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Sixth Man of the Year Award is Eric Gordon’s to lose

Why the guard has a clear path to hardware.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Through the first half of the season, Eric Gordon has gone from being a washed up, injury-ridden shell of himself to being the best bench player in the NBA.

There has never been questions about Gordon’s ability to score, but this year he has amped up his efficiency, posting the best effective field goal percentage (.547) of his career. His 17.6 points in 30 minutes per game has been key to the Rockets’ success.

Although injuries have prevented him from becoming the explosive physical specimen he was at Indiana University, he has revived his career by gunning threes at a ridiculous clip (9 attempts per game, 65% three-point rate) and providing creative playmaking off the bench.

At one point in December, he had made the most threes out of anyone in the league, including Stephen Curry, the most prolific shooter ever.

Everyone knows the best ability is availability, and Gordon has not put together a complete season since his rookie campaign. He had missed at least 18 games due to injury in each of the past seven seasons.

Eric Gordon’s per-game career numbers
Eric Gordon’s per-game numbers

The Sixth Man of the Year field this year, though, is extremely competitive and rather top-heavy. While Gordon’s value to the Rockets is unmatched, don’t discredit what Lou Williams is doing in Los Angeles.

Williams, who won 6MOY honors two years ago, is always a contender for the award. He’s leading all bench players in scoring, with 18.5 points per game. He’s scoring more than Gordon in fewer minutes (24) and averaging slightly more assists (3.2 to Gordon’s 2.9).

The debate between Williams and Gordon is contentious, but Gordon certainly fits with the Rockets’ system better. The Rockets would never trade Gordon straight up for Williams because of the unique range and willingness to chuck Gordon has.

Gordon has a plus/minus of 6*, while the Lakers are just 0.5 points better with Williams on the court. But plus/minus relies heavily on the talent on the roster, which should not affect such a niche award, right?

*Andre Iguodala has the best bench plus/minus at 7.0

Here’s a secret: for some reason, the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award significantly values team success. The last player to win the award on a lottery team was Dell Curry for the 41-41 Charlotte Hornets in 1994. The sixth man on a playoff team is more qualified than one on a lottery team.

Plus, the award rarely goes to the top bench scorer. The last player to win 6MOY while leading all bench players in scoring was J.R. Smith in 2012-13 for the New York Knicks.

Even though Williams is leading bench players in scoring, he’s on the Lakers, which removes him from contention for the modern Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Besides Williams, two other players stick out: Zach Randolph and Enes Kanter. Both bigs lead second units by operating in the post, facilitating the offense.

Randolph (14.2 points, 8.4 rebounds per game), is having a remarkable bounce-back season after looking washed up last year. He’s feasting against second units after years of pounding opposing starters.

With the same role on a different team, Kanter (14.4 points, 6.7 rebounds per game) puts up similar stats with a higher field goal percentage (56% to Z-Bo’s 46%).

Since Randolph and Kanter function in the same role and put up nearly identical numbers, they will likely split votes.

Because of how perimeter-oriented the league has become, the Sixth Man of the Year Award is essentially a guard’s award. The last forward to win the honor was Lamar Odom in 2011, and he was a point-forward.

Even if Harden does not win MVP (he should, but that’s a discussion for another day), the Rockets will surely be represented on awards night this summer because, barring injury, Eric Gordon is a lock for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Eric Gordon is the front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year

Seems pretty clear to me.

Posted by The Dream Shake on Wednesday, February 15, 2017