Give Me Six!

Due to the lockout, this shortened NBA season is already less than a month from being over. There have been a few surprises, but most of the season has been pretty predictable. One part of pretty much every season that remains fresh is the Sixth Man of the Year award. Most of these players don't get a chance to defend their crown because they become starters, and the contenders for the award this year definitely have bigger contracts and starting jobs in their futures. Here's a look at the frontrunners in the NBA's "star on the rise" category of Sixth Man of the Year.

3) Mike Dunleavy, Jr.

Dunleavy may not fit the "star on the rise" mold as he is a nine-year veteran, but his numbers are very impressive coming off the bench for a newly remodeled Bucks team that hopes to surprise some people if they can sneak in to the playoffs. Dunleavy is averaging 13 points a game on the season, but almost 17 in the last 10 games as the Bucks make their playoff push. When Dunleavy is cold he is cold and doesn't have the athletic ability to get his points on a bad shooting night, but as of recent, bad shooting nights have been few and far between.

A good sixth man always provides a spark when his fresh legs hit the floor, and as a crowd favorite, Dunleavy raises the energy every time he subs in at the Bradley Center. As a pure shooter, he can (and does) get hot and pour on 15 points in a quarter when the Bucks are slumping. Some could argue that he is not on a good enough team, but he has single-handedly won games for the Bucks and without him, they wouldn't be in the playoff hunt at all.

2) Lou Williams

Any time you're a leading scorer on a winning team, you're going to be mentioned in awards talks, but normally not in the Sixth Man of the Year. Williams is leading the Sixers in points per game at 16 per game and he also drops 3.5 assists off the bench. There are a few other bench players with similar numbers as Williams, but he (and maybe Jason Terry when Dirk Nowitzki is cold) is the only bench player in the NBA whose team looks to give him the ball in the closing seconds of games. This is where his value as a swingman is greatly increased. He is one of the best sixth men I can remember in the last few years, but unfortunately James Harden is also a sixth man this year.

1) James Harden

James Harden's athletic ability and his iconic beard make him a huge crowd favorite in OKC and just as Dunleavy, he is a spark for the team before he evens hits the floor. On a team with guys named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it's a bit tough to be a team leader in scoring like Williams, but he still puts up 17 points and 4 assists a game and is the person the offense runs around when the all-star tandem of Durant and Westbrook are on the bench.

Though he pretty much edges out everyone in every category, the one that stands out to me is his defense. He is one of the best athletes in the league (just a scary combo with Westbrook) and when he is on the court, he is the lockdown defender for the Thunder. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, all of them. He frustrates players with his scrappy and very impressive defense and even without being a prolific offensive player, his D could land him a starting job on pretty much every team in the NBA aside from maybe the Heat. Harden is a huge part of one of the best teams in basketball and therefore he should, and more than likely will, be the Sixth Man of the Year at the end of the season.

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