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Essay: With Harden Out, Who Takes 6th Man Of The Year?

Ah, the Sixth Man of the Year award. Obviously not as special as Most Valuable Player or Defensive Player of the Year, but still, fans seem to have a special affinity with it—the endearing concept of this “spark plug” who comes off the bench and tries to be as electric as possible while the starters sit.

Last year, new Rockets guard James Harden won the award, coming off the bench for 60 out of 62 games, and averaging around 17 points per game. With Harden out of Oklahoma City, it’s fair to say he’ll probably be starting, and many NBA analysts will have to change their pick for a potential winner. The crop of possibilities contain a few previous winners. No winner has repeated since Detlef Schrempf in the 1991-92 season, but it’s hard to pick otherwise, due to the production of some of these previous winners and their roles on their teams.

It seems the early favorites for the award this year should read: Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry, and, a dark horse, J.J. Redick. Some people may ask why I didn’t include names like Lou Williams (runner up in Sixth Man of the Year votes last season) or Jamal Crawford (former Sixth Man of the Year winner), but in my opinion these two have some questions regarding whether or not they’ll actually come off the bench enough. Crawford could start on the Clippers with Billups injured, and who knows what will happen when he returns. If the team is looking good, Crawford may remain starting, especially if he has a career year like many are predicting (including me).

Williams looks like he’ll be Atlanta’s sixth man, but if Anthony Morrow doesn’t play effectively or gets injured (he has a checkered past), he might be forced to start. Both are candidates, but not as strong as these guys in front of them.

Manu Ginobili’s name always comes up when discussing potential winners, and for good reason. He’s been a consistent 16 points per game off the bench for almost half a decade now (which netted him the award in the 2007-08 season), and clearly he relishes the role. Next season should be no different, as the formula where he comes off the bench has given the Spurs a ton of success.

Some may point out a meek 13 points per game average last season, his potentially reduced minutes, and increased production from other Spur’s players as obstacles, but considering how most of these candidates have question marks, it seems Manu is one of the safer options to pick.

Jason Terry is also a previous winner of the award (2008-09) and he may take home another one this year. Leaving the Mavericks this off-season for the Celtics, Terry joins a team that had anemic bench production last year. He should get plenty of shots, plenty of media coverage, and will most likely come off the bench every game this season even if Courtney Lee gets injured, due to the Celtics depth. Jeff Green looking like he’ll have a career season and potentially make a Sixth Man of the Year bid himself hurts Terry’s case however, and it’ll be interesting to see if they take votes away from each other.

Redick next season reminds me of former winner Mike Miller’s situation in 2005-06 on the Memphis Grizzlies. Both are elite shooters, both have solid starters in front of them (Aaron Afflalo and Eddie Jones, respectively), and both look to be on poor offensive teams. J.J. Redick will get plenty of shots on a bad Orlando Magic team, and with his excellent shooting it seems he’ll make the most of them. Redick’s career high is only 11.6 points per game, but Miller won the award in 2005-06 only scoring around 14 points per game. Redick will probably see his scoring average rise, and considering how the voters do have a history of selecting a similar player, it won’t be surprising to see him raising the award over his head. J.J is definitely a dark horse, but don’t sleep on him completely.

An interesting name that most would not probably think of when thinking of potential Sixth Man of the Year winners is Taj Gibson of the Chicago Bulls. A defensive stalwart, he doesn’t really put up the stats (career eight points per game and six rebounds per game) normally attributed to Sixth Man of the Year winners. The last big man to win the award, Lamar Odom in 2010-11, put up 14 and nine.

Taj’s new situation seems like he might have the minutes and opportunity to make a run at the award. With Omer Asik heading to Houston, and Coach Thibs not being afraid to cut Boozer and Noah’s minutes, it wouldn’t shock me to see Taj play slightly below 30 minutes per game. Considering his production minute by minute (He put up nine points and eight rebounds per game in 27 minutes in the 2009-10 season), it wouldn’t shock me to see him producing numbers similar to Odom’s in his award-winning season. Taj definitely isn’t a favorite to win the award, but his situation combined with his own production makes him an intriguing case.

Many potential candidates for the award next year have question marks, and unlike last year where Harden was the clear favorite from beginning to end, the race this year looks to be a lot closer, and a lot more exciting.

Twitter: @CjEuLnTICS


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