I know it seems counterintuitive to talk about a starting shooting guard as a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, but I ask that you hear me out.
Arron Afflalo was inserted into the Denver Nuggets starting lineup back on November 10th and hasn't been removed since. Despite his starting status, he is averaging about three fewer minutes per game than J.R. Smith at the shooting guard position.
George Karl loves to have Smith come off the bench because that's where he feels he is the most effective. If you have ever witnessed the instant shot in the arm he provides the second unit, it becomes almost impossible to question Karl's decision.
Anyone that is familiar with the Nuggets knows that J.R. Smith is clearly one of the most talented players on the team, and under almost any other coach in the NBA he would undoubtedly be the starter.
That said, there are obvious reasons that Karl chooses to configure his lineup the way he does. What can't be understood by studying box scores are the intangibles and stability that is provided by having Afflalo in the starting lineup.
He won't amaze you with his numbers, and if you haven't watched him play, you will likely think I'm crazy on several fronts for initiating this conversation.
But the fact of the matter is that Afflalo plays harder than almost anyone else in the NBA, and his effort is clearly contagious to all of his teammates. In my opinion, Afflalo is one of the most entertaining players in the entire league to watch on every play.
He is not the most athletic player. He does not create a difficult matchup for the other team. He will not amaze you with highlight reel, acrobatic finishes.
But when he is on the court, people like myself, who appreciate the little things about the game of basketball, find him impossible to ignore.
Many Nuggets fans stridently questioned the decision of Nuggets ownership to allow Dahntay Jones to sign with the Indiana Pacers during the offseason. They felt like they were losing a crucial and inimitable piece to the Nuggets success last season and that not enough was done to replace his tough and physical presence on the defensive end.
Having never seen Afflalo play during his time in Detroit, I had nothing on which to base my assessment of his qualifications as a worthy replacement. But about a month into this NBA season, I can officially say that I, for one, do not miss Dahntay Jones in the slightest.
Afflalo is every bit the defender that Jones is, and he provides much more potential for output on the offensive side of the ball. And despite Jones' unquestionable toughness, which in my opinion more closely resembled calculated bullishness, I think Afflalo is his superior in every aspect of the game.
Afflalo is coming off of his strongest performance of the season last night against the Nets (15 points, eight rebounds, and four assists in 31 minutes). The only complaint I have about him is that he needs to begin putting together these types of games with more consistency. But even when he doesn't score a point, his presence is undeniable on the court.
The Sixth Man of the Year Award should be based on total number of minutes logged rather than just whether a player comes off the bench more than he starts. If this was the case, and if I had a vote, Afflalo would undoubtedly be my early pick for the resounding impact he has on every game.