Spurs' Ginobili goes to the basket past Miami's Wade during Game 5 of the NBA Finals in San Antonio

The Extra Pass: Breaking down the race for Sixth Man of the Year

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The Sixth Man of the Year award usually isn’t that close of a race, and often times one player rises above the rest to the point where his winning it in a given season is a foregone conclusion.

J.R. Smith won by a wide margin last year, thanks to being every bit as important to the Knicks as Carmelo Anthony in helping lead them to the second best record in the Eastern Conference. And the season before, James Harden was even more dominant in helping propel the Thunder to an NBA Finals appearance.

It’s a little tighter than usual this year, but one player would still appear to be the runaway favorite — if only he can manage to qualify.

There’s a field of five players that can try to stake a legitimate claim to having earned the honor of the most super sub: Jamal Crawford, Manu Ginobili, Markieff Morris, Reggie Jackson and Taj Gibson, and we’ll look at some of the advanced numbers for each. But Crawford of the Clippers stands out above all others, as long as he doesn’t finish the season starting too many of his team’s games.

In order to be eligible, a player has to come off the bench in more games than he’s started. This may prove problematic for Crawford, who already has 23 starts under his belt, though he has come off the bench in his last two games as he returned to the lineup after battling a calf injury. But should he remain in a reserve role for the bulk of the rest of the season, the numbers would seem to say that the award should be his.

Crawford is by far the highest scoring bench player with his average of 18.4 points per game, and his usage rate is highest among the other true candidates for the award, as well. His team’s net rating when he’s on the floor — the difference between points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions — is third among the players we’ve mentioned, but more than respectable at a +6.9.

If Crawford should start too many games to finish the season, Manu Ginobili — who’s a close second due to his role in the Spurs continued success — would be a more than capable replacement.

Ginobili has played the fewest minutes of anyone on this list, due to being sidelined by injury as well as his coach’s propensity to give his veterans some rest. But his impact has been the greatest in his time on the floor, with lineups he’s appeared in having a net rating of +14.1, the biggest margin by far of any of the other candidates.

Morris has been a part of the surprising success the Suns have seen this season, but while he’s simply pedestrian in his affect on net rating, he dominates the other candidates in both win shares (5.5) and win shares per 48 minutes (.144), using the calculations of Basketball-Reference.

Simply put, win shares is a metric that estimates the number of wins a player produces for his team, though the calculations that go into it are quite complex. It’s just another way to measure impact, and Morris has been the key reserve for Phoenix all year long, even taking home a Conference Player of the Week honor back near the beginning of the season.

The final two candidates on our list will likely get some votes, but neither has a great case to pass one of the three we’ve already mentioned.

Reggie Jackson has been capable off the bench for the Thunder, stepping in to provide some consistent scoring and defense after the team lost Kevin Martin in free agency. Like Crawford, the amount of games Jackson has started (33) may disqualify him before the season is finished. But even if it doesn’t, while his 13.3 points per game have been appreciated and the net rating when he’s on the floor is a legit +9.3, his win share numbers are below average and it’s tough to argue that his impact has been anywhere near as great as the others in the conversation.

Taj Gibson of the Bulls has surged in this category recently, thanks to remarks made by his head coach, Tom Thibodeau. And, averages of 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds while playing more minutes than anyone on this list certainly deserves consideration. But the lineup data isn’t on his side as strongly as it is with the others, and the teams with better showings in the standings are likely to get a longer look than are the over-achieving Bulls, who currently sit in fourth in the East.

The award, in all likelihood, is Crawford’s to lose. But it wouldn’t at all be a surprise for Ginobili to sneak in there and steal it given both his level of contribution, as well as the Spurs’ season-long dominance. Morris is the clear-cut choice for third if the voters are paying attention, with Gibson and Jackson in some order the most likely to round out the top five.

 

DeMar DeRozan powers Raptors past Trail Blazers, 112-106

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles against the Boston Celtics  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 23, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) DeMar DeRozan scored 33 points, Serge Ibaka added 18 and the Toronto Raptors beat the Portland Trail Blazers 112-106 on Sunday night.

The Raptors won their third in a row and wrapped up a second straight season sweep of Portland. They previously had beaten the Trail Blazers 95-91 in Portland on Dec. 26.

Damian Lillard scored 28 points for the Trail Blazers, who got 18 from Maurice Harkless.

Up 98-96 with 4:41 remaining, the Raptors scored the next six points, with back-to-back jump shots from Ibaka and a pair of free throws from DeRozan putting them up by eight with 3:16 remaining.

The Trail Blazers answered with six straight converted free throws sandwiched around a three-point play from Cory Joseph, before Lillard drove on Ibaka and converted the layup to cut the lead to 107-104 with 1:42 to play.

But DeRozan scored the next four points, hitting a jump shot and two free throws to put the Raptors up by seven with 30 seconds to play.

In a back-and-forth first quarter featuring 11 lead changes, Portland took control, overcoming 12 points from DeRozan to emerge with a 28-25 edge after 12 minutes.

Al-Farouq Aminu led the way for the Trail Blazers in the second with nine points as they extended their advantage to 12 points with 4:52 to play in the half. But the Raptors shot 61 percent in the period and went on a 15-2 run to close out the quarter and head into halftime lead 53-52.

Toronto scored the first six points of the third quarter to extend its lead, but Lillard had 10 points in the period to the Trail Blazers stay close. They retook the lead with 1:47 to play, before the Raptors surged back to enter the fourth up 82-80.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: G Evan Turner and C Festus Ezeli (left knee) did not play.

Raptors: G Kyle Lowry (right wrist) missed the game. Joseph made just his third start of the season in his place. . Toronto has now completed season sweeps against five teams this season (Brooklyn, Denver, Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers).

LACK OF LOWRY

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Lowry’s sore right wrist was assessed over the weekend and it was still structurally sound.

“The images weren’t significant, there was no significant showing,” he said. “So it’s going to be day-to-day, treated symptomatically. Swelling’s gone down, so that’s a good sign. So we’ll see. He’ll be a day-to-day thing. It wasn’t broken, so that helps.”

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Visit Detroit on Tuesday looking to snap a three-game losing streak against the Pistons.

Raptors: Visit New York on Monday aiming for a sixth straight win over the Knicks.

Late 5-point possession lifts Celtics over Pistons 104-98

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15:  Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics in action against the New York Knicks during the second half of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Jaylen Brown sank a 3-pointer from the right corner while being fouled with 37.6 seconds remaining, part of a five-point possession for Boston that lifted the Celtics to a 104-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.

The Celtics were down 96-95 when Brown connected while being fouled by Marcus Morris. Brown missed the ensuing free throw, but Detroit couldn’t come up with the rebound, and Tobias Harris was called for a loose-ball foul. Marcus Smart added two free throws to put Boston up 100-96.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, but he went 1 of 11 on free throws and was taken out for some key possessions toward the end to prevent Boston from fouling him.

Detroit went 16 of 35 from the line, while the Celtics were 24 of 30.

The Pistons rallied from a 15-point third-quarter deficit and led 96-95 when Reggie Jackson missed a 3-pointer with just under a minute remaining. That gave the Celtics a chance to take the lead, and Brown capitalized.

HONORED

The Pistons retired Richard Hamilton’s No. 32 during a halftime ceremony attended by several other players from Detroit’s 2004 championship team.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas has scored at least 20 points in 43 straight games. … Boston led 54-50 at halftime and began the third quarter with a 13-2 run. … The Celtics were without G Avery Bradley, who was out with a sore right Achilles tendon.

Pistons: Detroit recalled forward Henry Ellenson and guards Darrun Hilliard and Michael Gbinije from the team’s Grand Rapids affiliate in the D-League. They did not play.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Host the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.

Pistons: Host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Russell Westbrook scores 41 in triple-double as Thunder top Pelicans (VIDEO)

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Russell Westbrook scored 41 points in his 29th triple-double of the season to help the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 118-110 on Sunday night.

Westbrook had 21 points in the fourth quarter. He shot 7 for 19 from the field the first three quarters and was 7 for 10 in the fourth. He also had 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the 66th triple-double of his career.

Enes Kanter had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Steven Adams added 13 points and 10 boards for the Thunder, who won their third straight.

Anthony Davis scored 38 points and DeMarcus Cousins had 31 points and 10 rebounds, but he played just 22 minutes and fouled out while getting dunked on by Westbrook. The Pelicans fell to 0-3 since acquiring Cousins in a trade with Sacramento.

Mike Conley scores 31 as Grizzlies beat Nuggets 105-98

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DENVER (AP) Mike Conley scored 31 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, and the Memphis Grizzles held off the Denver Nuggets 105-98 on Sunday.

Zach Randolph finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds for Memphis, which snapped a two-game skid. Marc Gasol chipped in 23 points and found his mark from long range by hitting three 3-pointers.

The Grizzlies have now won four straight in Denver – an intriguing run, considering they’re just 9-32 all-time in the Mile High City.

Danilo Gallinari had 24 points as Denver dropped to 0-12 this season when failing to reach the 100-point plateau.

The Grizzlies outscored the Nuggets 21-13 in second-chance points and outrebounded them by a 49-39 margin. What’s more, Memphis finished 22 of 25 from the free throw line.

Before the game, Memphis coach David Fizdale talked about needing someone outside the usual cast to step up down the stretch.

Once again, though, Conley raised his hand – and game. He gave the Grizzlies the lead for good on a pair of free throws with 7:54 remaining, the start of a 7-0 run that gave them some separation.

Nikola Jokic was more assertive after back-to-back shaky performances. He finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

Jokic has indicated he’s feeling drained. Nuggets coach Michael Malone understands, but said everyone in the league is worn out this time of year.

“The great players and the great teams find a way to fight through it and get their second wind and get ready for the postseason,” said Malone, whose team is narrowly holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. “I hope that’s what our guys can do.”

TIP-INS

Grizzlies: G/F Vince Carter picked up a technical late in the second quarter. … F/C Brandan Wright isn’t with the team for personal reasons. … F JaMychal Green had 10 rebounds.

Nuggets: All five starters scored in double figures. … F Kenneth Faried didn’t play due to a sore lower back. … Denver recalled rookie G Malik Beasley from Sioux Falls of the NBA Development League. He didn’t play Sunday. … C Roy Hibbert was in uniform after being acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline. He didn’t get into the game.

NEW ROLE

Emmanuel Mudiay has dealt with a troublesome back, inconsistent play and now a demotion. Usually a starter since being taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft, he’s backing up Jamal Murray and Jameer Nelson.

“My message to him is this is not set in stone,” Malone said. “A lot of things can change – continue to work and continue to stay ready.”

UP NEXT

Grizzlies: Host Phoenix on Tuesday as Memphis tries to complete the season sweep of the Suns.

Nuggets: Open a two-game road swing Tuesday in Chicago.