It’s become clear by now that the MVP race is a two-man deal: Kobe and LeBron. And even if the Hawks make the playoffs, the prospect of Al Horford unseating Kevin Durant as Rookie of the Year seems highly unlikely.
Add the Sixth Man of the Year to the list of NBA regular-season awards that don’t require a very diverse debate. But before naming the guy I think has to run away with the hardware, I’ve always held the belief that the Sixth Man trophy has to go to someone on a playoff (or at least above-.500) team. Anyone can put up numbers coming off the bench for a bad team: not only are you getting lots of garbage-time minutes, you’re also getting lots of opportunities to put up a lot of shots in games where your team is getting beat and your green light is brightened. If you’re going to be rewarded for what you do coming off the bench, it should be for a good team, where you’re getting valuable buckets (or boards or assists or steals or whatever it is you do) in meaningful games. History backs me up. The Sixth Man winners of his decade have all been on playoff teams: Leandro Barbosa (’07 Suns), Mike Miller (’06 Grizzlies), Ben Gordon (’05 Bulls), Antawn Jamison (’04 Mavs), Bobby Jackson (’03 Kings), Corliss Williamson (’02 Pistons), Aaron McKie (’01 Sixers) and Rodney Rogers (’00 Suns).
So who’s the man this year? Looking at the ’08 field, I’d take out anyone who’s not in position to be playing beyond mid-April. That includes Ben Gordon, who despite dropping 19 points a game and leading his team in scoring, plays on a borderline-awful Bulls team.
Looking at the League’s quality teams, there are a few notable Sixth Man candidates: Barbosa (16.5 ppg), Jason Maxiell in Detroit (7.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Kyle Korver in Utah (10.1 ppg), Luis Scola in Houston (9.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Jordan Farmar in L.A. (9.5 ppg), Linas Kleiza and J.R. Smith in Denver (11.3 ppg; 10.7 ppg), Jerry Stackhouse in Dallas (10 ppg) and Louis Williams in Philly (11.2 ppg), and if the Blazers can get back into the postseason picture, you have to include Travis Outlaw (13.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
As it stands now, though, the obvious Sixth Man of the Year winner is Manu Ginobili. True, Manu might as well be a starter. And the San Antonio haters probably think Pop just brings him off the bench to pad the team’s trophy collection, because once Manu checks in during the first quarter of a Spurs game, he spends the rest of the night on the floor with the other starters and he’s never not on the court in crunch-time. But since he qualifies as a backup, Manu’s 20.5 points (tops on the Spurs), 5.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists (second to Tony Parker) and 1.6 steals per game (first on the team) makes him the top dog in the Sixth Man field. He’s the go-to guy when the Spurs need a bucket and he delivers, and even on his off shooting nights, he can dominate a game with his gambling defense and just by generally wreaking havoc.