Over the years, some great players have come off the bench and embraced the role of sixth man, but Lou Williams might be the best of the bunch. He’d surely tell you the list starts with him, at least.
It is tough to argue with a man that holds the record for the most NBA Sixth-Man of the Year awards, winning it three times during his career. The only other player that can say that is Jamal Crawford, who is now retired. Based on those accolades, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better sixth man than either of these guys.
When comparing “Lemon Pepper” Lou to other great bench players over the years in the NBA, we have to be careful because many players went to the bench later in their careers or had to nearly be put into straight jackets and forced to come off the bench to help the team. Carmelo Anthony comes to mind. He’s not in this conversation, but is a perfect example of a player that clung to the allure of being a starter for so long and did not want to see the benefit of leading the second unit.
Williams and Crawford are leading this GOAT (since there’s a goat for everything in life now) with three sixth-man trophies apiece. But don’t forget about names like Vinnie “Microwave Johson, Robert Horry, Manu Ginóbili, Andre Iguodala, Detlef Schrempf (there’s a name you didn’t expect), Toni Kukoč, and even James Harden back in his OKC Thunder days.
Besides being some of the greatest bench players to ever grace the NBA hardwood, this group houses a few of the best nicknames in sports, not just the NBA. The Microwave, Lemon Pepper, and Big Shot Bob are all-time nicknames. Now I realize the situation behind the lemon pepper moniker wasn’t the best decision made by Lou, but the nickname is on point. A great nickname that started as a dig, ya gotta love that.
Many great players have taken one for the team, swallowed their pride, and come off the bench because it was the right thing to do. Iguodala did it with Golden State during their five-year run and won Finals MVP in 2015. But Iggy was a starter for the first 10 years of his career playing in Philadelphia, Denver, and even his first year in Golden State. Horry has some of the most memorable moments in postseason history, but he has zero sixth-man awards. Ginóbili won the honor in 2007-08, although he started 31 percent of the games, he played for the Spurs that season. Harden only did it for three years, although he did win that award in his last year with the Thunder.
One thing about those names is they played on very good to great overall teams and either won championships because of it or came very close. Williams and Crawford didn’t have the luxury to play on those types of teams. So, it really comes down to the criteria you want to use in justifying the greatest NBA sixth man of all time. Having won the award three times each, I’m ranking Williams and Crawford at the top above all these other names when it comes to best bench players ever. They’ve proven it and have their credentials on display.