Updated NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award Favorites Heading into March

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2013

Updated NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award Favorites Heading into March

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    As more NBA teams embrace the superstar collective started by the Boston Celtics and since undertaken by the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, the value of the NBA's sixth man has been apparently lost.

    By those teams that don't have one, at least.

    For some coaches, delving into the second unit is akin to throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.

    For the lucky ones, though, a second unit is nothing more than a continuation of the starting five. There's a leader in place, and he's often capable of balancing his own numbers with those of his reserve peers.

    It's those leaders that often push their teams to championship heights. And, deservedly so, it's those same leaders that dominate the list of past winners of the Sixth Man of the Year award.

    But which of these leaders have separated themselves from the pack? Which ones have put their respective teams in position for a lengthy playoff run and themselves in good position to add individual hardware at the season's end?

7. Andre Miller, Denver Nuggets

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    Position: Point Guard

    Experience: 14th Season

    2012-13 Season Averages15.4 PER, 25.6 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 5.8 APG, 2.9 RPG, 48.1% FG

     

    The Denver Nuggets are the one Western Conference team outside the top three seeds that no team wants to see come playoff time.

    With their depth, athleticism and collection of talent, they pose an incredibly tough matchup regardless of the competition.

    And no one makes them a stronger playoff force than their reserve point guard, Miller.

    He's unlike anything the Nuggets have on their roster. The perfect complement to the speedy Ty Lawson, Miller has the poise, savvy and smarts to manufacture points in the half-court offense.

    He makes more out of less than virtually any other player at his position. He lacks even adequate athleticism or any semblance of a three-point shot (career 20.8 percent), but he understands how to play within his limits. Whether that means backing down a smaller defender or finding any one of Denver's scoring threats, Miller rarely fails to leave his imprint when he takes the floor.

    He won't finish with the gaudy statistics to threaten for the award, but his impact will be felt in the voting process.

6. Ray Allen, Miami Heat

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Experience: 17th Season

    2012-13 Season Averages15.1 PER, 25.6 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 1.7 APG, 2.8 RPG, 44.9% FG

     

    A clear understanding of his role before landing in South Beach has worked wonders for Allen's transition into the twilight stage of his career.

    Unlike last season when he struggled to adjust to losing his starting spot to then-sophomore Avery Bradley with the Boston Celtics, Allen arrived in Miami with an acceptance of a diminished role. 

    Coach Erik Spoelstra hasn't asked for much from Allen other than providing floor spacing for Miami's talented trio (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) to attack. And it's hard to imagine this role going any better for the player or the coach.

    Allen's shooting slash (.449/.424/.868) shows how effective he's been from anywhere on the floor. He's added another dimension to Miami's slashing and transition games as a reliable kick-out option.

    And he's given his new team one of the greatest closing threats the game's ever seen.

    That aforementioned three-headed monster probably keeps Allen's numbers from becoming award-worthy, but all parties involved have a greater focus for this season beyond regular-season accolades.

5. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Experience: 11th Season

    2012-13 Season Averages21.0 PER, 23.2 MPG, 12.4 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.7 RPG, 44.4% FG

     

    No stranger to the Sixth Man of the Year award (he took it home in 2008), Ginobili and the Spurs are once again cementing their status as one of the few constants in professional sports.

    Ginobili has helped guide San Antonio to the top of the league standings (45-13). He's talented enough with the basketball to orchestrate coach Gregg Popovich's offense, allowing scoring guards Patty Mills and Gary Neal to focus on their own offense. He's also a constant threat to light up the scoreboard, as evidenced by his 14 games with 15 or more points.

    Throw in his heady defense (1.4 steals per game) and activity on the glass (5.7 rebounds per 36 minutes) and he's clearly one of the most talented reserves the league has to offer.

    So, why only the fifth spot on the rankings?

    Well, the media always overlooks the Spurs, and I feel an underlying duty to do the same. (Kidding, of course.)

    The real reason is the fact that he's already missed 13 games this season, and his recent injury history suggests he might miss more action before the season is done. Popovich understands the true importance of each of the 82 games on the schedule (and it's not what commissioner David Stern would like it to be) and won't run his veteran players ragged before the postseason comes. 

4. Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Experience: 9th Season

    2012-13 Season Averages16.1 PER, 29.1 MPG, 14.9 PPG, 1.3 APG, 2.3 RPG, 45.3% FG

     

    Perhaps better known as "the guy the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden for," Martin has done his best to replicate Harden's role as the scoring threat off coach Scott Brooks' bench.

    In terms of scoring alone, he's clearly met that challenge. 

    His 43.1 three-point percentage ranks ninth in the NBA, and it's helped clear driving lanes for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. And despite playing alongside the most talented teammates of his career, his 18.4 points per 36 minutes is less than a three-point dip from his career average (20.9).

    Team success often weighs into this vote, and the Thunder (41-15) will only help him in that regard. And his .453/.431/.903 shooting slash shows he's certainly played a factor in Oklahoma City's ascension into the league's elites.

    Ultimately, though, the strength of his teammates could become the weakness of his campaign. He's a scorer above all else and shares the floor with two of the league's greatest scorers (Kevin Durant, 28.8 points per game, and Russell Westbrook, 22.9) on a nightly basis.

    He's played well enough for consideration, but not quite well enough to seriously threaten the top three candidates.

3. Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Experience: 13th Season

    2012-13 Season Averages16.6 PER, 29.5 MPG, 16.7 PPG, 2.6 APG, 1.7 RPG, 43.2% FG

     

    If the award was handed out even a month ago, Crawford would've won in a landslide.

    His diverse offensive arsenal had helped the Clippers weather a barrage of injuries, maintaining their stance among the league leaders throughout. He had 20-plus-point potential on any given night and hit that mark 17 times before the month of February.

    While the year's shortest month saw the Clippers finally return a full complement of players to action (and drastically increase their chances at a long postseason trip), it also loosened Crawford's hold on the hardware.

    Fellow guard Chauncey Billups was one of those players added to coach Vinny Del Negro's rotation, and his addition holds the greatest threat for Crawford's hopes for becoming just the fourth two-time award winner.

    Billups gives the Clippers a more reliable shooter on the perimeter (career 38.9 percent to Crawford's career 34.9 percent), and he doesn't come with the same defensive liability that Crawford brings.

    Both players will factor heavily in the team's first realistic championship-hopeful run in franchise history, but a more balanced timeshare will derail Crawford's bid.

2. Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors

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    Position: Point Guard

    Experience: 8th Season

    2012-13 Season Averages18.0 PER, 29.5 MPG, 13.8 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.2 RPG, 47.5% FG

     

    If Jack can continue the level of play he's shown in the month of February, he'll go from the Warriors' sixth man to the team's best player. Through seven games this month, he's averaged 20.1 points and 6.9 assists (to 2.1 turnovers) in 32.6 minutes per game.

    He's already established himself as the team's best closer, taking the ball out of franchise point guard Stephen Curry's hands late in the game. His field-goal percentage leads all Golden State guards, and his 42.7 three-point percentage trails only Curry (43.9).

    He brings a confidence to the floor unseen in the Bay Area since the departure of Monta Ellis at last season's end, and he doesn't bring any of the drama that Ellis did. He has no problems calling out his teammates for missed assignments, and the fact that he grinds out every defensive possession gives his words a little more lasting power than if they were attempted by David Lee or Curry.

    The sixth man award race was long thought to be a two-man race, and that's what it's shaping up to be. Only it's Jack, not Crawford, as the second dog in this race.

    The votes could ultimately come down to team success. Although Jack's Warriors have struggled of late (4-6 in their last 10 games), they have a chance to right their recent wrongs by closing the season with 16 of their final 22 games at home.

1. J.R. Smith, New York Knicks

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Experience: 9th Season

    2012-13 Season Averages15.3 PER, 33.2 MPG, 16.0 PPG, 2.8 APG, 4.9 RPG, 40.1% FG

     

    Perhaps the biggest threat to Smith's candidacy may come from within his own locker room. As Amar'e Stoudemire continues working his way back to 100 percent (and not in coach Mike Woodson's starting lineup), Smith is having a hard enough time maintaining his claim as New York's top reserve.

    Smith suffered through a woeful month of January, when his shot all but abandoned him (36.6 field-goal percentage, 25.4 three-point percentage). His scoring dropped from 18.1 points per game for December to just 15.8 in January.

    But voting doesn't come down to a single month. Considering he's been a streaky shooter throughout his career, a down month was nearly expected. And so is a rebound performance, like his .415/.403 split in February has been.

    He's still the second-most consistent scorer in Woodson's offense and talented enough to actually improve his award chances over the season's final two months.

    The obvious floor-spacing problems presented by playing Stoudemire major minutes with New York's starting frontcourt (Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler) should keep him from seeing too much floor time to disrupt Smith's award-worthy season.