Sixth Man Rankings: Where Does Deron Williams Fit in the Conversation?

Deron Williams practicing free throwsWhen Deron Williams returned to the court on January 20th to face the Knicks after a five-game absence, coach Jason Kidd decided to take an unexpected gamble. Instead of reinserting the three-time All Star into the starting lineup, Kidd told Williams he would ease back into the rotation by coming off the bench.

Now, five games later, Kidd’s experiment appears to be paying dividends. Williams has refocused his game as a sixth man. No longer looking to carry his offense’s scoring load, Williams has upped his assist totals from 6.9 as a starter to 8.2 off the bench (simultaneously decreasing his turnovers from 2.8 to 2.0)  — pacing Brooklyn to a 4-1 record.

His minutes haven’t decreased — he’s still right around 30 per game — but his production in every category but scoring has exploded. Against lesser talent on opposing teams’ benches, Williams has used his size and skill to overpower his opponents.  His rebounding totals have nearly doubled from 2.2 to 3.8 and he’s stealing the ball more effectively as well.

But Williams’ impact as a sixth man isn’t limited to his own individual stats.

Since the 29-year-old returned from injury, enigmatic teammate Andray Blatche has averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in just 25 minutes per game. Blatche has always been considered a volume scorer and was forced to assume a larger role in his team’s offense after Brook Lopez went down for the season with a foot injury. With Williams facilitating, Blatche has become a rather efficient scorer. He’s shooting 58% from the field since Williams’ return.

Fortunately for the Nets, Williams’ game compliments Shaun Livingston’s style extremely well. Livingston is 6-7 with a near 7-foot wingspan which enables him to defend bigger guards. He also has an tireless motor on defense and can assume tougher defensive responsibilities, taking that task away from Williams. On offense, Livingston has great court vision and can often set Williams up for open shots.

This gives Williams more energy to do what he does best — make plays on offense. Per, the Nets’ Livingston-Williams-Johnson-Pierce-Garnett lineup has yielded a cumulative net rating of +11 points, a team best.

Reed Wallach of SBNation broke down some game film that really hammer these points home:

Sure, five games is a small sample size to draw definitive conclusions. And sure, the Nets’ season started to turn around weeks before Williams was inserted as the team’s sixth man. However, at this point, Williams in a permanent sixth man role looks like it could make the Nets a serious threat to the Pacers and Heat out East.

Now, on to the rankings.

1 Phoenix Suns MARKIEFF MORRIS, F, PHOENIX: Phoenix has won five of their last six. Morris logged perhaps the most impressive night of his short NBA career last Sunday, exploding for 27 points and 15 rebounds against the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. 1
2   Deron Williams Head Shot DERON WILLIAMS, G, BROOKLYN: Williams currently has 22 starts and five games off the bench under his belt. If the Nets continue to thrive, he should be content to remain his the sixth man role — and thereby qualify for the award. If so, expect the race to come down to three players — Morris, Williams and Reggie Jackson (should Russell Westbrook return in time from injury to allow Jackson to quaify).
3 UTA_Burks_Alec

ALEC BURKS, G, UTAH: He only played twice last week and wasn’t particularly spectacular in either performance. Still, due to the Jazz going 2-0, Burks moves up by default. He’s averaging nearly 15-4-3 over his past 10 games. Once we have a better picture of whether Jackson will qualify, it still looks like the three-man race referenced above.

4 UTA_Williams_Mo MO WILLIAMS, G, PORTLAND: The Blazers had a particularly bad week, dropping two important games to Western Conference foes by 15+ points. Williams’ week was even worse. He’s averaged 4.5 points on 25% from the field with a 1:1 A/TO ratio over his last two games. He needs a big month of February to rejoin the discussion. 3
5 SAC_Evans_Tyreke TYREKE EVANS, G, NEW ORLEANS: The Pelicans dropped nine straight before going on a mini run. Now, they’ve won three of their last four. Evans has been nicked by injuries and illness in 2014 but put up 23-7-7 last Sunday to guide his team past Orlando.

DROPOUTS: Manu Ginobili (2): Unfortunately for Ginobili, a hamstring injury that is expected to sideline him for 3-4 weeks will probably put the nail in the coffin for his Sixth Man candidacy. Conservatively speaking, he’ll miss at least 10 games. That’s simply too many to overcome for a player who didn’t necessarily have a lead to begin with.

Nick Young (5).

FIVE TO WATCH: Rodney Stuckey, G, Detroit; Vince Carter, F,  Dallas; Luis Scola, F, Indiana; Nate Robinson, G, Denver; Taj Gibson, F, Chicago.

OTHER RANKINGS: RookieMost Improved MVP| Power Rankings

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

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