws and scored 17 points in the fourth quarter alone. What he did do, though, was bring an excitement that’s as much a part of his game as his hops. A sixth man is literally fresh legs coming off the bench, and Robinson brings an energy to a building few can match. Playing more than 27 minutes per game for Mark Jackson, another fiery former point guard, has Robinson back to the kind of minutes he got in 2010. Smartly, Jackson understands Robinson needs to be known he’s wanted for his confidence to build and his game to take off, and the extra minutes have translated to 11.7 points. Most impressive, however, is his huge PER jump of 18 from the 10.2 and 3.9 he put up last season in Boston and Oklahoma City.
8. J.J. Redick, Orlando
There’s no disguising Redick’s role for Orlando, but he’s mixed in better defense and will venture into the paint for tough buckets better than ever. He’s actually getting more shots at the rim this year (boosting his shooting there to 68 percent), resulting in career-high free-throw attempts and fewer from three-point range than last year. Somehow his percentage from long range has gone down to 38 percent — in three games this year where Redick scored 17, 20 and 21, he shot 9-of-16 from three — but he’s still averaging a career-best 12.1 points per because of his work closer to the rim. The bottom line: Redick has a clearly defined role, but he executes it better than most sixth men while simultaneously adding to his game.