NBA Awards: The 6th Man Debate
The NBA Playoffs are underway and are providing a great cap to what was an amazing season. With the award announcement some time away, I wanted to give a take on one of the lesser talked about races: the Sixth Man Award. Given in recognition to who can be considered the NBA’s best player who doesn’t normally start games, it can help shine light on players we don’t normally talk about and give them some leverage when negotiating contracts.
Keeping with the same numerical theme as the award, these are the six players I believe are the most deserving of the award:
1a. - 1b: Eric Gordon & Lou Williams
These two get put in the same post primarily because their cases are just about the same. They are the two highest scorers who are under the maximum amount of starts, and happen to be on the same team due to Lou getting moved at the deadline.
I don’t want to shortchange what they’ve done by saying that it is just scoring, since Eric has been one of NBA’s best long range snipers this season, ranking 4th in 3pt shots made and hitting them at a 37% clip on the year. He’s also no slouch as a defender, and is a big reason why Houston can play James Harden at point primarily this season. Lou Williams is a maestro of the pick and roll as a ballhandler, and is a big time shot maker every offense needs.
3. Joe Ingles
Much has been and will continue to be said about how Joe Ingles looks like the guy in a rec ball game who you count on to be the worst basketball player ever, but his game is surprisingly remarkable for a role guy. He’s way more of the guy who somehow knocks down five threes wearing Sketchers and jorts than the guy in the Reggie Miller jersey who learned to shoot a basketball from watching the Olympic shotput.
Ingles takes over half his shots from 3pt range, knocking them down at 44% for the year during the season. He also creates well enough that Coach Snyder has used him to initiate action on the offense as a ballhandler, and he’s a rangy defender using his length to bother shots and generate steals. He’s stepped up to help the Jazz make their first playoffs since before they traded Deron Williams, and possibly beyond.
4. James Johnson
Quick aside here, I am part of the NBA Twitter semi-cult of James Johnson. I implore from my armchair to every coach on every team to put him in the game for at least 20 minutes a night, regardless of rotations or any sense of logic at times. And when Coach Spo did this for the Heat, it worked wonders.
Most of the credit for Miami’s incredible run will go to the starting backcourt of Dion Waiters and Goran Dragic, for good reason. Goran is an incredible point guard when operating at full capacity and Dion is one of the most polarizing figures in the game. But the unsung hero of that stretch has been James Johnson, the 6’9 martial arts warrior who freelances as an NBA combo forward from fall to spring.
Playing Johnson gave the Heat someone who could score in bunches if need be, grab as many boards as you need, and defend whoever you needed him to stop. It helped push them from bottom dwellers to just outside of the playoffs, with a beautiful spin move on a game winner over Markieff Morris to keep hope alive as a signature moment.
5. Dewayne Dedmon
Another one of those impossible Spurs finds in free agency, Dedmon joined a team in desperate need of athleticism in the front court after being ousted in Orlando with the arrivals of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo. And it was a match made in heaven.
Dedmon’s impact, like a lot of guys here, isn’t all on the box score. He’s more than a cheap energy guy to snag a few boards and loose balls, he’s provides someone strong enough to guard the league’s centers on the block and enough lateral quickness to keep with guards out of the pick and roll. He’s a lob target on dives on offense, as well as a hard screen setter. But those have been said over and over about Dedmon in the past few months. His biggest value is giving a team that is so good at executing complex game plans a new level to play on.
6. Andre Iguodala
We all know who he is, and the team he plays for. Iggy’s the guy Kerr subs in when it’s time to set the phasers from ‘stun’ to ‘kill’, as the least talked about member of the infamous Lineup of Death. Jack of all trades, master of isolation defense, Iggy probably has the simplest case out of all the guys on this list.
Simply put, he’s the best player that comes off the bench in the NBA. Eric Gordon may give him a run for his money on impact, but Iggy has some game off the bounce to go along with great passing and can be asked to guard anyone from point guards to power forwards without having to worry about if he can do it or not. He’s the piece that turned the Warriors from playoff team to champion two years back, and helps keep them in contender status right now.
Regardless of who wins it (I want it to be James Johnson), this Sixth Man race has been as exciting as just about any award this season. Except the Rookie of the Year after Embiid went down.