LeBron James thinks Dwyane Wade is the early leader to be the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, and not just because they're buddies.

"He's probably the No. 1 candidate," James said at shootaround Saturday. The Cavs play the Memphis Grizzlies at 7:30 p.m.

"Not even being biased, that's one of my best friends," James continued. "Just looking at the teams. Eric Gordon has had to start a lot this season because CP (Chris Paul) was out. (Andre) Iguodala's been out a little bit, you look at Manu (Ginobili), you look at Jamal Crawford ... those are sixth man guys, right? D-Wade would probably be leading that right now, but there's a long way to go."

Wade, 35, is in his first year as a reserve after 12 All-Star campaigns in 14 prior NBA seasons. He's averaging 12.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks and 1.9 turnovers in 23.4 minutes per game since shifting to his current role in the fourth game of the year (covering 18 games).

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue has handed the reins of the second unit to Wade, and also uses Wade in the fourth quarter as a sometimes point guard, all the time playmaker alongside James.

Wade has scored in double figures in five straight games and is averaging 15.8 points during that stretch, with 1.2 blocks and an (for him) absurd .545 shooting percentage from 3-point range. He's a career .288 shooter from deep.