Dallas Mavericks

Sixth-man role is still vital source of production in NBA

New York’s Derrick Williams is one of the top sixth man players in the NBA. He and the Knicks will face the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night.
New York’s Derrick Williams is one of the top sixth man players in the NBA. He and the Knicks will face the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night. AP

There’s a certain mindset needed for a player with starter’s talent to willingly come off the bench.

It takes something extra to succeed.

“I do believe to be great at that it’s got to be a challenge that you’re not only willing to take on, that you want to take on,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Jason Terry set one of the greatest examples in our franchise’s history by taking the reins of that challenge for an extended period of time … and was one of the big reasons why we won a championship.”

While sixth man isn’t an official position in basketball, it’s been a key element that has had its own award for more than 30 years. The Mavericks have had three Sixth Man of the Year winners — Terry (2009), Antawn Jamison (2004) and the late Roy Tarpley (1988).

Carlisle also coached a Sixth Man of the Year in Detroit with Corliss Williamson (2002) and nearly had another in Dallas during Vince Carter’s recent run here.

The role is most often associated with perimeter players who provide instant offense off the bench, whether it was James Harden in Oklahoma City or Manu Ginobili for more than a decade in San Antonio.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, a two-time Sixth Man winner, has the right makeup to make a difficult role work, but he’s been slowed by a left calf injury.

“The mental approach and the enthusiasm which you attack that job goes a long way, plus you have to have the ability,” Carlisle said. “Crawford has been one of the best guys off the bench for a number of years and he’s embraced it. There’s something to be said for being the best at something. There’s meaning in that.”

The Mavericks have a who’s who of sixth men ahead on their schedule. Among them are New York’s Derrick Williams, Detroit’s Stanley Johnson, Minnesota’s Shabazz Muhammad, Houston’s Corey Brewer and the always lethal Ginobili.

The Mavericks will see Derrick Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center when Dallas plays the New York Knicks.

Picking a true sixth man off the Mavericks’ roster is difficult, because they’ve used 18 different starting lineups and are constantly in flux. But the most likely sixth-man candidates for Dallas are guards J.J. Barea, Devin Harris and Raymond Felton.

Barea has come off the bench for 57 of the 68 games he’s played in this season and has averaged 10.2 points and four assists per game. Harris has no starts in his 57 appearances and averages 7.3 points in 19.4 minutes per game.

Felton has started 30 of the 73 games he’s played in this season and has averaged 9.4 points and 3.5 assists in 27.3 minutes a game.

The juggling of roles and minutes has affected the chances of the Mavericks having a serious contender to win the Sixth Man Award.

Missed time because of injuries might do the same for the 35-year-old Crawford, who averages 13.7 points.

“You think about his age and being ready right away, it’s remarkable,” Doc Rivers said.

Since the inception of the award in the 1982-83 season, there has never been a Sixth Man winner play for a losing team.

“I didn’t want to be known as a good player on bad teams,” Crawford said. “I went to a team that was already pretty loaded with their starting five in Atlanta and that was my first time coming off the bench.

“I knew it was going to happen, but I think over the years it’s been my teammates and coaches put me in great positions. I actually have the easy job of putting the ball in the hole or making something happen.”

The award has its history of big men, namely Celtics. Of the first four winners, Boston’s Kevin McHale and Bill Walton took home three awards.

The NBA’s recent style shift has changed things. Only once in the past nine years has the Sixth Man Award gone to a true forward (Lamar Odom in 2011).

Centers still have a place making an impact off the bench. Big man Enes Kanter is making his presence felt in Oklahoma City.

But the days of having a Hall of Famer such as McHale coming off the bench are likely gone.

“It’s kind of out of the wheelhouse,” Carlisle said. “If you have a really good big now, the chances are he’s starting at center.”

Staff writer Dwain Price contributed to this story.

Role call

Here are the teams and their standout sixth men remaining on the Mavericks’ schedule:


Player, Comment

Wednesday vs. New York

Derrick Williams: Averages 8.8 points per game and shoots 44 percent from the field.

Friday at Detroit

Stanley Johnson: Averages 23.5 minutes per game and shoots 80 percent from the free throw line.

April 3 at Minnesota

Shabazz Muhammad: Averages 9.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 74 games this season.

April 6 vs. Houston

Corey Brewer: Former Maverick is a big shot-maker who gets the most out of all of his minutes.

April 8 vs. Memphis

Lance Stephenson: Scored 17 points in 28 minutes in recent loss against San Antonio.

April 10 at LA Clippers

Jamal Crawford: Two-time Sixth Man Award winner is battling a left calf injury. Still an experienced player.

April 11 at Utah

Trey Burke: Averages 10.6 points and 21 minutes in 64 games, all off the bench.

April 13 vs. San Antonio

Manu Ginobili: The consummate role player and leader; plays defense, too.