Marc Stein: Sixth Man

Sixth Man of the Second Trimester

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
1:52
PM ET

Sixth Man of the Second Trimester: Taj Gibson, Bulls

Jamal Crawford and Reggie Jackson unquestionably rank as two of the foremost sixth men in the game.

Yet for much of the NBA’s middle trimester, Crawford and Jackson were forced by significant injuries to start for the Clippers and Thunder, respectively, so they have to be excused from contention for this specific time period, even though both are bound to be in the running for the top spot on voters’ ballots when the actual Sixth Man Award race is decided in April.

If you’re as strict as we are about making this call based strictly on what we've seen over the last 25 to 30 games, five names stand out.

Chicago’s Taj Gibson, Houston’s Jeremy Lin, Phoenix’s Markieff Morris, Dallas’ Vince Carter and one of the most reliable sixth men in history: San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili.

Enough hasn't been said, honestly, about what Ginobili is doing for the injury-riddled Spurs, throwing up a PER of nearly 20 at age 36. He has a real shot to hoist the Sixth Man Award trophy at season’s end for the second time.

My ESPNDallas.com colleague Tim MacMahon, meanwhile, recently published a fine piece detailing the key role Carter has played, at 37, in Dallas’ February surge, which registers with us more than the bigger numbers we’re seeing from sixth men on sub-.500 teams. (Just to name a few: Utah’s Alec Burks, Cleveland’s Dion Waiters, Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey and the Lakers’ Nick Young.)

The selection here, though, has to be Gibson. The Bulls lost Derrick Rose to a season-ending knee tear in November, traded away Luol Deng in early January and have engaged in a bizarre roster dance all season between a 12-man roster and an only slightly less skeletal 13, as Sham Sports founder Mark Deeks expertly sums up in this wonderfully detailed post.

So what the Bulls require and receive out of their sixth man is crucial.

And Gibson has delivered. He has delivered to the point that he’s stealing fourth-quarter minutes from Carlos Boozer. He has delivered to the point, with the most effective offense we’ve seen with Gibson to go with his ever-steady D, that the Bulls’ sixth man has to be placed right up there with Joakim Noah and backcourt find D.J. Augustin on the list of prime catalysts for Chicago’s 17-8 record since Deng was dealt.

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