Gregg Popovich On The Sixth Man Argument
So much discussion has been had over the past two seasons about whether Thunder coach Scott Brooks should start James Harden continue to bring him off the bench. Brooks has made up his mind, keeping Harden in his sixth man role. It’s a role that Harden has finally flourished in this season, ranking second on the team in scoring at 17.8 points while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from 3. He’s also averaging 4.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 30.3 minutes per game.
Prior to Sunday’s game against San Antonio, I asked Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to weigh in on the benefits of keeping a player who is clearly capable of starting coming off the bench. Popovich has done exactly that with Manu Ginobili for four of the past five seasons. Ginobili is a two-time All-Star and won the Sixth Man Award in 2008. Here’s what Popovich had to say.
It’s something we argue all the time. In Dallas, they do it, too, with (Jason) Terry. I think with the way the game is played now in the NBA, to have that guy who can come off the bench and be that troublesome is really an advantage. But a lot depends on if you can find a player who really understands the value of that for the success of the basketball team. A lot of guys, they just have to start. They just can’t do it. Can’t come off the bench. Obviously, the three guys we mentioned understand the value for the team is huge. And usually, those guys are playing against the second-tier guys and that makes it even better for them. And it takes some heat, some pressure off guys like, in your case, (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant. (Harden) can come in there and score and they don’t have to do it all the time. So it spreads the wealth and it also makes teams happy when the wealth gets spread around.”
Popovich was then asked if he ever makes wholesale substitutions. In other words, does he replace one five-man unit with another? Brooks has used a 10-man rotation since the last half of last season and has developed a habit of playing five reserves together. But he doesn’t sub in an entirely different unit at the same time. Here’s what Popovich said about it when asked if he does.
Never. I think it’s more of a college thing than an NBA thing. Most of us try to keep our best players on the floor as much as we can. But in college, it’s just a different atmosphere. It’s a different dynamic to get all those kids in the game. And it depends on who has the greatest amount of talent. If you’ve got 10 or 12 players in college, you need to play them all. That’s where the platoon system comes in. In the pros, nobody has the same talent one through 12. So platooning, you wouldn’t do real well if you all of a sudden put five new guys in all at once. I do that once in a while when I’m pissed off, just to send a message.”
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