Who is the best 6th man of all time in the NBA? The best off the bench player in NBA history

Who is the best 6th man of all time in the NBA? The best off the bench player in NBA history

Kenneth Mwenda
April 21, 2023 at 9:07 AM

Players who advanced to become one of the best starters make up the majority of the best 6th men of all time list. These great NBA players earlier are not given the spotlight that they deserve at all. Possibly because they play supporting roles on their teams or because they are not starters. The first player off the bench typically sets the tone for the remainder of the game, and the truly great ones tend to end the game significantly, impacting the result.

Most 6th man of the year awards
Detlef Schrempf #11 of the Indiana Pacers drives against Kevin McHale #32 of the Boston Celtics during a game played at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1993. Photo: Raphael
Source: Getty Images

A sixth man in basketball refers to the best player off the bench for a team. Every season, the NBA awards the Sixth Man of the Year.

The top 10 best '6th man' of all time in the NBA

It is often said that finishing first matters more than starting first. This adage has proven to be very accurate throughout the league's history. The best teams have a strong bench, which they possess every year. So, who is the best 6th man of all time?

10. Dell Curry

Best 6th man of all time
Dell Curry before the game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Boston Celtics at Spectrum Center on March 09, 2022, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo: Jacob Kupferman
Source: Getty Images

Curry played most of his career for the Charlotte Hornets, an expansion team that had just been formed. He played there for ten seasons, posting when he would come off the bench to offer immediate offence.

Curry received the Sixth Man of the Year honour with the Hornets in 1994. The three-point ace was well-deserving of the honour. He left history as the Hornets' all-time leading scorer, but Kemba Walker eventually overtook him.

9. James Harden

Who is the best 6th man of all time?
James Harden dribbles the ball during Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 17, 2023, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Mitchell Leff
Source: Getty Images

When he first began his career, James Harden was the Oklahoma City Thunder's sixth man, winning the prize in 2012. That season, the Thunder had a tonne of talent. They had a young Harden scoring off the bench, along with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and other stars.

For his first three seasons in the league, Harden only played off the bench, but in his third season, he really started to emerge as one of the league's top sixth men. He became arguably the best shooting guard of his generation when he got traded to the Houston Rockets.

8. Michael Cooper

Best 6th man of all time in NBA
Michael Cooper of the Los Angeles Lakers during the circa 1987 at The Forum in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein
Source: Getty Images

Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy are three names that immediately come to mind when discussing the Showtime Lakers. Since Michael Cooper only started 94 of his 873 career games as a starter, he is quickly forgotten.

Cooper played the kind of game that everyone enjoyed: he was a strong defender, an excellent shooter, and an intelligent athlete. He wanted the chance to play against the best player in the opposition, which made him a remarkable sixth man. Cooper would enter the game and defeat the opponent.

7. Vinnie Johnson

Top 10 6th men of all time
Former Detroit Piston Vinnie Johnson delivers a speech before a game on January 27, 2006, at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Photo: Allen Einstein
Source: Getty Images

Due in large part to Isiah's scoring, Dumars' defence, Rodman's rebounding, and the physical play of Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, the Bad Boy Pistons were able to win back-to-back titles. Vinnie Johnson, also known as "The Microwave," was the man to beat when it came to scoring. Johnson was exceptional not for how many points he scored but for how effectively.

Johnson gave the Bad Boy Pistons instant scoring offence during their back-to-back championship runs. In Game 5 of the 1990 NBA Finals, he made the shot that won it. The Pistons retired his jersey number in honour of this well-liked athlete in Detroit, and he is the best 6th man of all time in the team's history.

6. John Havlicek

6th man of year in history
John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics poses for a photo circa 1970 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo: Raphael
Source: Getty Images

Havlicek was not the league's or even the Boston Celtics' first Sixth Man; Red Auerbach employed Frank Ramsey in that capacity to such an extent that it earned the Kentucky all-American a place in the Hall of Fame. He elevated himself to tenth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list in the 1960s. There would not be a Sixth Man of the Year award without Havlicek's success coming off the bench.

5. Detlef Schrempf

The best 6th man of all time
Forward Detlef Schrempf of the Seattle SuperSonics (C) looks to pass the ball during a game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. Photo: Rick St
Source: Getty Images

The German player was extraordinarily athletic and big, and he was able to do almost anything on the court. He had a tremendous mid-range shooting percentage for his career, averaging close to 50%.

In 1991 and 1992, Detlef Schrempf won back-to-back Sixth Man of the Year honours while playing for the Indiana Pacers. Schrempf is one of only three players to receive the honour in consecutive years, joining Lou Williams and Kevin McHale. With the 1996 Seattle SuperSonics, he had the most successful season of his career despite falling to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.

4. Manu Ginóbili

The best 6th man of all time in NBA
Hall of Fame Inductee Manu Ginobili speaks to the media during the Class of 2022 Press Conference on September 9, 2022, at the Cabaret Theatre in Uncasville, Connecticut. Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant
Source: Getty Images

The shrewd Argentine playmaker helped his team win four championships, which helped him establish himself as one of the best sixth men in the league. Being selected at pick number 57 in the 1999 NBA draught demonstrates how inaccurate those draught projections were.

The two-time all-star averaged 31 minutes of bench time per game during his prime. Ginóbili is one of two players to have 843 steals coming off the bench, which is tied for the most all-time among players that come off the bench.

3. Jamal Crawford

Best 6th man of all time
Jamal Crawford of the Phoenix Suns warms up before the game against the Washington Wizards on March 27, 2019, at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Barry Gossage
Source: Getty Images

Jamal Crawford is one of the greatest '6th men' in NBA history. With the Atlanta Hawks in 2010 and the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 and 2016, he was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. Crawford was a prolific scorer who regularly broke ankles with his devastating crossover.

The statistics also support Crawford's career. He ranks second all-time in bench points with 11,279 and is one of three players with over 10,000 career points off the bench. With an 86% free throw rate, Crawford ranks third among reserves.

2. Lou Williams

Who is the best 6th man of all time?
Lou Williams of the Atlanta Hawks shoots during the second half against the Brooklyn Nets at State Farm Arena on April 2, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Todd Kirkland
Source: Getty Images

Lou Williams, a fan favourite of the Los Angeles Clippers, is unquestionably another great sixth man. Williams was acquired by the Raptors in a trade for John Salmons and a second-round pick in 2014. Williams scored a career-high 36 points in the season and went on a tear that year, averaging 15.5 points per game.

With Allen Iverson as a mentor, Williams, who began his career with the Philadelphia 76ers, mastered the art of scoring. With the Toronto Raptors, he won the Sixth Man in 2015, and he repeated as champion in 2018 and 2019.

Williams, who is 6-foot-1 and weighs 175 pounds, rose to become one of the NBA's most remarkable small forwards. Off the bench, he was a scoring machine. Drake, on his "6 Man" song, praised the former Raptor for being the best first guy off the bench. Williams also has the most 6th Man of the Year awards, clinching it three times.

1. Kevin McHale

Best 6th man of all time in NBA
Boston Celtics Kevin McHale (32) celebrates after winning a game against Houston Rockets in 1986. Photo: Andy Hayt
Source: Getty Images

On top of the 10 best 6th men of all time in the NBA is Kevin McHale. He was a true throwback to a previous era in which fundamentals and intelligence triumphed over athletic prowess. He made a big entrance as a rookie in 1981.

Kevin McHale, a legendary member of the Celtics, won consecutive 6th Man of the Year awards in 1984 and 1985 and played a significant role in the three championships the Celtics won in the 1980s. His post-moves were incredible. McHale is regarded as one of the best power forwards of all time and was a member of the Hall of Fame frontcourt with Robert Parish and Larry Bird.

One of the most crucial positions in the NBA is the sixth man, who is usually in charge of the team's second unit and is expected to provide immediate scoring off the bench. There have been memorable sixth men on some of the greatest teams in history.

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Kenneth Mwenda photo
Kenneth Mwenda
Kenneth Mwenda is a business and sports writer with over five years of experience. At Sportsbrief, he contributes to writing biographies and listicles.