Sixth Man Rankings: Waiting for the Contenders to Come Back

JR SmithGood news, everyone: It’s too early to be a downer about the Sixth Man race.

While the candidates look admittedly boring today, we’re not even at the All-Star break yet. There are events coming in the not-so-distant future that will make this race exciting.

For now, the candidates just seem disappointing because we’re still spoiled from last year’s perfect storm.

In 2012-2013, we had J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford and Jarrett Jack dueling it out for the top spot on a weekly basis. They were all indispensable sparkplug scorers for playoff-bound teams. They made the race fun by taking turns putting on memorable performances in the nationally televised regular season games. It became one of the most entertaining Sixth Man Award races in recent history because each candidate deserved so much consideration.

When 2013-2014 started, it looked like Smith, Crawford and Jack were going to have newfound competition from the likes of Tyreke Evans and Harrison Barnes.

Unfortunately, Evans has been nabbed by injuries all season and Barnes has simply failed to live up to his sophomore expectations.

Beyond the newcomers failing to meet their hype, the candidates we took for granted going into the season are currently off the radar this year.

Smith’s nightmare postseason from last year has flowed seamlessly into a nightmare regular season. While he’s slowly starting to turn it around (18.7 points over his last 10 games!), the hole he dug himself in the awards race (and with his own fans) appears too deep to overcome now.

Crawford was a promising candidate at the start of the year. He held control of the rankings for most of last season and looked poised to reclaim his spot atop the rankings for this season. However, in December he was inserted into the Clippers’ starting lineup to fill in for injuries. He has stayed in the starting lineup ever since.

Fortunately, Crawford figures to return to the bench soon as Chris Paul gets set to return to the court. Our award race will get instantly more compelling when Crawford gets more reps in from off the bench. But for at least one more week, he’s on the outside looking in.

Jack’s failure to recapture last year’s numbers has an obvious correlation to the team he’s currently playing for. Last year, with Golden State, he had an enviable role as the Warriors’ third guard. Surrounded by lethal shooters and playmakers, Jack thrived with newfound space and trust in the offense.

Now, playing in Cleveland, Jack’s team is horrendous and it’s affecting his abilities to contribute effectively. His scoring is down considerably (from 12.9 points to 8.9) and his distributing has been fallen off as well (from 5.6 assists to 3.7). While some projected him to be a favorite for the award entering the season, he now looks untradeable due to his enormous contract.

So as we stand here today, two weeks before the trade deadline, the fate of this year’s Sixth Man Award race hangs on the shoulders of Oklahoma City’s training staff.

When Russell Westbrook does return from injury, Reggie Jackson will instantaneously return to the top of rankings and serve as a worthy challenger to Markieff Morris (and hopefully Jamal Crawford).

Jackson has 26 starts on the season in comparison to only 25 games off the bench.

While Westbrook’s return date is undetermined, it looks like Jackson will return to his sixth man role sooner rather than later:

If this is true, we should expect to see a competitive and high quality race by early March. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Now, on to the rankings…

RANK Player RUNDOWN RECENT
1 Phoenix Suns MARKIEFF MORRIS, F, PHOENIX: “Morris is one of four players age 24 or younger who averages at least 18 points and eight rebounds per 36 minutes. You might have heard of the other three: Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.” – ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh 1
2   UTA_Burks_Alec ALEC BURKS, G, UTAH: Burks’ improvements from last season are enormous. Despite playing in 16 fewer games so far, he’s already blown past his previous career-high scoring, assisting and rebounding totals. Over his last 10 games, he’s averaged 17-3-3. At only 22, there’s a lot to like about his future. 3
3 PHI_Young_Nick

NICK YOUNG, G, LA LAKERS: Young is the only player on the rankings who fits the mold of the traditional Sixth Man Award winners. He’s a deadly scorer and has been putting up big 20-point performances on a regular basis since mid-December. If the Lakers were winning, he’d have a serious shot at the award.

4 CHI_Gibson_Taj TAJ GIBSON, F, CHICAGO: Tom Thibodeau has been advocating for Gibson’s candidacy all season. Now, it’s finally time to give the big man his due. He’s averaging a career high 12.2 points and also contributes 6.4 boards per night. His defense is also outstanding.
5 UTA_Williams_Mo MO WILLIAMS, G, PORTLAND: When he announced his plans to opt out of his contract after the season, it looked like a reasonable decision. Unfortunately for him, his production has dropped off considerably in the month since. Over his last 10 games, he’s averaged 7.4 points and 3.8 assists. Simply put: he might want to reconsider leaving guaranteed money on the table. 
4

DROPOUTS: Deron Williams (2): Williams returned to Brooklyn’s starting lineup against Philadelphia and looks poised to start again for the remainder of the season. Tyreke Evans (5).

FIVE TO WATCH: Vince Carter, F, Dallas; J.R. Smith, G,  New York; Ramon Sessions, G, Charlotte; James Johnson, F, Memphis; Mike Scott, F, Atlanta.

OTHER RANKINGS: RookieMost 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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