PBT Awards: Sixth Man of the Year

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Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.

Kurt Helin

1. Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors

2. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

3. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

It was a very different year, with the usual suspects — your Jamal Crawfords, your Manu Ginobilis — not being up to form. Lou Williams was a classic sixth man for Toronto, coming in off the bench as an unrepentant gunner. But the man put up points. Not efficiently, but he put up points. Andre Iguodala willingly came off the bench and led the best second unit in the game, but Williams meant more to Toronto.

Brett Pollakoff

Sixth Man of the Year

1. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

2. Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors

3. Marreese Speights, Golden State Warriors

There’s an argument to be made for Williams here, simply for the fact that his similar numbers to Thomas have been delivered for the Raptors all season long. While Thomas was fine as a reserve in Phoenix before being traded to Boston at the deadline, his impact with the Celtics was a big reason they made the playoffs, so he gets the nod for his performance over the second half of the season.

Sean Highkin

1. Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

2. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

3. Corey Brewer, Houston Rockets

Iguodala made a big-time sacrifice for the Warriors by accepting a bench role after being a starter most of his career. It turned out to be a perfect fit, not only boosting Harrison Barnes’ productivity by moving him into a starter’s role but giving Golden State a unique weapon in the second unit as a defensive stopper who can score in transition.

Thomas was signed by the Suns to be a sixth man, but it was an awkward fit with ball-dominant point guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. But a mid-season trade to Boston proved to be the actualization of what the Suns had hoped to get from him. He gave the Celtics a clear go-to scorer and late-game closer. They wouldn’t have made their late playoff push without him.

Brewer has been similarly transformative for the Rockets since his trade from the Timberwolves during the season.

Dan Feldman

1. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

2. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics

3. Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors

I’m a letter-of-the-law guy on this, and Gobert met the only criterion for this award – coming off the bench in more games than starting. He far and away had the best season among eligible players, so he gets my vote, even if he did most of his damage once he became a starter.

Thomas and Williams were close, but Thomas got the edge because was more of a catalyst for his team’s offense than Williams was. Both the Raptors and Celtics frequently ran their offenses through their backup point guards, but Williams usually had more of a capable supporting cast on the floor. Thomas was the clear driving force for Boston, especially in crunch time.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.

Stephen Jackson speaks passionately at a rally in remembrance of his “twin” George Floyd

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Stephen Jackson, the former NBA player and current ESPN analyst, knew George Floyd from when he pair grew up near each other in Texas.

Friday, Jackson spoke about the man he called his “twin” at a rally Minneapolis City Hall Rotunda (an event with Timberwolves players Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie in attendance. (Video via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, there is NSFW language involved.)

“I’m here because they’re not gonna demean the character of George Floyd, my twin. A lot of times, when police do things they know that’s wrong, the first thing they try to do is cover it up, and bring up their background, to make it seem like the bulls*** that they did was worthy. When was murder ever worthy? But if it’s a black man, it’s approved.

“You can’t tell me, when that man has his knee on my brother’s neck — taking his life away, with his hand in his pocket — that that smirk on his face didn’t say, ‘I’m protected.’ You can’t tell me that he didn’t feel that it was his duty to murder my brother, and that he knew he was gonna get away with it. You can’t tell me that wasn’t the look on his face.”

There has been a powerful reaction across the NBA world — and across the nation — in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery (a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood) and Floyd. In a sport with many black players, the murders of these men were reminders of the systemic race issues still part of American culture. LeBron James captured the feelings of many players and others when he took to Instagram.

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STILL!!!! 🤬😢😤

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.