There is a plethora of impact reserves in the NBA, but the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year race consists of a reigning champion and a bunch of other guys.
There is one awards race in the NBA in 2019-20 in which there is a very clear favorite before the first ball is tossed up on Oct. 22 and that is the race for Sixth Man of the Year.
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It’s the Lou Williams dynasty and the rest of the reserves in the NBA are fighting for second place. Williams has been as productive as any bench player in NBA history over the last five seasons, ranking as what is now a finalist (finishing in the top three in the voting) for Sixth Man of the Year in four of the last five years and winning it three times.
The one season he wasn’t a finalist, 2015-16, he was ineligible because he started more games than he came off the bench. Last season, Williams joined Jamal Crawford as the only three-time Sixth Man of the Year recipient while also becoming just the third player — along with Kevin McHale and Detlef Schrempf — to win the award in back-to-back years.
The voting for Sixth Man of the Year last season included an anomaly. It was the first time ever two players who spent the entire campaign with the same team finished in the top three in the voting, with Williams winning and LA Clippers teammate Montrezl Harrell placing third.
The only other time two guys from the same squad finished in the top three was in 2016-17, when Eric Gordon won the voting and Williams was third, but Williams had been picked up by the Houston Rockets at the trade deadline after spending most of the year with the Los Angeles Lakers.
I mean, wouldn’t one of them be — by default — the best seventh man in the NBA?
When evaluating candidates for Sixth Man of the Year, there is no one set of criteria to follow. Some guys are pure scorers, instant offense off the pine, a la Ricky Pierce. Others are in the McHale mold, big guys who bang and dominate up front against second units.
And others are in the middle, role players who do a little of everything and whatever their team needs from them on a given night.
It can be argued that in the load management era of the NBA, reserves have never been more important to a team’s success. Yes, you still need your stars to carry the mail, but backups are playing more minutes than ever and that creates opportunities for more of them to stand out.
In 2008-09, 46 NBA players averaged at least 35 minutes per game, per Basketball-Reference, led by the 39.9 a night played by Andre Iguodala of the Philadelphia 76ers, who also played in all 82 games (a feat accomplished by 30 players that season).
Ten years later, in 2018-19, just seven players averaged more than 35 minutes a game, led by the 36.9 averaged by Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, who did play in all 82 games, something done by only 21 players.
Bottom line? Depth matters more than it may ever have. That makes the Sixth Man of the Year discussion that much more valid in 2019-20.
Here are the top 10 candidates for the honor.