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


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.


Doc Rivers: Clippers might blow up roster if they fall short this season

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin DeAndre Jordan, Doc Rivers
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The Clippers have gone 56-26, 57-25 and 56-26 the last three years – clearing the commonly accepted 55-win bar for championship contention.

But they’ve also won only zero, one and one playoff series in that span.

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

The Clippers have had three cracks at it with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan all in their primes, and they’re not afraid to admit the fourth could be their last — that another flameout will force them to ask whether the core has grown stale.

“We’re right on the borderline,” Doc Rivers tells Grantland during a long sit-down at his office. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge. Oklahoma City is on the edge. Memphis, too. We just have to accept it.”

I disagree with Rivers.

It’s so hard to assemble a roster that can win a title, and the Clippers absolutely have one. If they fall short this season, they’ll probably still have a title-contending roster the following year. They shouldn’t throw that away just for the sake of change.

Paul (30), Jordan (27) and Griffin (26) are young enough for the Clippers to remain patient.

Rivers makes a good point later in Lowe’s article:

“You need luck in the West,” he says. “Look at Golden State. They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs. But that’s also a lesson for us: When you have a chance to close, you have to do it.”

The Warriors were the NBA’s best team last season, but they also got plenty of breaks. That’s why they won the title.

The Clippers might need more luck to win a championship, but it wouldn’t be an overwhelming amount. The better a team is, the less luck it needs. The Grizzlies can probably win a title with all the right breaks, but they need more than the Clippers.

It’s about being good enough to win with the right breaks.

The Clippers are that. They’ll probably be that unless they do something drastic.

Unless a lopsided trade comes around, I’d stick with Paul, Griffin and Jordan until they really prove they can’t win together. That would take years. A team not winning a title is not proof it can’t win a title. Every year, multiple teams can win a championship. Obviously, only one does.

Rivers has it good with his big three. This shouldn’t be a make-or-break year for them.

51 Q: Which coaches start the year on the hot seat?

Lionel Hollins
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Going into every season, there are a few coaches under pressure to perform or risk losing their jobs. This season, the operative word there is “few.” Looking around the NBA, most coaches are either new on the job or aren’t in any real danger of losing theirs. There are five brand-new coaches: Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City), Fred Hoiberg (Chicago), Alvin Gentry (New Orleans), Michael Malone (Denver) and Scott Skiles (Orlando). The coaches they replaced were mostly the ones whose names often came up in these discussions. Practically everywhere else, there is either a long track record of success or clear signs that ownership is happy with the job the coach is doing. Coaches who are actually on the hot seat are few and far between. But here are a few who might find themselves in trouble if their teams underperform:

Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns): Two years ago, Hornacek was a Coach of the Year candidate for taking a team that was supposed to be one of the league’s very works and making them into almost a playoff team. Last season was another near-miss. This season, the Suns are once again on the bubble of being a playoff team — there’s a chance they could grab the eighth seed in the Western Conference, if a lot goes right. Hornacek deserves a lot of credit for their sooner-than-expected success. The only reason he’s on this list is the potential for a chemistry disaster on this roster. Between Markieff Morris‘ situation and another attempt at a two-point guard lineup (this time with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight), there’s a lot that could go wrong, and if the Suns fall out of playoff contention. Hornacek could find himself in a little hot water. But that’s unlikely.

Lionel Hollins (Brooklyn Nets): Hollins has always felt like something of a short-term solution in Brooklyn. The Nets tried going young at the head coaching spot with Jason Kidd, who clashed with management over control before leaving for Milwaukee. This Nets roster is middling at best — some solid veterans, not a lot of young talent, no future hope to speak of unless they land a marquee free agent next summer. Their ceiling is the eighth seed and a first-round exit; their floor is a lot worse than that. It would take a catastrophic start to the year for Hollins to lose his job during the season, but there isn’t exactly a lot of long-term security in his position.

Derek Fisher (New York Knicks): It’s hard to see Phil Jackson firing his protege less than two years in, but the Knicks enter the season with the goal of competing for a playoff spot and a lot of potential to be worse than that. Don’t rule out James Dolan stepping in.

Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets): Clifford’s chances of losing his job during the season basically disappeared when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went down with a shoulder injury that will likely keep him out the entire season. Without their best perimeter defender, the Hornets’ expectations are a lot lower than they would have been. Now, it’s hard to see them competing seriously for a playoff spot unless Jeremy Lamb makes a huge leap and proves himself capable of being an NBA-caliber starter. If they’re even competitive, it will be an enormous credit to Clifford, who is well-regarded around the league. The story would have been different if they had entered the season with a healthy roster and underperformed, but the MKG injury likely buys Clifford a year before this conversation starts up again.