Early NBA Awards: Sixth Man Of The Year

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Back in March of last season, TFPP looked at how to predict the six main NBA awards by using the last decade of results as a guide. The set of rules created for each award were able to correctly predict three of the six eventual winners. Even the three misses can be explained by a rather unique season, producing results that were outside of the norm of the last ten years. A decent result but one that could certainly be improved, going forward.

With the 2017/18 season now roughly a quarter of the way to completion, it’s never too early to start looking at this season’s potential award winners. Plus, with another season’s worth of data to take in, the rules can always be looked at and potentially updated to improve the accuracy of TFPP’s methodology.

The Early NBA Awards will be a six-part series, focusing on one award at a time. Using the 17/18 season to date – numbers will be assessed, rules will be adjusted and predictions will be made.

Up first; Sixth Man Of The Year.

The History

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The Sixth Man Of The Year award only has one official criterion that needs to be met – a player must come off the bench more than he starts. It was one of the three successful projections dating back to last season, along with Most Improved Player and Defensive Player Of The Year. TFPP was able to come up with a rather simple set of rules that are essentially unbeatable, at least when it comes to the last 11 years of handing out the award. Simply put, scoring and winning matter.

The Old Rules

1. Did a Sixth Man with the highest PPG out of all qualifying players make the playoffs? If so, refer to Rule #2. If not, refer to Rule #3.
2. If another player is within 1.5 points, use Win Shares to determine who gets the award.
3. Give the award to the highest PPG player who made the playoffs, with Rule #2 still used for tie-breaks.

The 16/17 Winner

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Eric Gordon – Houston Rockets
Started 15 of 75 Total Games
31 MPG / 16.2 PPG / 3.8 WS
46 First Place Votes / 358 Total Points Won
Houston Made The Playoffs

 

Eric Gordon just held off Andre Iguodala (43 First Place Votes & 326 Total) in what would have been a huge boilover, should Iggy have surpassed him. The win keeps TFPP’s old rules intact but serves as a warning shot for future races. Despite coming second in PPG, Gordon was able to beat out Lou Williams due to the mid-season trade of Williams from the Lakers to the Rockets.

The New Rules

On the past 11 occasions, the award has gone to whoever has the highest PPG total on a playoff team. So it’s safe to say there isn’t much need for change when it comes to the current set of TFPP rules. However, whilst mid-season trading was noted in the original construction of rules, it wasn’t clearly defined. Therefore, a very small tweak is made to the Sixth Man playbook.

1. Only players who remained with one team for the entire season can qualify for this award.
2. Did a Sixth Man with the highest PPG out of all qualifying players make the playoffs? If so, refer to Rule #3. If not, refer to Rule #4.
3. If another player is within 1.5 points, use Win Shares to determine who gets the award.
4. Give the award to the highest PPG player who made the playoffs, with Rule #2 still used for tie-breaks.

The Current Race

Gordon currently leads the race to go back to back for the award, ahead of Rodney Hood, Tyreke Evans and Lou Williams. Interestingly, at this stage Gordon looks to be the only one guaranteed to make the post-season which further cements his spot at the top of the leaderboard. Despite starting in Chris Paul’s absence, Gordon should easily meet the minimum 50% off the pine requirement and not see too much of a dip in production as a result. Here are the numbers;

G / GS PPG  WS FG% 3P% AST REB
Gordon 19 / 13 19.7  1.2 39.4 31.6 2.7 2.1
Hood 18 / 9 17.7  0.8 41.9 40.2 1.8 2.6
Evans 20 / 1 18.0  1.9 49.3 41.9 3.5 5.0
Williams 19 / 2 18.6  1.5 45.6 38.7 4.0 2.7

If the season were to finish today, only Gordon and Hood would be eligible for the award under TFPP rules, as their teams sit at one and eight in the West. Using the current rules, Gordon would easily shade Hood and take out his second consecutive Sixth Man Award. All that despite having a relatively poor start to this season compared to last and arguably being the most inefficient of the four, contributing the least elsewhere on the court. Gordon is currently shooting under 40% from the field and just 31% from deep, in order to get his 19.7 Points Per Game (a high point for him since 2011/12. However, history shows the latter matters much more than the former. Buckets equal awards, no matter how you get them.

After starting earlier in the season, Hood looks likely to remain an off the bench prospect while Williams has only recently begun to start for the Clippers. That might not be his biggest worry though, with the Playoffs slipping away from his team and Evans facing a very similar proposition. A real shame, particularly for Evans who is doing all he can to secure a longer deal, but this might already be a one-horse race. Despite Evans looking the best full-time bench impact guy this season and the most important to his team. If history repeats with Gordon holding and without any real statistical jump, this award really has become ultra predictable.

Others To Watch

Kyle Kuzma (16.7PPG), Jeremy Lamb (16.1PPG), Jordan Clarkson (15.4PPG) and Will Barton (14.4PPG) sit in positions five, six, seven and eight for PPG and a chance to start less than they come off the bench. Yet again however, the Lakers and Hornets playoff credentials seem weak and any chance could be foiled due to team failure. Barton could be the ultimately smokey as the Nuggets position continues to strengthen, as does his role.

Seventh Man Of The Year

Here’s an interesting question for you; what if there was a Seventh Man Of The Year Award?

With Sixth Man honours becoming very predictable and purely an award handed out to professional (often inefficient) bucket getters, what about all those guys who contribute to winning basketball in other ways? The idea of an award to recognise great bench play is something Sam raised on a Four Thought roundtable last season. Here are some rough guidelines for such an award;

1. Player must not start and play the seventh or fewer minutes on his team.
2. Player must remain on the same team all season and that team must make the playoffs.
3. PPG is used but not a sole factor in winning, where impact holds the most importance.

If winning basketball is still a pre-requisite (and it should be for such awards), then the Playoffs is still the easiest tangible measure to take. With both Conferences currently in a state of confusion on who is legitimate or not, it is perhaps easiest to take the top five of the East and the West as it stands. All with a near or above 60% record; Celtics, Pistons, Cavaliers, Raptors, Sixers, Rockets, Warriors, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Timberwolves.

So without further ado, after a scan of the rosters for eligible players- here is the long list of nominees; Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes, Anthony Tolliver, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, CJ Miles, OG Anunoby, TJ McConnell, Luc Mbah A Moute, Omri Casspi, David West, DeJounte Murray, Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis, Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng.

Using a combination of the Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes, a shorter list of nominees presents itself; West, Casspi, Korver, Green and Dieng. A fitting result and players this award would look to highlight – true role players producing winning results in relatively short minutes.

However, there can only be one winner and the frontrunner is currently in his last NBA season. West’s PER of 26.1 is good enough for eighth among all players logging 200+ minutes and easily first among all bench players. Although 90th in Win Shares among all NBA players, West’s WS/48 of .244 is good enough for ninth among regular rotation contributors.

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David West – Golden State Warriors
Played in 20 of 22 Total Games (14-6)
11.9 MPG / 6.6 PPG / 1.2 WS
Per 36 of 20 PPG / 9.8 RPG / 4.5 APG / 3.5 BPG
Shooting 66.7% From the Field

 

So there you have it, TFPP’s early prediction for the Sixth Man Of The Year and a shout out to plenty of other players. Some should be in the hunt for 6MOY honours, while others like West won’t even come close but still need to be highlighted for their play off the bench so far this season.

Next up in the Early NBA Awards – Rookie Of The Year.


All statistics as of games completed 29th November 2017. 

Info courtesy of: Basketball Reference and NBA.com

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