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Sixth Man of the Year Candidates for the 22-23 NBA Season


Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Christian Wood have all flourished off the bench for their teams.


The sixth man is the first guy off the bench. Often as skilled as a starter, they can often be what give a great basketball team the edge over their opponents. However, depth can hold them out of a starting lineup, as can a coach hoping to preserve a specific chemistry and playstyle within their starting lineup. Despite not starting, a great sixth man can turn a pretender into a contender. In this still young NBA season, many players could be considered as candidates for this award. Before we begin, let's establish the basic criteria for 6MOTY eligibility as defined by the NBA:

  • Player must come off the bench for more games than they start (>42 games).

  • The NBA has no minute limit for 6MOTY candidates, but the most minutes averaged by a former winner was Jason Terry, who played 33.6 minutes per game.

  • For context, most 6MOTY winners have averaged between 26 and 32 minutes per game.

To gather a list of general candidates for the award, I scoured the bettings odds provided by various sites and sources to determine who is contending for this award. Now, in no particular order:

  • Russell Westbrook, LAL (Guard)

  • Kevin Love, CLE (Forward)

  • Christian Wood, DAL (Forward/Center)

  • Jordan Poole, GSW (Guard)

  • Bennedict Mathurin, IND (Guard)

There are more players listed as potential winners, but who I don't believe have a real chance at the award. Many of these players aren't designated bench players, or have crowded rosters with little room for them to consistently helm the second unit. Still, they are worth a mention:

  • Collin Sexton, UTA (Guard)

  • Bones Hyland, DEN (Guard)

  • Norman Powell, LAC (Guard/Forward)

  • John Wall, LAC (Guard)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, BOS (Guard)

  • Bobby Portis, MIL (Center/Forward)

  • Jaylen Nowell, MIN (Guard)

Now, onto the rankings. I'll give each player's case for the award and case against it as I see it. After each player has been given their due, I will give my people's pick, my dark horse pick, and finally, my personal choice for the winner of the award.


Russell Westbrook

(David Berding/Getty Images)


Season Statistics:

  • 16.1 points on 44/33/80

  • 5.6 rebounds

  • 6.3 assists (2:1 AST/TO)

  • 1.4 steals

  • 29.0 minutes

The case for Russ:

After a tumultuous first season with the Lakeshow, there has arguably been more talk about trading Russ than about anything else in the NBA landscape. That talk still exists but has quieted significantly since Russ has moved to the bench. The early returns from the lineup change suggest that the 14-year veteran may have just revived his career by having moved to the bench. I think that his statistics, combined with the narrative, may just bag him the award this season, but only if he continues this kind of play off the bench.


The case against Russ:

The Lakers suck, and because of that, Russ isn't a lock to remain on this team. His massive contract means that if LA wants to acquire a bigger name, Russ would be a prime candidate for trade. Allegedly, the Lakers are looking at Bradley Beal, and Westbrook would need to be a part of that trade to make contracts match. With his status on the team still up in the air, it's hard to bet everything on him taking this year's trophy home.


Jordan Poole

(Andrew Wevers/USA Today)


Season Statistics:

  • 15.6 points on 41/33/83

  • 1.8 rebounds

  • 4.5 assists (3:2 AST/TO)

  • 1.1 steals

  • 28.5 minutes

The case for Poole:

Jordan Poole broke out last year, starting in place of a recovering Klay Thompson and posting 18 points per game on great efficiency, shooting 45/36/93. Many people saw him as a preseason favorite for this award, especially after his impressive postseason, where he shot 39% from deep and helped his team capture their 4th championship since 2015. With Klay Thompson back in the starting lineup, consistent play from Poole could see him as the frontrunner for the award.


The case against Poole:

Poole's averages are down a bit, and the Warriors are slumping. They have yet to win a game on the road as of the time this was written and many of their key players outside of Steph Curry have had slow starts to the season. If the losses pile up, Poole could find himself starting in place of Thompson which would exclude him from the award.


Bennedict Mathurin

(Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)


Season Statistics:

  • 19.9 points on 46/45/83

  • 3.9 rebounds

  • 2.3 assists (1:1 AST/TO)

  • 0.4 steals

  • 28.2 minutes

The case for Mathurin:

This year's 6th overall pick out of Arizona has been absolutely red-hot since opening night, only failing to eclipse double digits in the scoring column once out of the 12 games he has played in his NBA career. Not only has he scored lots of points, he's done so at what looks like veteran percentages (46/45/83). While the stats certainly make a case, the narrative around him also does, as he is a rookie playing like a veteran.


The case against Mathurin:

If he continues to play like this, Mathurin may find himself starting. However, a move into the starting lineup would mean moving Buddy Hield or Chris Duarte to the bench. The Pacers would likely want to give Hield as much time as possible to bolster his trade value, which would mean moving Duarte to the bench, which I simply don't see happening. It is more than understandable for many to expect Mathurin to slow down a bit, as he is a rookie and as teams will figure out how to better guard him, though something tells me he will be confident no matter what.


Christian Wood

(Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY)


Season Statistics:

  • 15.9 points on 57/42/68

  • 7.5 rebounds

  • 0.8 assists (1:2 AST/TO)

  • 0.5 steals

  • 0.5 blocks

  • 24.7 minutes

The case for Wood:

Many anticipated that the trade for Wood would mean a starting spot. However, coach Jason Kidd has chosen to keep Wood coming off the bench and he has played very well in that role. While you would certainly hope for a little more defense from a big man, the Mavericks knew they were trading for offense with Wood and have JaVale McGee to cover the defensive needs at center. Wood is putting up great stats and is a safe bet for this award when you consider who is at the helm for this Mavericks team.


The case against Wood:

What concerns me most is that Wood has missed time with injury and is playing less than 25 minutes a game. If he stays healthy, he will be a definite vote-getter for this award, especially if his minutes increase. If injuries and low minutes persist, he may not have the strongest case.


Kevin Love

(Nick Cammett/AP Photo)


Season Statistics:

  • 12.2 points on 42/41/85

  • 7.5 rebounds

  • 2.6 assists (2:1 AST/TO)

  • 0.2 steals

  • 0.2 blocks

  • 21.2 minutes

The case for Love:

This is the best Cavaliers team since LeBron was playing for The Land, and this year's roster arguably has more across the board talent than any of James' teams did. Love has seen the best and worst of the Cavs, and Cleveland has benefitted from keeping him around despite the constant trade buzz around his large contract. Love is one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the NBA and can turn up at any given moment. While his stats at first glance don't match up to some of the other candidates, his team's success could keep him in the conversation all season long.


The case against Love:

This Cavaliers team is very deep, and most of the roster should be getting minutes. Love will be competing with a few others for the bulk of the bench work, and could find it hard to be the lead guy with all the talent around him. Plus, his minutes are low and he provides very little defensively.


The Picks

The People's Pick: Russell Westbrook

I think most will be comfortable betting on this being Russell Westbrook's award to lose. The story is great, and he's one of the few bright spots the Lakers have right now (am I really writing that?). He looks like the Russ most know, besides averaging a triple-double.


Dark Horse: Bennedict Mathurin

Bennedict Mathurin is a solid under-the-radar dark horse pick. I don't believe he will come off the bench all season, because I am confident that the Pacers will be moving Buddy Hield for the right price and moving Mathurin into his position. If he remains out of the starting lineup however, I think he may have the best case, and one of the best narratives for the award, this season.


My Pick: Christian Wood

If Luka leads your team, you can probably lock that team into the playoffs. The Mavericks will be in the national spotlight all season, and I think Wood will only play better as he settles into his role and becomes familiar with Jason Kidd's system. Plus, unlike the other candidates, his status on the team and his role as the sixth man seem as sure as they can be, especially compared to the other options.


Follow along with us on Twitter and let us know where you think these players stand!


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