Sixth Man Rankings: Series of Statement Games Start Tonight

Markieff  & Marcus Morris Suns As I predicted two weeks ago, the Sixth Man Award race has heated back up. With Reggie Jackson and Manu Ginobili returning to their roles on the bench for their respective teams, Markieff Morris has finally found some serious competition for the award.

With 30-plus games left for each team on the schedule, there are bound to be several key games ahead that could help determine the winner of this award.

As luck would have it, Manu Ginobili’s return to full strength came in the same week that the Spurs had to fly out to Phoenix.

Tonight’s matchup is noteworthy for several reasons:

While the Spurs sit three games ahead of Houston for second place in the Western Conference, they still have work to do to prove they’re capable of beating the other Western Conference contenders. Wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland this week were good starts, but a loss tonight in Phoenix would halt momentum.

With Tony Parker out for the next few games, the onus is on Ginobili to carry the Spurs to a win in Phoenix tonight. If he could deliver a big night and help the Spurs continue their hot tear, he would help his case for the top spot in this award.

Meanwhile, if Morris comes up big tonight in a statement win for Phoenix, he too would help his candidacy. Because the Sixth Man Award has traditionally gone to perimeter players, Morris must keep up his impressive play and the Suns must continue to win if he wants to remain relevant in the conversation.

There’s also this:

San Antonio has won both matchups against Phoenix so far this season, but both games displayed star performances from the Sixth Man candidates.

In their first meeting, Morris had arguably his best game of the season with 23 points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. Regardless, the Spurs narrowly held on for a 99-96 victory.

In their second meeting, it was Ginobili’s turn to show off. He went for 24 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists in only 27 minutes of action as the Spurs again narrowly held on for a 108-101 victory.

Tonight, Round 3 of their battle could add to the narrative even further.

Here are some other critical statement games that will be coming our way in the near future:

1. March 6th: Phoenix at Oklahoma City

2. April 3rd: San Antonio v. Oklahoma City.

3. April 6th: Oklahoma City v. Phoenix

We’re in for a fun end of the season.

Now, on to the rankings.

RANK Player RUNDOWN RECENT
1 Oklahoma City Thunder REGGIE JACKSON, G, OKLAHOMA CITY: With Russell Westbrook’s return to the starting lineup, Jackson returns to his rightful place atop the Sixth Man Rankings. He’s started 30 of his team’s 56 games, which means he’ll become eligible for the award by early March as long Westbrook stays healthy.
2 SAS_Ginobili_Manu MANU GINOBILI, G, SAN ANTONIO: Ginobili came back from injury earlier than expected and proceeded to help the Spurs win two statement games over the Clippers and Blazers. Ginobili answered all questions about his health going for 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in under 20 minutes of action against Portland.
3 Phoenix Suns MARKIEFF MORRIS, F, PHOENIX: Came out of All-Star Weekend with a double-double in a win over Denver and then went for 18 points in a win over Boston. His demotion in the rankings is not a reflection of regressed play as much as it’s a reflection on Jackson and Ginobili’s re-emergences. 1
4 Alec Burks headshot ALEC BURKS, G, UTAH: Continued his hot scoring with a 23-point surge against Brooklyn on Wednesday. He’s gone for 20+ points in five of his team’s last eight games. Utah, once the worst team in the league, now stands ahead of six other teams. 2
5 Taj Gibson headshot TAJ GIBSON, F, CHICAGO: Chicago, post-Deng, is perhaps the hottest team in the Eastern Conference and Gibson’s play is a main reason why. Chicago’s won four straight, including a statement win over Toronto on Wednesday that pushed them within a half-game of the three seed in the East. 
4

DROPOUTS: Jeremy Lin (3); Nick Young (5)

FIVE TO WATCH: Jeremy Lin, G, Houston; James Johnson, F, Memphis; Jordan Crawford, G, Golden State; Rodney Stuckey, G, Detroit; Mike Scott, F, Atlanta.

OTHER RANKINGS: Rookie | Most Improved | MVP | Power Rankings

Jacob Eisenberg is a student at Emory University, spending the spring semester abroad in Brazil, and covers the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. Check out his website and click here to follow him on Twitter. 


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