The NBA award season for 2015 is in full swing, with the Sixth Man of the Year already being announced. If there is a Sixth Man of the Year, why not a Fifth Man of the Year?
Mediocrity is a painful thing to realize. In terms of skill, hard work, luck and happiness, most people exist right at the top of the bell curve. That’s why its the top.
One of the reasons the NBA is so enjoyable to watch is because it depicts mediocrity in such a poetic way. Teams stuck on the bubble of playoff contention and lottery picks routinely find themselves unable to move up or down from basketball’s middle class. Small market teams struggle to pull in free agents as well, often times keeping them from joining the NBA’s elite.
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The same is true for the players themselves. At the top levels of the sport in the NBA, it becomes clear that no matter how hard you train or how strongly you mesh with your team, there is a glass ceiling limiting what you can accomplish individually on the court. With MVP candidates like James Harden and Stephen Curry arriving to the league like the earthquakes they are, the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in terms of talent becomes even more increasingly evident.
And yet these “have-not” players carve a niche for themselves in the NBA. It is the act of perseverance that can draw us to players like the Chicago Bulls’ Mike Dunleavy, who last year, after twelve years in the league bouncing around as a part-time starter and full-time role player for hapless teams, finally made the playoffs for the first time in his career. Now he plays meaningful minutes for a Bulls team in the midst of contention for the East crown.
He is a fifth man. Just like there are sixth men who provide a spark off the bench, there are fifth men on almost every team who are clearly the worst within the starting lineup. And at the same time, the best fifth men accept their roles and contribute meaningful minutes to the greater cause of their team, sacrificing their attention and their ego in order to win.
The NBA Fifth Man of the Year Award is meant to reward the fifth man who truly captures this spirit. The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award has already been given to the Toronto Raptors’ Lou Williams, so why not try to recognize the NBA’s great fifth men?
Fifth men often times fall into a series of archetypes. These are NBA fifth man tropes, more or less.
The Pointless Guard is a point guard who doesn’t act as the primary ball handler within the offense. Often times they are a good perimeter shooter and best friends with the super star. A good example would be Derek Fisher on the Los Angeles Lakers, who was there because Kobe Bryant didn’t hate him.
The Handyman is a player, often times a wing player, who does everything adequately to well but totally excels at nothing. Their versatility can work with any lineup. Dennis Johnson from the 1980s Boston Celtics fits this role perfectly.
The 3 and/or D Wing is an extraordinarily common fifth man, which is no surprise considering that the league is shifting more towards perimeter shooting. Bruce Bowen for the San Antonio Spurs was an ideal 3 and D Wing, even though he was an annoying pimple of a player.
The Big Man Plugger is a frontcourt player who does well rebounding, setting screens, occasionally dunking or laying up, eating up the foul calls of more skilled teammates and missing free throws. Kendrick Perkins from the 2007 Celtics is the model for the Big Man Plugger.
Of course, in order to determine who the NBA Fifth Man of the Year is, we must determine who the fifth man is for each team.
A quick note: These choices do not reflect the teams current starting lineups, but rather the most common lineups each team utilized.
Next: Your NBA Fifth Men: Part I