The capacity to bring an impactful player off the bench is a huge plus for any NBA team. Many times, those players are able to change the entire complexion of a game with their contributions.
In the NBA this season, many players have excelled as reserves. We don’t know yet if the season will be completed, but let’s check in with the state of the Sixth Man of the Year award race with our preview, predictions, rankings and picks.
Top Sixth Man of the Year Candidates for 2019-20
1. Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
Nothing about Harrell’s per-game numbers (18.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 blocks) suggests that he is a reserve player averaging fewer than 28 minutes per game. That might be his strongest case for the award.
Harrell is an undersized center at 6’7” who works his tail off near the basket. While his defensive abilities need some work, he is a beastly inside scorer who rebounds pretty well and sets fantastic screens.
Last year, Harrell placed third in the voting behind Clippers teammate Lou Williams and the Indiana Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis. With Williams having a slight down year and Sabonis now in the Pacers’ starting lineup, I like Harrell’s chances to be the first frontcourt player to win this award since Lamar Odom in 2010-11.
2. Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City Thunder
Schroder is another very viable Sixth Man candidate for me here. He is playing for arguably the most overachieving team in the NBA and leads all qualified players for this award in points per game (19.0).
His efficiency as a scorer and facilitator is just alright, but unlike many other competing for this award, Schroder has actually been a pesky defender this season. This is a big development for him, since advanced statistics have always portrayed him in a negative light on that end of the floor. Schroder is just 6’1”, but he puts forward great effort on defense and uses his quickness to his advantage every night, which helps the Thunder play smaller lineups with him, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the perimeter.
In the end, Schroder could steal this award for his sheer impact on a surprisingly good Thunder team. While Harrell is very good, you could argue the Clippers don’t need him as much as the Thunder need Schroder.
3. Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
Maybe I’m just desensitized to what Williams brings every year, but I don’t think he is that close to the top two guys this season. Williams is averaging 18.7 points and 5.7 assists per game, but his true-shooting percentage is below league average and an eight-year low for him. His turnovers are up to 2.9 per contest and he still plays poor defense.
I don’t mean to rag too hard on Williams, because he is a 33-year-old undersized guard who has had a long, successful career. He is still clearly a positive for the Clippers with his ability to create shots out of nothing and draw a ton of attention from the opposing defense.
However, I do hope that voters look past simple point and assist totals when making their selections. If they do, they will realize that Williams is still a very good reserve who is just not quite worthy of the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2019-20.
4. Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz
While winning matters more for awards like Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year, it does carry some weight for Sixth Man of the Year. As such, Clarkson’s Sixth Man candidacy has sort of ebbed and flowed with the Jazz’ inconsistent season.
Upon Clarkson’s arrival in Utah from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Jazz immediately won 14 of their next 15 games. Then they lost five games in a row. Then they won four games in a row. Then they lost four games in a row. Then they won five games in a row.
All this matters because Clarkson’s efficiency from two-point range jumps up seven percentage points and his three-point percentage jumps up more than three points in wins compared to losses. His turnover rate is also considerably lower when his team wins.
For the season, Clarkson probably doesn’t have the box score stats (15.1 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game) to make a serious run at the award. If the regular season ends up continuing, his case will be much stronger if the Jazz can start to find some winning consistency.
5. Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Robinson probably isn’t a name that you have seen much in the Sixth Man of the Year race this season. The fact that he is averaging just 9.7 points per game off the bench for a team that has just a 21-45 record basically disqualifies him from winning the award.
However, I think voters should give Robinson’s candidacy some consideration when they submit their ballots. Robinson is averaging his points in just 23.1 minutes per game. In those limited minutes, he is also averaging 7 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 2 blocks per contest. On a bad Knicks team, he was a key reason that the team was starting to look like a respectable defensive squad before the season was suspended.
Offensively, Robinson’s efficiency is astounding. His field-goal percentage (74.2) is higher than any qualified mark in NBA history, and he turns the ball over just 0.6 times per game. Of course, he only really touches the ball near the basket, but those are still impressive numbers for the lanky young big man.
Robinson still fouls a ton and he is a dying breed in the NBA — a big man who can’t shoot whatsoever outside of about three feet — but he has still been excellent for the Knicks this season.
- Honorable mentions: George Hill (Milwaukee Bucks), DeAndre Jordan (Brooklyn Nets), Derrick Rose (Detroit Pistons), Davis Bertans (Washington Wizards), Brandon Clarke (Memphis Grizzlies).