A very clear trend has guided Sixth Man of the Year voting for most of its existence, but that trend was bucked last season. Prior to the 2022-23 campaign, 10 of the previous 17 winners had been that season's leading bench scorer. Andre Iguodala never won this award. Manu Ginobili only won it once. But Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams each won it three times apiece. This has never been a particularly nuanced award. Voters largely look at who scores the most points off of the bench and go from there.
And yet, Malcolm Brogdon won it last year scoring 14.9 points per game. That isn't exactly a small number, but it would have ranked him fifth among players to come off of the bench in more than half of their team's games a season ago. Brogdon had a number of other admirable qualities, though, including his excellent efficiency, strong playmaking and serviceable defense. The same could be said of Immanuel Quickley, who scored just 12.3 points per game as the runner up.
In most cases, an award's voting history should give us a good idea of what to look for in the future. But as the basketball world has gotten smarter, it's reasonable to assume that most voters now know that Andre Iguodala is better than Jamal Crawford. Scoring points will still obviously go a long way towards determining a candidate's viability, but the days of picking one-dimensional scorers are likely over. Here are a few other trends worth watching before we dive into the odds:
- Williams is the only Sixth Man of the Year winner in the last 20 seasons to miss the playoffs, and he was a legacy winner. Besides Williams, every winner since 2011 has played for a top-four seed. You almost have to play for a winner to be a realistic candidate for this award.
- Lately, this is an award that skews a bit older. A total of 14 players aged 30 or older have won the award, but eight of them have come since Manu Ginobili did so in 2008. Winners will often be former starters that have adjusted to bench roles with age. Notably, Russell Westbrook was the betting favorite for this award for much of last season. Voters like a good story. An accomplished veteran taking a back seat for the sake of his teammates generates a good narrative.
- This is a guard award. Since Ben Gordon won in 2005, only one forward (Lamar Odom, who was frequently called a "point" forward) and one center (Montrezl Harrell) have won the trophy.
So with this in mind, here are Sam Quinn and Ameer Tyree's favorite preseason bets for Sixth Man of the Year.
All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook
Players listed here have odds no longer than +1500
Quinn: Malik Monk (+1200) stands out as one of the candidates likeliest to check the "highest-scoring bench player" box after a stellar postseason. He averaged just 22.3 minutes per game for the Kings last season, but that figure jumped to 29.3 in Sacramento's first-round series against the Golden State Warriors. If his minutes go up to reflect the trust he seemed to earn from Mike Brown last season, his numbers are going to go up with them. Monk averaged a career-high 21.8 points per 36 minutes last season. The only thing keeping him from the top of the bench scoreboard is opportunity.
Speaking of the Warriors, they have a compelling candidate... but not quite yet. Chris Paul is currently sitting at +1400. He is expected to start this season for the Warriors. Don't expect that to last. Golden State's starting lineup outscored opponents by 145 points last season, second only to Denver's starting five among all five-man units. That lineup makes sense. Pairing Paul with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson does not. The Warriors will do the dance of treating Paul like a starter until it becomes apparent that he shouldn't be one. At that point, Paul's odds will be far longer, and his value will be significantly greater. Remember, Russell Westbrook was the betting favorite for this award for most of last season. If you believe in a narrative component to awards, the story behind a Hall of Famer accepting a bench role is going to work in his favor.
Tyree: Norman Powell (+900) scored the fourth-most bench points (917) in the league last season despite playing at least nine fewer games than all three of the players ahead of him. Monk, who came off the bench in 25 more games than Powell last season and led the league in bench points, only scored 124 more bench points. The Los Angeles Clippers are loaded in their starting lineup. The Clippers averaged the third-most bench points per game last season and Powell will only climb the ladder with more games under his belt. He and monk finished 2022-23 with an almost identical Sixth Man of the Year vote tally, so both will be on the radar for 2023-24.
Last year's most productive scoring offense has a lackluster bench and Monk seems poised to make a splash in his second year with the team. I'm sure he'll be called upon to serve as a spark plug again, as none of his fellow reserves averaged more than 8.0 points per game last season. Davion Mitchell will be most serviceable as a defender while Monk gets as shot-happy as he wants. Bettors should key in on Monk early, as I'm sure he'll finish climbing up the ladder and become a favorite before long if he's healthy.
The Middle of the Pack
Players listed here have odds between +1501 and +3000
Quinn: I'm not crazy about any of the players in this range. There are three Knicks candidates on the board between Immanuel Quickley (+700), Josh Hart (+2200) and Donte DiVincenzo (+5000). In all likelihood, they're going to cancel each other out. However, the Knicks routinely have among the best benches in the NBA, so if one of those players emerges, I'd lean towards the one with the unique skill set. Quickley and DiVincenzo could cancel each other out as scorers (though Quickley obviously brings other things to the table), but Hart's dirty work routine played well on Team USA, and if voters are moving towards a rejection of the leading bench scorer model, Hart is essentially that trend's antithesis. New York went 17-8 with Hart last season, which would represent a 56-win pace over a full season. If the Knicks come anywhere close to that figure this season, it will likely be because of dominance during Hart's minutes.
Christian Wood (+3000) defies plenty of logic here. He's a big man. His role is uncertain on a very crowded Lakers roster. He's also a somewhat volatile personality, now suiting up for his eighth NBA team. Of course, team-jumping isn't especially rare among Sixth Man of the Year winners. Crawford played for eight teams and Williams played for six. Only two of the last 15 winners played for the team that drafted them (James Harden in 2012 and Tyler Herro in 2022). Wood can absolutely score enough to win this award, having just averaged 23.1 points per 36 minutes on a Mavericks team that largely didn't trust him. LeBron James will get him all of the easy shots he needs, and he'll rack up numbers in spot start duty when Anthony Davis is hurt. Throw in the boost Wood will get from playing a bunch of nationally televised games as a Laker and he could easily mount a credible case.
Tyree: Rui Hachimura (+3000) will come off the bench for a team that added Wood to its frontcourt rotation over the offseason, but we saw that he earned the Lakers' trust in their Western Conference finals matchup against the Denver Nuggets. The former Wizard was far more impactful than Jarred Vanderbilt, averaging 15.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest in his team's most important series of the year. There are more mouths to feed in Los Angeles now, but the Lakers are clearly more invested in his role and future. He's been extended on a three-year, $51 million extension and will have a chance to be a spotlighted team's go-to bench scorer depending on who pairs in the frontcourt alongside Anthony Davis.
Gary Trent Jr. (+3000) started in 44 of the 66 games he appeared in last season but should transition to a full-time bench role with OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes manning the wings. The Toronto Raptors replaced a key scorer in Fred VanVleet with Dennis Schroder. Trent provides quality defensive support and has averaged 19.7 points per game across the 37 games he's appeared in as a Raptor without VanVleet. There will surely be more shots to go around for starters now that the floor general is a Houston Rocket, but that shouldn't prevent Trent from impacting games as a top-notch reserve.
Players listed here have odds of at least +3001
Quinn: The Memphis Grizzlies will presumably start Marcus Smart and Desmond Bane in their backcourt to open the season, but with Ja Morant out, offense will be at a premium. Luke Kennard (+5000) is their best chance at making up some of that offensive production, and he was stellar upon arriving in Memphis last season. The former Clipper shot a staggering 54% from deep with the Grizzlies a season ago, and Memphis scored over 122 points per 100 possessions with him in the fold. The volume wasn't quite there last season, but if he proves himself with Morant out, that could easily change. Remember, the Grizzlies lost two high-minutes perimeter players this offseason in Tyus Jones and Dillon Brooks, but only added one in Smart. There are minutes and shots to be had here.
Speaking of available minutes and shots, the defending NBA champions used a strict eight-man rotation in the playoffs, but two of their three reserves are gone. Bruce Brown is now a Pacer and Jeff Green is a Rocket. Denver is completely revamping its bench, and the only rotation holdover left is Christian Braun (+7500). Is he likely to win the award? Not especially. He barely scored last season, making his name on effort and defense. But he's going to see far more minutes this season, and it's reasonable to assume he improves between his rookie and sophomore seasons. If you're building a deep portfolio here, Braun is worth a couple of bucks as a hedge against your preferred options.
Tyree: Kennard's averages of 10.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game without Morant last season aren't extremely impressive when you compare his numbers to the aforementioned players on this list, but the Grizzlies will need to lean on him some while their star point guard is suspended for 25 games. Kennard will get to flash more of his point guard skills now that Jones is out of the picture. Kennard should be preferred to Derrick Rose and averaged 15.8 points and 4.1 assists per game the last time he was in a primary ball-handlng role. If he can play a crucial role in helping the Grizzlies stay afloat despite all the star power in the Western Conference, he'll get plenty of recognition.
The Phoenix Suns will have a ton of eyes on them becuase of the dynamite starting five they have, but it's clear that depth is not a strength for them. It's unclear who will join Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Deandre Ayton in the first unit, but I'll give the nod to Josh Okogie after his stellar run last season. That being said, 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon (+5000) will have a chance to assert himself as a legitimate threat to win Sixth Man of the Year. Saben Lee, Keita Bates-Diop, Yuta Watanabe, and Drew Eubanks should defer to the 34-year-old veteran in the second unit. He's provided instant offense since he stepped into the league and the Suns have the talent to win the Western Conference.