People say that the NBA is a star driven league, in which a team’s success is largely determined by its starting five. Yet, often overlooked are the bench players. Basketball, after all, is a team sport, and for a team to win games, it must have a solid supporting cast around its primary stars. This is why I will be looking at the leading candidates for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award.
My frontrunner for the award is Derrick Rose. That’s right. Former MVP and Rookie of the Year, many people thought his career was over, as he suffered injury after injury. Last season, he played for three different teams, with executives around the league questioning his value. But Tom Thibodeau, his coach during his 2010-11 MVP season, gave him a chance on the Minnesota Timberwolves. Rose, thus far, has justified Thibodeau’s faith in him. This season, he averages 18.4 points and 4.4 assists, while shooting at a stunning clip of .498/.487/.859. His trademark explosiveness has returned, along with a greatly improved jump shot. Minnesota is 10.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court than without. Thus far, Rose’s best game of the season came against Utah, where he scored 50 points and made the game-saving block. People have been waiting for the return of MVP Derrick Rose, and although he may not win MVP this year, he is still turning some heads around the league.
My pick for runner-up is Spencer Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie has been a solid playmaker for the struggling Brooklyn Nets, with a penchant for hitting clutch shots and deep threes. His true shooting percentage is .591, a great clip, considering his relatively high volume of 15.9 points per game. He averages 4.8 assists per game, showing unselfishness and a willingness to share the ball. He is a player who has improved every year in the league, as evidenced by his upward trending PER ratings, which peak at 17.1 this season. However, Dinwiddie has his weaknesses. He plays inconsistent defense, stemming not from a lack of athletic ability, but from a lack of effort. Additionally, his exploits are not exactly contributing to winning ways for the Brooklyn Nets, who are 13-18. Rose has superior stats, and his team has achieved much more success so far this season.
Finally, my third place candidate is Jonas Valanciunas. JV, a center for the Toronto Raptors, was starting this time last season. However, with the emergence of Pascal Siakam (that’ll be in another article), he was relegated to the bench, playing a mere 19.4 minutes per game. Yet, during his on court time, he still produces like a starter, considering his per-36 numbers and advanced stats. He averages 24.4 points and 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, along with 58% field goal shooting and 82% free throw shooting. He boasts an excellent PER of 25.1. The reason why Valanciunas is not ranked higher is due to his limited role on his team. He is generally not relied upon during crunch time, as he has limited mobility and stamina on the floor. Yet, he is still a solid player with solid stats, and should be watched closely as awards season comes.