Awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year are easy calls for the 2015-2016 NBA season, but selecting the Sixth Man of the Year is a lot more difficult. With the regular season coming to an end on Wednesday, more than a few candidates have a real chance to win the award.
The Sixth Man of the Year award is often given to a specific type of player. Guards and wings that can score off the bench and inject immediate offense are often the winners. Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith and James Harden have gotten the nod in the last four years. Crawford is back in contention this season, along with players who share his attributes.
Having also won the award in 2010, Crawford might become the only three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner. Averaging 14.2 points per game while playing almost exclusively off the bench, Crawford has helped the Los Angeles Clippers keep the No.4 seed in the West despite the injury to Blake Griffin. Making a few game-winning shots, Crawford has been a key scorer on the NBA’s sixth-best offensive team.
Jeremy Lin has played a similar role for the Charlotte Hornets, who have been the NBA’s biggest surprise this season. Lin’s 11.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game aren’t gaudy numbers, but he’s been a consistent offensive player off the bench for a team that could have a 15-win improvement from last season. He might not win the award, but the point guard could find himself on numerous ballots.
Evan Turner and Will Barton have been more complete players off the bench. Barton’s 14.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game will get him plenty of top-three votes. He shoots 43.3 percent from the field, and he’s been one of the Denver Nuggets' best players. But Denver won’t come close to finishing above .500, and the Boston Celtics are 47-34 with one game left on their schedule. Turner fills the stat sheet with averages of 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists, and he’s shooting over 45 percent from the field.
It’s been five years since a player taller than 6’7 won the award, but that could change in a wide open group like this one. By just looking at individual statistics, Enes Kanter might be the top choice. He’s averaging 12.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, and his 24.25 PER ranks him in the top 10 of all NBA players. He shoots 57.9 percent from the floor for the Oklahoma City Thunder, averaging nearly 13 points even though he’s on the bench for more than half the game.
Kanter’s biggest competition comes from Portland’s Ed Davis, who’s been as good as any big man off the bench this season. His 6.5 points per game are nearly half what Kanter is averaging, but he makes the most of his opportunities, shooting 61.2 percent from the field. Davis’ defense is far superior to that of Kanter, who only plays 20.8 minutes per game because he can’t stop anybody in the paint. Davis has helped the Trail Blazers move into the No.5 seed after they lost five of their top six scorers from a year ago.
This year’s Sixth Man of the Year award, however, might go to the 2015 NBA Finals MVP. Andre Iguodala isn’t a big man with a high shooting percentage, nor is he a guard that comes off the bench for instant offense. But he’s an integral part of the best regular-season team in league history, which could put him over the edge to get more votes than anyone.
Iguodala averages 7.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game on 48.1 percent field goal shooting, but those numbers only tell part of the story. He’s a key defender for the Golden State Warriors with the ability to guard multiple positions, and he helps facilitate the top offense in the league. He comes off the bench, but Iguodala is part of the best five-man unit in basketball (Iguodala, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green), which scores 144.4 points per every 100 possessions and allows just 95.4 points. When Iguodala is replaced by backups Shaun Livingston or Brandon Rush with that same lineup, the Warriors aren’t nearly as effective.
He could lose some votes because he missed about 20 percent of the season with an injury, but Iguodala’s impact on an all-time great team could earn him some more hardware this season.