What is a Sixth Man in Basketball?

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Are you wrestling with figuring out what is a sixth man in basketball? Yes, we know that player comes into the game from off the bench, but is every player from the bench a sixth man? That’s what we’re going to be discussing in this article. We’ll highlight how important is the sixth man and we’ll remove every doubt about the sixth man role for you.  

What is a Sixth Man in Basketball_ What is a Sixth Man in Basketball?  

The sixth-man role in basketball is a very important role sometimes overlooked by fans who get caught up in the superstar fanatics involved in international play. Yes, teams can win championships with a star-studded starting five and don’t have to focus too much on the role of the sixth man, but most teams won’t have that luxury. 

For those teams who don’t have the hands-down favorite starting five, the sixth man provides valuable contributions off the bench. So, why is it called sixth man? The sixth man is usually the first guy substituted in a game off the bench. This guy role requires him to maintain good momentum left by the starters or insert fresh energy into the team that isn’t necessarily performing its best on the court.

How Important is the Sixth Man_ How Important is the Sixth Man? 

A good sixth man is often as important as the starters on a basketball team. Remember, not all players are capable of playing every minute of a game and delivering peak performance, so a sixth man, when inserted into a game, needs to be better than the opposing team’s bench, or should I say, the opposing team’s sixth man. If the sixth man on your team can come into a game and immediately take it over, your team gets an immediate advantage over the opponent. 

Not all sixth men are the same and aren’t required to be. Depending on the team’s needs, a sixth man will have specific skills they need to execute to keep the team afloat or even push the team ahead in a game. They are often scorers or ball handlers. 

The best type of sixth man is one that is very versatile. It would be great if your sixth man could play multiple positions both on offense and defense. This gift coaches a lot of versatility regarding who they can remove from the lineup on the court because their sixth man can easily step into many roles and perform well. 

Even though the sixth man may not be good enough to be a part of the starting lineup consistently, that doesn’t mean his specific skill set isn’t good enough to be in the team’s closing lineup. Think about when James Harden was a young player in OKC.

What Qualifies to Be a Sixth Man in BasketballWhat Qualifies to Be a Sixth Man in Basketball?

There’s just one requirement that players must fulfill to be considered in the pool for the Sixth Man of the Year award. To qualify, that player must come off the bench in more games than they start. That’s basically it. 

Roles of Sixth Man in BasketballRoles of Sixth Man in Basketball

Basketball is a game of roles to some degree. There are outliers like multifaceted superstars who can do a little or a lot of everything. Those are usually the best players, but most will have specific roles they try to excel in. These are guys who provide shooting to spread the court or defensive maestros like Pat Beverly, whose main, or some may even say, sole responsibility on the court is to lock down one particular player for most of the game or even just for one crucial possession. The game has many other roles, such as shot blockers, floor generals, and a few more. 

The best type of sixth man usually has a few roles that they need to perform well. We want to think that a sixth man should be able to provide energy and be a versatile scoring option, and if you are lucky, they should be good at defense.


If your team is deflated with the starters on the court, you want a guy who can come in off the bench and, through his play and demeanor, show the team that there is a light at the end of the tunnel they need to work towards. When you talk about energy, one of the most popular energy guys coming off the bench in the NBA in the sixth-man role would be Gary Payton II, who currently plays for the Golden State Warriors.

Scoring option

Every good sixth man has to be able to put the ball in the basket reliably. Imagine taking out a starter, and the guy you replaced him with isn’t good at scoring the ball. The rest of the team is getting tired, and here comes fresh legs but bad hands. Not a good combination. We’re not saying that a sixth man must be the leading scorer, but they must be a bucket-getter. It would be beneficial if they could create these opportunities themselves or create opportunities for others as well.

Defensively capable

You always hear the phrase that defense when championships. Well, if you want to be on a winning team, your sixth man should be able to play some amount of defense. Some sixth men are really good at defense, but this is not always the case. A matter of fact, most of the best sixth men in the history of the NBA are known for their offense, but there will be times when you’re sixth men will need to get your team a stop, and they should know how to do so.


People sometimes wonder what position is sixth man? If your sixth man is good enough to play multiple positions, this is a great thing for you and your team. A sixth man should be able to score, pass, and play some defense. The more things that they can do, the better it is they will excel at the role.

5 Greatest NBA Sixth Men of All Time5 Greatest NBA Sixth Men of All Time

Who is the greatest 6th man of all time? We’ll let you decide. Many players carved out a name for themselves as amazing sixth men in the NBA, but let’s take a look at the five we believe are the best: 

1. Manu Ginobili

This international sensation of a player quickly became the heartbeat of San Antonio basketball when he came over from Europe. Manu popularized the Euro step in the NBA, really around the world. He is known for his incredible scoring ability, especially in the clutch. Everyone can agree Manu is one of the legends of the sixth-man role. He won the Sixth Man of the Year award in the 2008 season; he averaged just shy of 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.

2. Jamal Crawford

Jamal Crawford is a walking highlight reel, literally. This guy has handles for days. Crawford won the Sixth Man of the Year award three times in 2010, 2014, and 2016. Jamal is one of those guys who can score in a myriad of ways, and when he gets hot, he’s very difficult to guard. 

When he won sixth man of the year in 2010, he averaged 18 points, 3 assists, and just shy of 3 rebounds. In 2014, when he won the award, he averaged 15 points and almost three assists. In 2016, he also averaged around 3 assists and 12 points.

3. Kevin Mchale

Kevin McHale is a Boston Celtics legend. He was an amazing post player who impacted the game almost immediately when he came on as a sixth man. Kevin won the Sixth Man award back-to-back years in 1984 and 1985. In 1984, Kevin McHale averaged almost 20 points and nine rebounds. In 1985, he averaged 21 points and eight rebounds for the Boston Celtics.

4. Lamar Odom

Lamar Odom was one of those versatile sixth men who could do just about anything on the court. He was a good rebounder, an okay defender, and a good scorer. He won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011, playing alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. That season, he averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds.

5. Lou Williams

Lemon Pepper Lou, as Shannon Sharpe calls him, is one of the best sixth man in the game’s history. Apart from Jamal Crawford, he is the only other player to win the award three times (2015, 2018, 2019). 

The Sixth Man of the Year Award 

The NBA leadership realized the importance of the sixth man role and introduced the sixth Man of the Year Award in 1982. It’s a great nod to those who’ve embraced this role. The first recipient of the award was Bobby Jones in the 1982 season.

Wrapping Things Up: What is a Sixth Man in Basketball?

A quality sixth man in basketball should be a versatile player who comes off the bench with energy and the skills to impact the game significantly. Normally, sixth men are capable scorers who can put up points in a rush, and the best ones can do their part on defense too. 

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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