Jamal Crawford‘s excellent play with the Los Angeles Clippers was one of the biggest surprises of the season. By this point, we’re all used to it, but back in October, very few people saw this coming. In the previous season, Crawford played for the Portland Trail Blazers (his only year with the team), where he was extremely unreliable and along with Raymond Felton, took a lot of heat for that team’s failure to reach the postseason. This year, he’s completely turned things around, re-establishing himself as one of the deadliest shooters in the league. Considering all he’s accomplished this season, he’s the obvious front-runner to win the Sixth Man of The Year Award.
It’s hard to quantify just how much Crawford’s excellent scoring ability helps the Clippers. His presence as a weapon off the bench has made this team even deadlier than they were last year. Just when opposing defenses feel content, thinking they’ve held Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at bay, Crawford enters the game and starts draining 3s, and suddenly, the Clippers are ahead by double digits.
But how does Crawford compare against his competition for sixth man honors? Well, there are some other worthy candidates, but none of them have impacted their team quite as much as Crawford. J.R. Smith has been one of the Knicks better scorers this season, averaging a career high 16.8 points per game, but he’s too inconsistent to be considered here. For every game where he gets really hot and scores more than 20 points, there will be another one where he bricks everything in sight and keeps the Knicks out of the game. His low shooting percentage of .403 is a bit of a deal breaker as well. Really, Smith’s year isn’t too far removed from the struggles Crawford encountered in Portland, but since he’s on a good team, the flaws in his game don’t stand out as much.
Then there’s Kevin Martin, who joined the Oklahoma City Thunder in the James Harden trade and has since occupied Harden’s previous role as the sixth man for Oklahoma City. Martin is having a solid year and he’s even shooting the ball a bit better than Crawford (.448 from the field, compared to Crawford’s .440), but he doesn’t have the same impact on the team that Crawford does. He’s averaging 2.6 fewer points a game than Crawford (14.3 to his 16.9), and while he is extremely valuable, you don’t get the feeling the team would be drastically different without him. When Crawford comes into the game, his ability to thrive as a “heat check” guy is unparalleled and allows him to completely take over games. Martin rarely does that, more often yielding to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. This battle is close, but Crawford gets the edge.
Finally, there’s Jarrett Jack of the Golden State Warriors, who is likely the stiffest competition Crawford will face for sixth man honors. To be sure, Jack is having an excellent season, possibly the best of his career, and he’s played a big role in turning the Warriors into a playoff team. Still, his inconsistency down the stretch significantly hurts his chances. He’s only shooting .368 in the month of March, after never shooting below .445 in any other month (well, technically he shot .429 in October, but that was only one game). Jack picked the worst time of the year to go cold, when is team is in the heart of the playoff race. Crawford, on the other hand, is shooting a robust .483 this month, a significant improvement over his usual averages. Performance down the stretch always matters and in that area, Crawford earns a decisive victory over Jack.
Jamal Crawford has proven all the doubters wrong and shown that he is an extremely valuable player. He has helped the Clippers immensely, hitting tons of key shots and giving them a much deeper bench. Plenty of sixth men around the league have done great things this year, but no one is impacting their team the way Crawford has. He’s the obvious choice for Sixth Man Of The Year honors.