We have reached the mid-point of the NBA season and we know a few things: Which teams are good (Warriors, Suns, Bulls and a few more), which teams are disappointments, and which players have set themselves up in the postseason award races. All week long, we will make our picks for some of the NBA’s top awards (MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year).
Today: Sixth Man of the Year.
Montrezl Harrell (Washington Wizards)
This is one of the awards Omicron has thrown into a blender, making a pick at this point a challenge. This season, the two best players off the bench have been Jalen Brunson in Dallas and Patty Mills in Brooklyn, except both have started too many games to qualify. Brunson continues to start even with Luka Doncic back, he has thrived as a secondary shot creator, which may keep him ineligible for this award. With Kyrie Irving back part-time, Mills will come off the bench on the road but likely starts at home, so where does that leave him as a sixth man?
Montrezl Harrell is back to playing like the guy who won Sixth Man of the Year, scoring 14.5 points on 64.7% shooting, and pulling down 7.3 rebounds a game. More importantly, he’s a nightly shot of energy for the Wizards, and they are 8.1 per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. Harrell won Sixth Man in 2000 as the pick-and-roll partner with Lou Williams, but when he went to the Lakers they reduced his pick-and-roll touches and had him more in the dunker’s spot or cutting, and the fit was not as good. Washington gets how to use him, and Harrell is thriving again.
He also is not running away with this award. Tyler Herro is a very close second for me, with Kevin Love also in the mix, and Kelly Oubre and others lurking close behind. This race could shift dramatically in the second half of the season.
Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Unsurprisingly, an award that eliminates all the NBA’s very-best players (starters) feels wide open.
Though playing fewer than 22 minutes per game limits his impact, Kevin Love has been that awesome when on the court. He’s fitting in with his prioritized younger (surprisingly stellar) teammates, providing efficient scoring, floor spacing, passing and rebounding.
The Warriors’ Gary Payton II has been even better per minute, thriving- as a defensive whiz, shooter and cutter. But he plays fewer than 17 minutes per game and has minimal creation responsibility. It’s tough to make the largest impact in that role, but Payton is doing his best.
Wizards center Montrezl Harrell remains a beast inside and is converting even more efficiently than before at the rim. Tyler Herro has been playing a big role (too big lately) for the Heat, scoring at a high volume. Hornets forward Kelly Oubre is another primo scoring reserve, though other aspects of his game have lagged. Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson would have been my pick – but he has narrowly started too many games to be eligible. Any of them could easily deserve this award by the end of the season.