Welcome to the 2011 NBA Draft. The best sixth man draft in history. You haven't heard anyone call this draft the best anything yet? Well now you have.
Every year teams pray and hope that the lottery falls their way and they could start rebuilding their teams. Well they are right again this year. Sort of. The only difference is what they'll be building is their bench.
Let's look at the two best types of bench players. The undersized combo guard and the undersized flex forward. The reason these types of players are so effective in coming off the bench is simple. Flexibility.
Look at the last 9 Sixth Men of the Year Award winners:
- 2011: Lamar Odom
- 2010: Jamal Crawford
- 2009: Jason Terry
- 2008: Manu Ginobili
- 2007: Leandro Barbosa
- 2006: Mike Miller
- 2005: Ben Gordon
- 2004: Antawn Jamison
- 2003: Bobby Jackson
With the exception of maybe Mike Miller, they all fit into one of these two categories.
In college a player might have been asked to play point guard or power forward while scoring relatively all of the points for their team. At the same time they can play team defense, or just outscore their opponents since they are likely to be facing weaker players.
In the NBA it is a little different. Everyone's role is much more defined. In the NBA they actually have to guard a player one and one, a player of whom might be bigger and stronger than them. In the NBA if they are a point guard, they have to always think pass first. If they are a power forward they have to be thinking rebounding and posting up.
Gone are the days of Allen Iverson where a team could just have one player who scores and everyone else defends. There's a reason why Iverson's game deteriorated fast after Philadelphia. There's a reason why guys like Stephon Marbury were always on teams that were amongst the worst in the league. There's a reason why when Jason Terry was the lead point guard in Atlanta, they had a .368 win percentage. A team needs someone to focus solely on distributing the basketball.
On the contrary, there is a reason why Jason Terry won 6th man of the year, and was an integral part of this year's NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks. There's a reason why players such as Ben Gordon immediately found an answer in the form of a 6th man. Jamal Crawford couldn't buy his way onto a winning team until he became a 6th man. When they come off the bench, they can play both the roles of point guard and shooting guard, and adapt to whichever personnel is on the floor for both their team and the opponent.
The same goes for undersized, athletic power forwards. There's a reason why players such as Antawn Jamison and Lamar Odom produced statistically early in the careers but did not produce an equal amount of wins. It wasn't until they landed in roles as 6th men when their careers really started taking off and their teams truly started winning games. Thaddeus Young last year was the perfect example why coming off the bench is the best role for an undersized, athletic power forward. Eventually Tyrus Thomas and Derrick Favors will realize the same thing.
So what makes this the best bench draft?
Future 6th Men of the Year:
- Kemba Walker-Walker will be dynamic on offense and will score a lot of points, but if he's starting at shooting guard he'll need to be next to a bigger point guard, and if he's starting at point guard he'll have to be willing to take away his best attribute of scoring. It's a similar situation to Monta Ellis, which sounds great, until you realize that the best team Ellis was on was when he was coming off the bench. However, if you created a 6th man from scratch, you would create Kemba Walker. It might just take a few years for his team to realize that.
- Brandon Knight-Similar to Jason Terry, he can flat out score, but he can also distribute. He's not an absolute pure point guard, so putting him there would be a risky venture and likely take away his uncanny ability to put the ball in the hoop. Yet putting him at shooting guard pits him against bigger guards who will likely overpower him. Coming off the bench, Knight would be given a chance to read the opposing team and implement some offensive strategies that would benefit the team and his flexibility as a combo guard.
- Jimmer Fredette-Putting him at point guard would be a liability since that's not his natural position, and doing so would also take away his incredible ability to get open and hit jumpers. However, as a starting shooting guard, he'll get eaten alive defensively and probably will have a bit harder time getting open against the bigger players. Bring him in off the bench though, and you have one of the most dangerous weapons in the league.
- Derrick Williams-Derrick Williams wants to shoot, and rightfully so because he can. However, he's expected to play more of a power forward role, since that was where he played in college. Yet he wants to be more Andre Iguodala than David West. As a power forward he would have trouble getting baskets against some of the bigger players, and as a small forward he'll have trouble getting around the smaller players. Yet if you brought him off the bench, you could mix him in at both forward positions and exploit the defensive weaknesses in an opponent's second team.
- Tristan Thompson-Thompson needed a few more years at Texas to develop his grit and size as a power forward. Given that he is already undersized though, he'll likely try to get by as a finesse forward. That would be ok if the team that drafted him didn't expect him to make an immediate impact in the paint. However, from a development standpoint, coming off the bench he would be able to utilize his scoring touch while develop his toughness around the rim depending on the matchup, similar to the path that Lamar Odom and Boris Diaw took.
- Marcus Morris-He might not be as natural of an athlete as Josh Smith, but he'll want a similar role as him. Everyone wanted Smith to be a power forward, and they'll want Morris to be one too, but he already said he wants to be a small forward. (Although he might have been saying that just so a team picks him and his brother with the notion that they can play together.) If you brought Marcus Morris off the bench though, he would be perfect to come in and cleanup in the rebounds department and put in some points by throwing his body around.
All of these players will undoubtably be good players, and will likely put up good numbers their first year. But if they are successful, their teams might try to move other players and move them into the starting lineups. As soon as they do that though, they are losing the most valuable asset these players are giving them. The potential to be the perfect 6th men.