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Iguodala early front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year

You’ve probably noticed by now that Stephen Curry’s setting the world on fire just to watch it burn, and have decided that you’re okay with that arrangement as it will save you a couple of bucks during the holiday season on your heating bill.

But you don’t start a campaign 15-0, as Curry’s Golden State Warriors have done, without a couple of other guys making a play now and again. The neat thing about the Golden State Warriors’ start is that multiple guys will be in position to get some shine in the form of honors and trinkets for the mantle if form holds.

For example, Luke Walton may get Coach of the Year recognition, even though officially he hasn’t coached a game. Draymond Green might nose out Kawhi Leonard for Defensive Player of the Year honors—if for no other reason than all the center he’s been playing under Walton as part of the Oppenheimer Five Jazz Orchestra the Warriors use to close out games—with Green more than holding his own in the paint despite his 6’6 frame.

Today, however, we focus on Andre Iguodala, who’s laid out a pretty convincing opening argument for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, by declaring, well, that he doesn’t care about the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. He’s in extremely good company there, as we’ll prove in due time.

It’s well-documented that Iguodala was unhappy to discover last training camp that Kerr wanted him to come off the bench. Though he never put it in such blunt terms, Iguodala made it clear that he hadn’t done anything in his mind to lose his starting spot since he’s a better overall player than Harrison Barnes. Moreover, Iguodala didn’t fit the classic sixth-man profile. He’s not a gunner off the bench. He’s often reluctant to shoot. He’s more of a glue guy, who plays excellent defense, creates for others, and provides what is required.

He was reluctant to embrace the role for a most of the season and warmed to it only gradually as it became impossible to dismiss 40 games of success as a mere “fluke”.

Even after winning a championship, though, and a Finals MVP — which he largely earned by being moved to the starting lineup for games 4-6 — Iguodala told USA Today’s Sam Amick that he’s gunning for the elusive “6MOY” this season, saying, “I’m not a fan of the award.” Actually,” he said. “It’s like affirmative action or something (like that) to me.”

More recently he told ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss that he doesn’t like his chances to win it because “I don’t think I score enough, so I don’t care. It’s like, whatever.”

Kyle Terada // USA Today

Kyle Terada // USA Today

He does have a point. The sixth-man trophy is largely seen as the award for the bench guy with the highest scoring average, irrespective of all other context, similar to the way the Rookie of the Year Award is stereotyped as going to the highest freshman scorer and the Coach of the Year Award is usually given to the skipper of the team that most exceeded the media’s expectations.

Just peruse the list of recent 6MOY winners and you see names like Jason Terry, J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams, one-dimensional chuckers all, guys who are low-efficiency scorers and defensive liabilities. They’re bench players for a reason. Prolonged exposure against opposing starters would provide diminishing returns.

It didn’t always used to be this way with the 6MOY. When the award was first introduced, in 1982-83, it went to multifaceted players who were often one of the two or three best guys on their teams and always played in crunch time. Though it was created too late for him to have ever won, the spirit of the award has always been about honoring players whose roles and contributions were similar to Celtics legend John Havlicek. Its most famous recipients are two-time winners Kevin McHale and Detlef Schrempf, though, Stephen Curry’s father Dell Curry won it in 1993-94 as a member of the Charlotte Hornets.

Around the turn of the century, it started going to the chuckers, but a notable exception was 2007-08 when San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili won the honor after Gregg Popovich decided to bring him off the bench. Ginobili had already been won three championships by then as well as a gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Games for his native Argentina and had already sewn up his Hall-of-Fame spot. He was easily one of the Spurs’ two or three best players then and one of the top 20-30 in the league. He went to the bench without complaint, mostly stayed in that role, and thrived.

Ginobili said he didn’t think much of the award when he won it, finding the whole concept of it a bit silly. “This is like being elected the best left-handed player or something like that,” he said.

(And he probably would’ve been the front-runner had such an award existed.)

It’s interesting then, that through the first 15 games that Ginobili and Iguodala are running 1-2 in net rating, per NBA.com. Their squads are absolutely killing the competition while they’re on the floor and doing substantially worse when they’re on the bench. By most analytic measures these two veteran swing-men, who both excel at creating for others, knocking down clutch threes and making defense and hustle plays that extend beyond simple steals and blocks, have been among the very best and most impactful players in the league on a per-minute basis.

Right now I’d give the slight edge to Iguodala because he plays more minutes and he often guards the opposition’s best perimeter player when it’s crunch time. But you really can’t go wrong with either guy. They’re both winners, both true difference-makers.

But neither scores a ton, and neither will campaign for the award or have their teams do it for them like some franchises do for their players to embarrassing degrees every award season. So like, whatever, right?

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