Last year’s Sixth Man of the Year race was a fun one, with Lou Williams unfairly ultimately winning the award over Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas. This year’s race should be just as close, with plenty of worthy candidates throughout the league.
Winners of the award typically come from the perimeter. Since 2000-01, Lamar Odom (10-11), Antawn Jamison (03-04), and Corliss Williamson (01-02) are the only non-perimeter players to win the award, and even Williamson spent 83% of his time at SF the year he won, via Basketball-Reference.com. Without further ado, here are the players you should be looking out for in this year’s race.
GOOD PLAYER, BAD SITUATION
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers
Lou Williams had a pretty darn good year for the Raptors. Among players that qualified for the scoring leaderboard and started five or fewer games, Williams finished third in scoring (15.5 ppg), 6th in true shooting percentage (56.4%), third in isolation points per possession (0.97), and first in points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball-handler. He was the epitome of a spark plug and was a vital part of Toronto’s success last year, first round flame-out notwithstanding.
For whatever reason, the Raptors didn’t even offer Williams a contract to return to the team, something Williams was disappointed in according to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders:
“It caught me by surprise that we didn’t get something done. I made it clear that I wanted to be there and I thought, with the type of year that I had, the feeling would be mutual. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.”
Instead, Williams signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Williams will likely have free reign over the second unit. He’ll probably score a good bit of points, and arguably have more success running the P&R because the Lakers should provide him with a little more spacing to work with—which is one heck of an indictment against last year’s Raptors. However, this Lakers team likely won’t win many games, so I highly doubt Williams will garner a lot of votes this year.
Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves
When he’s healthy, Kevin Martin is a professional bucket-getter from the perimeter. His placement on this list isn’t really set in stone because I doubt he’ll finish the season in Minnesota.
If the Wolves don’t deal Martin or buy him out, he could very easily average between 15-17 points off the bench, but the Wolves will be lucky to win 35 games this year so that would hurt Martin’s candidacy. If Martin does join a playoff team or contender, his case could be interesting like Isaiah Thomas’ case was last year.
C.J. McCullom, Portland Trail Blazers
Just about everyone left the Blazers this summer for greener, bluer, grayer, orange…er.(?)…pastures this summer. What’s left is Damian Lillard and a lot of simply solid pieces. That means a good bit of opportunity for C.J McCollum, a talented combo guard who can flat-out score. The Blazers will be interesting and likely bad, but McCollum should be one of the few bright spots for them.
Rodney Stucky, Indiana Pacers
Stuckey flew under the radar for an injury-ravished Pacer team. He averaged 12.6 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game, and 3.1 dimes while shooting a career-high 39% from three. The Pacers will likely be in the playoff hunt this year with the return of Paul George and the addition of Monta Ellis. Stuckey will once again be in charge of the second unit, and is in a position to put up similar production this year.
Gerald Green, Miami Heat
Gerald Green does three things well; he can shoot, dunk, and pretty much neglect defense. Man, can that man dunk:
He’s a gunner, but he’s fun, so that’s okay for the most part. As good as the Heat are on paper, it’s still fair to acknowledge that Dwyane Wade will likely miss some time, and the Heat lack a real collection of reliable three-point shooters.
Because of this, Green will have a green light off the bench. If the Heat can win 45 or more games with him lighting it up off the bench, don’t be surprised if he’s in the hunt.
The Chicago Bulls Power Forward Rotation
I have no clue what Fred Hoiberg is going to do with this rotation. I would assume Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah at least begin the year as starters, which would make either Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson entertaining options for the 6th Man race. But then again, Bobby Portis seems to be making Gibson expendable, and with the Gasol-Noah pairing being awkward last year, it wouldn’t surprise me if Mirotic starts for Gasol either.
Mo Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers
Williams actually would’ve been one of my favorites, but he’ll probably start too many games to qualify due to Kyrie Irving being out for a good bit of time. Regardless, his ability to play both guard spots, run P&R, and knock down 3s will be vital for the Cavs this year.
Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans
Ryan Anderson should probably be starting, and we’ll likely him finishing out games at the 4 alongside Anthony Davis regardless of his starting status. Anderson is a prolific outside shooter who can turn the tide of games once he gets on a roll. He was tied for fourth in the NBA with 11 games of 20+ points as a reserve last season. We could certainly see something similar this year:
3. Paul Pierce, Los Angeles Clippers
First and foremost, let’s revisit this:
Pierce is a key cog of a loaded-on-paper Clippers team ready to contend for a title. Doc Rivers will try to limit his workload to preserve him for the postseason, which is why Pierce is coming off the bench behind Wes Johnson to begin with. He’ll still finish games for the Clippers at the 3, or if DeAndre Jordan isn’t knocking down free throws, he’ll be able to play some small-ball 4 alongside Blake Griffin. His leadership, shot-creation, and floor spacing will be a welcomed addition to this team.
2. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
I think Baby Zeke should’ve won this award last year over Lou Williams, although it was probably closer than both parties are willing to admit. Among players that qualified for the scoring leaderboard and started less than five games, Thomas was first in scoring (16.4), tied for first in assists (4.1), fourth in true shooting percentage (57.9%), fourth in isolation points per possession, and second in points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball-handler.
In fact, here’s a solid look at Thomas vs. Williams:
As you can see, Thomas won four of the seven categories here, but outside of assists, everything was pretty close.
With a full off-season with Boston to get even more familiar with Brad Stevens and his offense, there’s no reason not to believe Thomas could be even better last year. If I thought Boston was making the playoffs this year, he’d be at number one. But I don’t, so here he is.
MY PREDICTION: ANDRE IGUODALA, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
It may not be a sexy pick in terms of base numbers, but it could be in terms of overall impact. Iguodala is one of the most versatile guards in the league, able to serve as a primary ball-handler in spurts and get others involved or play off-ball, knock down spot-up threes, or make smart cuts to the basket for easy looks.
His true value comes on the defensive end, where he can guard three positions at an elite level. Last season, Iguodala held opponents to 0.64 points per possession and 29.7% shooting from the field in isolation situations. And although the 6MOY award is based on regular season play, it’s only fair to point out how great of a job Iguodala did on LeBron James in last year’s Finals—a performance good enough to net him the Finals MVP over his teammate and regular season MVP, Stephen Curry:
Iguodala can score when needed, distribute when needed, and defend whoever is going off. That type of versatility makes him valuable, and the impact he has on games should be enough to get him recognized with this award.