NBA 7th Man of the Year ballot so far this season: 4. Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson has only played six games so far for the Pacers but has arguably been the most impactful player on this list.
You probably heard, but Stephenson stole all of Kyrie’s shine with a record-breaking first quarter:
Despite having played 298 games with the Pacers before this season, Stephenson ended that night with his Pacers-career-high in points (30) and followed it up just a few games later with his actual career-high in assists (14).
At just 31 years old, Lance is still in great shape for a guy who last played in the NBA in 2019. He still makes the occasional head-scratching decision, but Indiana won’t complain about his 48 percent from the field, 13 points, and five assists per game on a team starved for quality creation.
Stephenson’s currently second on Indiana in on/off point differential and adds dynamism to an often-stagnant offense.
His ball-handling sizzle and shotmaking create the highlights, but his willingness to create for others and physical defense is what will keep him on the floor in crunch time.
It’s hard to tell how much of this is just a flash in the pan, but Indiana is likely to pick up his contract for the rest of the year, and he looks poised to be a crucial part in the Pacer’s efforts to salvage their season.
Nobody in the league makes ’em dance quite like Lance. Here’s hoping he can air-guitar Indiana back into the play-in mix.
NBA 7th Man of the Year ballot so far this season: 3. Joe Ingles, Jazz
Joe Ingles would’ve been the number one choice here last year, but has slipped a bit this season. Regardless, Ingles brings a steady presence on both sides of the ball that helps the Jazz manufacture points and get stops even when Donovan Mitchell sits (per Cleaning the Glass, Jazz lineups with Ingles and without Mitchell are +12.7 points per 100 possessions, in the 96th percentile league-wide).
Ingles’ greatest strength lies in his versatility. He splits his time equally between spotting up off-ball (where he’s shooting 38.1% on catch-and-shoots) and running the pick-and-roll, where Synergy Sports grades him as a top-decile ballhandler and passer.
Ingles has lost a half-step on defense, but he’s still bigger than people realize and knows exactly what to do in the Jazz’s system. His top defensive matchups include Buddy Hield (who has shot just 16.7% with Ingles as the primary defender across three games) and Brandon Ingram (who hasn’t made a bucket in seven minutes of matchup time against Joe).
Ingles’ jack-of-all-trades skillset lets him fill any role the Jazz need on a given night and makes him an essential part of their playoff rotation.
NBA 7th Man of the Year ballot so far this season: 2. Cody Martin
Cody Martin has jumped from 16 minutes last season to nearly 27 minutes per game this season, no easy feat on a deep Hornets squad. He’s shooting 48 percent both from the field and from range (where he led the league in percentage for a while), and he’s flashed a surprising amount of offensive versatility and passing ability.
He also leaps mountains:
Close observers of the Hornets know that Martin has had as many massive dunks this year as the high-flying Miles Bridges. Cody is a rocket ship on the fast break, putting relentless pressure on scrambling transition defenses.
Defensively, he plays with the hustle and try-hard attitude of a guy who knows that NBA minutes are never a guarantee. Martin’s a little overtaxed as the #1 perimeter stopper for a Hornets team without many plus defenders, but he routinely holds his own against the likes of Bradley Beal, Trae Young, and the Curry brothers.
His 6’10” wingspan makes up for his average lateral quickness, and the leaping ability seen above can spook jump shooters.
Cody Martin’s role as a high-energy play finisher and selfless ball mover is perfect for the frenetic Hornets. He’s at his best in an uptempo game on offense, and defensively, he’s already become essential. The Hornets look primed for a playoff run, and you can bet that Martin will be on the court in pivotal moments in Buzz City.
NBA 7th Man of the Year ballot so far this season: 1. Max Strus
Somehow, someway, the Heat just keep taking random guys and turning them into legitimate players.
Max Strus is the latest product from the Miami Development Machine, and he might be one of the best models yet. Max is averaging 15.1 points per game in his last fifteen games on outrageous 49/44/85 (FG%/3P%/FT%) shooting splits. He’s been one of the most efficient scorers in the entire league.
The Heat have had no qualms putting the aggressive Strus in a variety of different actions, and he’s been knocking down threes off the catch even with hands directly in his face:
Strus has a nice handle for a wing, and he loves rejecting screens to catch defenders, expecting a pull-up three, leaning the wrong way. Watch how he uses his crossover to blow past his defender, get into the lane, and rise up for a monster dunk. He was a high-school dunk champion, after all:
Max is an athletic 6’6″, meaning he can guard a variety of positions and doesn’t have to be hidden on defense like Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson. He’s not a lockdown artist, but Strus is a positionally sound defender who knows what to do on that end.
Strus’ emergence has changed the calculus for Miami, whose bench scoring past Herro was a point of concern before the season began. Strus has even been stealing some of Robinson’s late-game minutes, a trend that’s worth watching.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Strus continuing to close out games for Miami even after the Heat’s team is finally whole, and he’s a deserving winner of my very official halfway-mark Seventh Man of the Year Award.