Avery Bradley, Cory Joseph provide defensive spark off bench

Steve Helwick

Ten of the last 11 winners of the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Awards have been shooting guards, all averaging more than 13.5 points per game.

But this season, two of the premier sixth men in the league display another vital asset.

Two point guards, Avery Bradley and Cory Joseph, played college basketball at Texas. Bradley joined the Celtics in 2010, and Joseph is in his first year with the Raptors after four years on the Spurs. Both of these sixth men primarily contribute as lockdown perimeter defenders.

Bradley started 77 games for the Celtics last season and the first six of this season. After Bradley was sidelined with a calf injury, coach Brad Stevens decided to modify the Celtics’ lineup and remove Bradley from a starting role. Ever since, Bradley has averaged 20.2 points per game and an impressive 1.8 steals per game. The Celtics have gone 4-2 in that time period, including wins over the Rockets and Thunder.

While also excelling offensively in his new role, Bradley’s established defense makes the Celtics’ second unit exceptional at creating turnovers. Bradley, a former NBA All-Defensive Team member, anchors a Celtics defense that averages a league-high 11.5 steals and a fourth-best 35.2 field goals allowed per contest.

Joseph spent four years developing in San Antonio before he earned a $30 million contract and a chance to shine in Toronto. He is averaging a career-high 9.5 points and 0.7 steals per game and has been a staple in the Raptors lineup during the final minutes of the game. Joseph holds opponents to shooting 26.4 percent from 20-24 feet from the basket and is inserted into the game to counter elite shooters including Stephen Curry and Chris Paul.

Bradley and Joseph may not see the court during tipoff, but they make their presence known on defense when they enter the game. These two have emerged as early Sixth Man of the Year candidates and demonstrate success on both sides of the ball.