(VIA Ball Don’t Lie) With a limiting lack of standout candidates, NBA media voters fell back on something comfortable when taking the time to pick this season’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. Los Angeles Clipper guard Jamal Crawford has won it yet again, for the third time in his 16-year career.
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The Clipper guard averaged 14.2 points on 40 percent shooting in 27 minutes a game, adding over three assists a contest. He came off the bench in 74 of his 79 appearances with a Clipper team that earned the fourth seed in the West despite missing Blake Griffin for 47 games.
Crawford received 55 first place votes in the 130-voter tally, with second place Golden State point forward Andre Iguodala garnering the second-most top ticks at 33. Third place Thunder big man Enes Kanter and Denver scorer Will Barton also received double-digit first place votes.
This was not Crawford’s best season, but he still remained an understandable candidate. The combo guard fits the ideal portrait of who is typically considered to be a top Sixth Man Award vote-getter.
Crawford can be instant offense off a Clipper pine that often badly needed a shot in the arm, and his pedigree (winning the award with the Atlanta Hawks in 2010 and Clippers in 2014) and relationship with the media (JC has long been one of the more agreeable and thoughtful quotes in the NBA; he truly is one of the league’s great people) no doubt helped sway some voters.
With that in place, there are myriad holes to the Crawford argument. Some self-inflicted, some caused by stellar years from those ranked behind him.
If you take out Crawford’s five starts this season (games that saw him average 23.4 points per game), Jamal’s bench average dips down to 13.5 points per game. He shot below the league’s average on three-pointers, making just 34 percent of them despite the fact that the bomb is a hallmark of his game. He remains one of the league’s most rebounding-averse guards, Crawford isn’t much of a playmaker, and his defense remains well, well below average.
None of this should surprise anyone, nor is it Crawford’s fault. It’s the logical extension of a career that has dated back to 2000, with Jamal turning 36 a month before the playoffs hit. Still, weren’t there more credible candidates?
Denver’s Barton offered around the same points per contest in a minute more per game, shooting the same percentage from long range, but he was a more efficient scorer overall while acting as one of the NBA’s best rebounding guard (at 5.8 a game in just 28 minutes a contest). If you’re looking for a Crawford-type, shouldn’t he have the edge? Or was he not on national TV enough?
If you’re looking for an offense-only spark, Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter would seem to be two or three full strides ahead of Crawford and Barton. His defense remains suspect (though it has improved), and he contributed 12.7 rebounds and 8.1 rebounds in only 21 minutes a game (as compared to Crawford’s 27 and Barton’s 28). He shot 57 percent from the field, led the NBA in offensive rebounding rate, acted as a killer pick and roll and/or broken play force for the Thunder, while working on a team that far outpaced the Clippers on the offensive end.
Then there is Golden State’s Andre Iguodala, the No Stats All-Star that many assumed would easily take the award after a ridiculously effective season.
As the leader of not only Golden State’s bench unit but also the team’s most productive lineup, Iguodala changed each game he took part in with his all-out brand of supremely skilled play. Though he contributed in myriad ways, Dre averaged just seven points and four rebounds, with 3.4 assists and a steal in 26 minutes. He still topped Crawford in three-point shooting percentage, and bettered just about anyone not named “Kawhi” with his defensive acumen on the wing.
Voters seem to have a type, though, which is why the scorer took the award yet again. Even if he wasn’t the most efficient or even top (New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson and 2014-15 winner Lou Williams bested Crawford’s average, though on lottery-bound teams) scorer off the bench this year.
The rest of the voting ledger was relatively drama-free. Names like Shaun Livingston, Boris Diaw, Evan Turner, Patrick Patterson, J.J. Barea, and Allen Crabbe all received rightful recognition for their fine work in reserve this season.
The NBA’s Sixth Man Award, outside of a sponsorship tag, remains nameless. Despite the uncertainty behind this year’s voting, it would be quite apt if the NBA decided to rename the trophy after Jamal Crawford following his retirement. It’s true that Hall of Famers like Frank Ramsey, John Havlicek and Kevin McHale helped establish the role, but since 2009 no player in league history has personified the Sixth Man ideal – the gunner, meant to ruin your team’s second quarter – as Jamal Crawford has.