Top 5 Best NBA Sixth Men

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Top 5 NBA Bench Players

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Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The importance of the first man off the bench cannot be overstated, yet young players from primary school through the NBA have to be persuaded to take the role. This task is especially daunting when said player is talented, but sacrifice is a part of the team dynamic and it is essential for team chemistry and camaraderie. The history of the sixth man in the NBA is as storied and character filled as any of the game's elements. Names like Kevin McHale, John Havlicek, Ricky Pierce and Vinny Johnson are but a few of the many who have sacrificed their considerable skills for the sake of the team.

One misnomer regarding the Sixth Man is they are all heartless trigger men who care little for anything other than buckets, but nothing could be further from the truth. Each sixth man gives his respective team something the starting lineup may be lacking. Former Los Angeles Lakers player Michael Cooper, for example, provided defense off the bench. There are several other current NBA players who offer up rebounding, defense and basketball IQ as their team's first player off the bench. Those players who are basketball savvy are aware of the historical importance of the NBA sixth man and are will to step in and flourish. After all, it's not who starts the game but who finishes. This slideshow will feature five of my early candidates for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award. As is often the case with slideshows, there is a chance your favorite sixth man might not be mentioned.

Ricardo A. Hazell is a freelance sports writer for Rant Sports based in New York City. You may follow him on Twitter at NikosMightyDad or add him to your network on Google Plus.

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5. SG Manu Ginobili

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Last year, San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili had his worst season averages since his rookie campaign with 11 points and four assists per game. Manu will turn 37-years old in a little over a week and has miles of wear and tear on his frame. Be that as it may, Ginobili is still one of the top five bench players in the league. I am curious to see the adjustments he makes to compensate for his age in the upcoming season.

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4. SF Harrison Barnes

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Second-year player SF Harrison Barnes played like hot garbage during the first 10 games of the season, and I was beginning to wonder whether he could find a niche in the league. But his minutes increased significantly with the injury to PF David Lee. Harrison was injected into the lineup as a small-ball four and balled. His confidence increased exponentially through the playoffs as well. Barnes would almost double his scoring average to 16 points per game during the Golden State Warriors' playoff run and will likely carry the confidence gleaned from last year over to this season.

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3. PG Jarrett Jack

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The Golden State Warriors had a great run in the playoffs last year, and while most the accolades fell upon the shoulders of PG Steph Curry and SG Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack's basketball IQ was essential during the Warriors' run as was his clutch shooting. Jack will now back up the Cleveland Cavaliers backcourt tandem of PG Kyrie Irving and SG Dion Waiters. The ability to play both backcourt positions will only help his minutes, and his veteran leadership will be a welcomed addition to his new team as well.

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2. SG J.R. Smith

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Statistically, New York Knicks SG JR Smith is coming off a career-best year after averaging 18 points and five rebounds per game en route to winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award last season. Smith has gone on record to say he would rather start at this point in his career. While his talent level is unquestionable, his basketball IQ still leaves a great deal to be desired. His idea of getting a good shot is a crossover dribble, step-back 3-pointer with 20 seconds on the shot clock. Those shots are great when they go in, but your team will wind up on the wrong side of a loss more often than not when they don't. Said types of shots were part of the reason his average dipped to 14 PPG and his shooting percentage plummeted to an abysmal 33 percent during the playoffs last season. But, Smith is a hard-nosed New Jersey basketball player who is at his best when his skills are in doubt. Dear J.R., I'm doubting. Now show me what you got!

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1. SG Jamal Crawford

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SG Jamal Crawford has some of the sickest offensive moves in the NBA and seems to only be getting more potent at administering them as he ages. The 32-year old guard averaged 16 points per game for the Los Angeles Clippers last season, but his scoring averaged suffered tremendously during the playoffs. In spite of that bad showing, Crawford will thrive under first-year Clips coach Doc Rivers. Crawford has been one of the most consistent bench players in the NBA over the past decade and incorporates a myriad of stop-and-go and crossover moves to get by virtually any defender.