We’ve reached the midpoint of a wild, unpredictable NBA season with many more questions — How good are the Bucks? The Nets? Can Golden State flip the switch? — than answers. The midpoint also means we know which players have put themselves in position for NBA postseason awards. All week long, we will make our picks for some of the NBA’s top awards at this point in the season. Today:
NBA Sixth Man of the Year: Christian Wood… for now
Nobody is running away with it like Tyler Herro did last season (there will be no repeat because he starts now). Jordan Poole was the heavy preseason award favorite, but he’s started more than half of the Warriors’ games (disqualifying him to this point). With Curry back Poole will return to the bench, but he has not been the force he was last season in that role (his numbers are much better as a starter).
The Mavericks’ Christian Wood has been the best sixth man so far — 18 points and 8.1 rebounds a game, much-improved defense and playmaking — but Jason Kidd finally moved him into the Mavericks’ starting lineup a few weeks ago, and he likely stays there for the season. Since this exercise is based on who I would vote for if the season ended today, Wood gets the nod. However, by the end of the season it’s doubtful he qualifies as a sixth man anymore.
Malcolm Brogdon has been solid for the Celtics off the bench, maybe not the kind of game/energy changer we expect in the sixth man role, but he is solid. Still, he is second, even if he doesn’t care about the award. After that… who? Russell Westbrook started hot for the Lakers off the bench but has been up and down since, and while he piles up counting stats, his impact is less impressive. Malik Monk in Sacramento? Rookie Benedict Mathurin? Bobby Portis has had his moments in Milwaukee, we put him third but don’t feel strongly about it. Maybe the best of the group is Larry Nance Jr. in New Orleans because of his defense. Over in Nance’s old home in Cleveland, don’t forget about Kevin Love.
I don’t feel strongly about anyone in this race. Any player in this role who has a strong second half of the season can take home the award. It is truly wide open.