After going through the best big men, wings and point guards of all time, it’s time to look at the best sixth men ever. Credit Red Auerbach for hatching the concept of the sixth man in the mid-1950s. The idea was to save one of his best players until the opponents rested their own starters and replaced them with less talented substitutes. This maximized the effectiveness of Auerbach’s “extra starter,” reduced his playing time and made sure he wasn’t in foul trouble in the endgame.
1. JOHN HAVLICEK
“Hondo” could spark the Celtics at both ends of the court with his perpetual hustle as well as his baseline-to-baseline talent. He only played about 30 minutes a game, but Havlicek was always a game-changer. Plus, what was said about John Wesley Harding could also be said about Havlicek: “He was never known to make a foolish move.”
2. KEVIN MCHALE
Although he later became a Hall of Fame-worthy starter, McHale was Boston’s sixth man during his initial six seasons with the Celtics. With his infinite variety of low-post moves, McHale simply overwhelmed the opponents’ substitutes.
3. FRANK RAMSEY
It’s a gold-silver-bronze-medal sweep for the Celtics.
Ramsey was the well-chosen subject of Auerbach’s sixth-man experiment. He was a jackrabbit who could run, gun and light up a scoreboard. Ramsey was also incredibly efficient in the clutch, producing better all-around numbers in the playoffs than he did during the regular season. Ramsey was a pioneer who was the role model for most of his successors.
4. BILLY CUNNINGHAM
During his initial four seasons in Philadelphia (1965-66), “The Kangaroo Kid” was the team’s not-so-secret weapon off the bench. Whether driving his left hand to the rim or jumping out of the gym, Billy C’s high-energy game was a critical factor in the Sixers’ 1967 championship.
5. MICHAEL COOPER
Over the course of his career, Cooper played 873 games for the “Showtime” Lakers and started only 94.
His contributions included excellent passing, ball handling and long-range shooting, but his specialty was playing lockdown defense. A slender 6’7”, 170 pounds, Cooper could stifle small forwards, shooting guards and even point guards.
6. VINNIE JOHNSON
VJ was a gifted player who, at a muscular 6’2”, 200 pounds, was strong enough to challenge big men in the paint. Because he came off the bench instantly ready, willing and able to take over the “Bad Boys’” offense, Johnson was nicknamed “The Microwave.”
7. RICKY PIERCE
He didn’t rebound or pass much, and his defense was barely adequate. But Pierce’s job was to score. He was at his best from 1989-91 when he came off the bench and averaged more than 20 PPG for Milwaukee and then Seattle. Indeed, Pierce was the forerunner of the modern sixth man who almost exclusively looks to score and lets his teammates worry about playing defense.
8. BOBBY JONES
A lean 6’9”, 205-pounder, Bobby Jones looked more like a tall, fragile, slightly hunched accountant than an NBA player. But he could shoot (55 percent in his NBA career, 59.5 percent in the ABA), run, box out and play exceptional help defense.
9. DETLEF SCHREMPF
Sure, he could score, but his major talent was a subtle one — facilitating the offense with timely passes (especially entry passes into the low post), and unerring execution. Schrempf could run his way into points, score with mid-range jumpers and also climb the glass for profit.
10. TONI KUKOC
He never played much defense, but during the latter part of the Bulls’ dynasty, Kukoc was the team’s designated clutch shooter whenever MJ was double-teamed.
BILL WALTON, who was spectacular off the bench during Boston’s 1986 championship season.
PHIL JACKSON, whose long-armed defense and rolling lefty hooks were critical to New York’s successes.
MANU GINOBILI, who’s been a key cog throughout much of the Spurs’ run of dominance.
JAMAL CRAWFORD, who owns a record three Sixth Man of the Year Awards, though it must be noted this has only been given out since 1982-83.
JUNIOR BRIDGEMAN, ANTAWN JAMISON, CORLISS WILLIAMSON and CAZZIE RUSSELL — potent scorers all.