Though Russell Westbrook has only been a member of the Los Angeles Lakers for a little over a season, given the levels of discussion about him, it feels like he’s been with the franchise much longer. The constant dialogue in the press, coupled with his questionable play on the court, has made it difficult for Westbrook to find a safe place on a franchise based only a few miles from where he grew up and played college ball.
That changed somewhat when Laker coach Darvin Ham moved Westbrook to the bench in November and, in some ways, changed the course of the team’s season. The move undeniably unlocked the best version of Westbrook, turning him into a useful third-scoring option and secondary playmaker. So much so that the online betting community has him fourth behind Malcolm Brogden, Norman Powell, and Tyrese Maxey in 2023 Odds to Win the National Basketball Association (NBA) Sixth Man Award.
History of the Sixth Man Award
The NBAs Sixth Man Award has a rich history dating back to the 1982-1983 season. The award is presented annually to the league’s best players coming off the bench, recognizing their valuable contributions to their team’s success. Over the years, many great players have won the award and cemented their place in the history of the NBA.
The first-ever award recipient was New York Knick guard Rolando Blackman. Blackman was a key player for the Knicks, coming off the bench to provide a scoring boost for the team. In the following years, many other great players would follow in Blackman’s footsteps, including stars such as Vinnie Johnson, Detlef Schrempf, and Jamal Crawford.
In the 1990s, the award was dominated by a player widely considered one of the greatest bench players in NBA history: John Starks. Starks, who played for the New York Knicks, won the award twice in three years and was a crucial player in the Knicks’ run to the NBA Finals in 1994.
As the league evolved, so did the players and their roles. In the 2000s, players such as Manu Ginobili and Lamar Odom established themselves as dominant bench players. In contrast, players like Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have continued the trend of top-level bench play in recent years.
Off the court, the Sixth Man Award has also evolved over the years. In the early days of the award, it was presented to the player who came off the bench the most and scored the most points. Today, the award criteria have expanded to include other vital stats such as rebounds, assists, and overall impact on the game.
Sixth Man Impact
When Westbrook arrived in Los Angeles via a blockbuster trade with the Washington Wizards, the Lakers coaching staff was peppered with questions about how he would fit in with Anthony Davis and LeBron James. All three players had been used to handling the ball in a meaningful way, and it was going to be interesting to see if they could share the ball. Spacing was also going to be an issue, given Los Angeles’ lack of perimeter shooting talent.
Due to their respective skill sets, it turned out that they didn’t complement each other too well when all three were on the floor together. But by staggering Westbrook’s minutes and utilizing him as the offensive catalyst on the second unit, Los Angeles has helped Los Angeles stay competitive when they go to their reserve players, who have played better with him on the court. More importantly, Westbrook has embraced his new role, which has increased his value to the Lakers.
Westbrook is Not the Typical Sixth Man
Westbrook does not fit the criteria for a Sixth Man of the Year winner. Throughout the award’s history, the leading bench scorer wins around half of the time. Both Powell and Benedict Mathurin are out-scoring him.
Additionally, the award winner is almost always on a playoff team, with only one player in the past 20 years coming from a team that failed to reach the postseason. Coming off last night’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers are 25-30, two games back of the Portland Trailblazers, and in danger of missing the play-in round.
Westbrook’s Sixth Man odds were astronomically low at the beginning of the season. Still, enterprising bettors grabbed enough action when he was benched for the oddsmakers to react. Changing the odds to favor Westbrook would theoretically encourage bettors to spend money on other players and ensure that the sportsbooks wouldn’t take a bath if Westbrook won the award.
The truth is that Westbrook remains a longshot to win the award, even longer if he finds himself part of a trade out of Los Angeles.