which youths burned down the bank when they arrived?

Author of a new big performance from the bench last night, Pacers nugget Bennedict Mathurin continues to build his career record for the title of the best rookie, but be the 6th man of the year. A rare combination in NBA history as only one player has won the best substitute trophy in his first year in the Big League.

Reference: Ben Gordon

The former Bulls fullback is the first rookie to win the 6th Man of the Year award. He is also the last. In fact, no one else has achieved this feat. Selected with the third pick of the 2004 Draft by the Bulls, Ben Gordon thrived for most of his first season off the bench (except for the first three games) behind the duo of Kirk Hinrich – Chris Duhon in the backcourt. His stats that year? 15.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2 assists average in 24.4 minutes on over 40% 3-point success, with some good offensive explosions in the lot: 35 points in… 23 minutes against Charlotte, three other performances at 31 units, or even 29 pawns to give the victory against the Heat which was the best team in the East. Because yes, through his production and his clutch side, Gordon also helped the Bulls win games with his 2004 Draft partner Luol Deng. A true renaissance for the Bulls who went from 23 to 47 wins in just one season, and returned to the Playoffs for the first time since Michael Jordan left in 1998.

The other rookies who had at least one vote in the race for 6th man

Since his induction in 1983, the 6th trophy of the year has gone into the hands of a rookie only once. However, other newcomers managed to become embedded in the race by collecting some votes at the end of their first campaign with the big boys. Here is the list (which is clearly not dreaming), via this ultra practical site Basketball Reference.

  • Channing Frye (2005-06): 12.3 points (47.7% shooting) and 5.8 rebounds in 24.2 minutes, 65 games played (14 starts)
  • Charlie Villanueva (2005-06): 13 points (46.6% shooting) and 6.4 rebounds in 29.1 minutes, 81 games played (36 starts)
  • Michael Beasley (2008-09): 13.9 points (47.2% shooting) and 5.4 rebounds in 24.8 minutes, 81 games played (19 starts)
  • Marcus Thornton (2009-10): 14.5 points (45.1% shooting, 37.4% 3-pointers) and 2.9 rebounds in 25.6 minutes, 73 games played (17 starts)
  • Tim Hardaway Jr. (2013-14): 10.2 points (36.3% from 3-point range) and 1.5 rebounds in 23.1 minutes, 81 games played (1 as a starter)
  • Nikola Mirotic (2014-15): 10.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in 20.2 minutes, 82 games played (3 as a starter)
  • Kyle Kuzma (2017-18): 16.1 points (45% shooting, 36.6% 3-pointers) and 6.3 rebounds in 31.2 minutes, 77 games played (37 starts)

Lately, even though they don’t have a vote in the race for 6th man, we’ve seen rookies like Tyler Herro, Coby White and Immanuel Quickley unleash some craziness on the bench in their rookie suits, while a Marvin Bagley III had a productive first campaign from a statistical standpoint (15 points and over 7 rebounds on average) in 2018-19 in Sacramento.

Speaking of the Kings, the oldest may remember Walt Williams, who was selected 7th overall in the 1992 NBA Draft by Sactown. In his first year in the NBA, Williams averaged 17 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.1 steals in just 28 minutes of play, with just 26 starts in 59 games.

Finally, also mention great names like Kevin McHale (1980-81, in Boston), Sam Cassell (1993-94, in Houston) and Manu Ginobili (2002-03, in San Antonio), who all evolved out of the bench in their first NBA season, without having to panic the counters of course, but contributing to the successful run of their respective teams towards the highest title.

The case of Bennedict Mathurin

Can Bennedict Mathurin replace Ben Gordon to become only the second all-time rookie to win the 6th of the Year title. After more than a month of competition, the scenario is in any case to consider. Not at all intimidated by the big NBA scene, the Pacers back brings a huge offensive boost to Indiana with his average of 19 points (44% shooting, 42% from long range, 82% throwing with almost six attempts per game) in just under 28 minutes of play. And more importantly, like Gordon at the time, he has been a big contributor to the surprise start to the season for the Pacers, who are currently fourth in the East (!) with 10 wins in 16 games as they were promised under of the Conference.

Can this beautiful individual and collective dynamic last? That’s the big question. As we know, many rookies face a wall – the Rookie Wall as we say in the jargon – midway through the season when they start to feel tired against the frantic pace of the NBA. Ben Mathurin will need to avoid this to hope to be in contention for 6th man of the year honors after 82 games, on top of that for rookie of the year. But for now, the Pacers’ much-loved fullback has all the arguments to succeed Ben Gordon and potentially make history by doing an impressive double (PS: Gordon finished second in ROY behind Emeka Okafor in 2005).

Historically, the 6th man of the year trophy has been more reserved for players with a small bottle than those who just landed in the NBA. It is logical to know that the best rookies of a Draft class are often starters on weak teams, while others have limited playing time off the bench. However, as the role of the 6th man has become more important over the years until it almost becomes a sixth holder, more talented youngsters may follow in Ben Mathurin’s footsteps.

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