The Westfield Voice

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The Westfield Voice

The Westfield Voice

Best of the Bench: The NBA’s 6th Men

The NBA’s 2018-2019 season is the first season fans have experienced since 2002 that lacks Argentinian star Manu Ginobili. Ginobili stands alone from his peers, a 2x all-star that played the majority of his career from the bench. Gregg Popovich, Ginobili’s coach for his entire NBA career, featured him heavily as a rotation piece off the bench though he was arguably the second or third best player on some of those dynamic Spurs teams. Though only capturing one Sixth Man of the Year award, Ginobili was integral in revolutionizing bench pieces in the NBA, prioritizing energy and skill above all else.

The Boston Celtics have about three solid candidates for this season’s bench awards, depending on the way their season progresses. Marcus Morris has been their early season savior, making an early case for the Sixth Man award. Judging from the early rust related struggles with Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum’s slumps, Boston needs an injection of points to compliment a stifling defense. Morris has provided an efficient 15.7 points per game on 52.7% from the field and a scalding 53.3% from 3 point range. If Morris even drops 5% in efficiency from the field and 10% from 3 without a significant loss of points, he has to be in heavy consideration for 6MOY.

Also playing for the C’s, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart will figure into the award conversation the entire season. Rozier, in his first contract season no less, will have much of the spotlight on him from last years playoff performance. A fiery guard, Rozier has similar offensive abilities to Irving allowing the Celtics not to change their offensive plan of attack when Kyrie takes a breather. He’ll put on a show all season with his scoring and playmaking, all while being a fan favorite across the NBA.

Smart on the other hand, may not have the adoration that Rozier has though his impact will be impossible to ignore. A high energy guard that hasn’t backed down from a single defensive assignment, covering a range from Steph Curry to Porzingis, Smart will prove on the highest stage that he impacts the game like no one else.

Staying in the Atlantic division, the Toronto Raptors have put together one of the top four teams in the league with much of their success stemming from consistently brilliant play from the bench. Jonas Valanciunas has spent most of the year coming off the bench, and will most likely remain there even though it is not an indictment on his game. A lumbering 7- footer, Valanciunas’ play style has become somewhat outdated in the modern NBA since he cannot keep up with some of the smaller players in the league.

However, off the bench with the opposing skill level slightly lowered, some of his defensive misgivings can be masked by his rebounding and offensive touch. He is a finisher in the paint as well as a good passer who is developing a dangerous 3-point shot from the corner. He should destroy the competition of the bench and be the best paint presence on the floor.

Valanciunas’ bench point guard, Fred van Vleet, will be another figure in the year long battle for best bench player. A big time shot maker who has been a presence in Toronto’s closing lineups in the past, van Vleet can score from all parts of the floor. He can be a playmaker as the ball handler as well as play off ball with guard Delon Wright, and even play pestering defense. Van Vleet will be an integral piece in a formidable Toronto team, and will be hard to ignore come the post season.

In Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook and his cohorts on the Thunder have a better back up point guard then at any other point since the city has had an NBA team. Dennis Schroder, the former Atlanta Hawks franchise cornerstone, is in the perfect spot for a guard of his capabilities. Westbrook’s overall play is too valuable for the team, so even when Schroder plays he’ll spend much of his floor time with Westbrook, allowing him to stay in attack mode and not focus on being the primary playmaker. A talented scorer, Schroder will put up buckets all season and be a serviceable playmaker when Russ takes a breather, while masking his turnover problems playing bench minutes.

The LA Clippers have the reigning 6MOY, Lou Williams, who corralled the award last year and in the 2014-15 season along with being a contender every season in between. A bucket-getter of the highest order, Lou Williams is a scorer to the core. Drafted out of high school to the Sixers, Williams was tutored to be an NBA baller by Allen Iverson. Replicating his former teammate’s drive to hang as many points as possible, Lou has been a menace for NBA defenses for years.

A small 2 guard who doesn’t play a ton of defense, Lou has made a name for himself by being a bucket for hire, having played for 6 teams in his career. Williams has not averaged less then double-digit points since his third NBA season. Williams put up a career high 22.6 points per game last season. The 32-year-old guard has shown little signs of regression and will almost certainly be a highly effective bench player like he has been his entire career.

The competition has never been stiffer for the 6MOY awarded, though the smart money is on Williams. He is far to electric of an offensive player to count out for the award, and will most likely be the second best player on his team in a high profile city. However, Rozier should come alive at some point this season and play like tens of millions of dollars are on the line, and the same goes for Marcus Morris. Those should be the top 3 vote getters, though Schroder has the potential to take the race by storm depending on OKC’s team success.

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