Jamal Crawford vs. Anderson Varejao: Sixth Man Tale of the Tape
The NBA awards season has become an epic farce and a joke without a suitable punchline.
Does winning Most Improved Player mean you sucked last year? Congratulations on no longer being a crappy player!
In the Rookie of the Year race, high-scoring youngsters on putrid lottery teams usually beat out those filling lesser roles on playoff-bound units.
Humor and frustration aside, one award still piques my interest. Each year, the NBA honors the best bench player with a trophy.
The league first bestowed the accolade on Bobby Jones in 1982. Since that inaugural handout, Kevin McHale and Detlef Schrempf remain the only back-to-back winners.
The tiny statue recognizes a player willing to accept a reserve role on bona fide playoff squad. It rewards selflessness and winning.
I decided to examine two of the top candidates for the award this season. Jason Terry and Manu Ginobili would rank as the front-runners under normal circumstances. Terry has missed several weeks with a facial-bone fracture, and an injury to Tony Parker forced San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to start Ginobili.
That leaves Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao as the top contenders in this discussion.
Both players are carrying out marked missions. Playoff virgin Crawford hopes to help the Hawks secure a top-four seed and advance past the second round. Varejao will play a significant role in the Cavs' title chase and convincing LeBron James to stay in Cleveland.
If it seems silly to compare ballers at different positions, humor me.
To determine a winner, I juxtaposed the players in five categories.
Season averages do not tell the story.
Anderson Varejao’s Numbers
Points Per Game: 8.9
Rebounds Per Game: 7.9
Assists Per Game: 1.1
Field Goal Percentage: .568
Blocks Per Game: .9
Minutes Per Game: 29.2
Games Started: Seven
Jamal Crawford’s Numbers
Points Per Game: 17.5
Rebounds Per Game: 2.5
Assists Per Game: 2.9
Field Goal Percentage: .451
Three-point Percentage: .382
Minutes Per Game: 30.6
Games Started: Zero
Crawford can score from every area of the court. He shoots a robust 38 percent from behind the arc and is dangerous there in the endgame.
He crosses over defenders with the ease of a kid on a playground and often finishes tricky behind the back shots.
He can pull up on the break and use his craftiness to get by bigger off guards.
Crawford excels at creating his own shot but can also be relegated to a volume bomber. He attempts an average of three free throws per game and shoots 85 percent when he gets there.
Varejao scores most of his buckets on back cuts and dives. He is often a preferred pick-and-roll partner with James early in games.
He gets going early but often fizzles late as an offensive threat. Varejao has also developed an effective hook shot which he can swoosh from either box.
He shoots a miserable 66 percent from the charity stripe, an unfortunate commonality for big men.
Varejao's game from 10 to 15 feet is erratic but sometimes efficacious.
Crawford is a victim of his own slender, puny frame on the uphill end of the court. As a "tweener," he's not an adept enough defender to cover elite point guards and too flimsy to stop stronger or quicker twos.
He might answer Kobe Bryant with a tough shot in a tight game, but he should avoid guarding the Lakers star or any other elite player for more than a few minutes in the first half.
Like Terry, his lack of a true natural position makes him a defensive liability.
Varejao thrives as a menace in the paint. He is an egregious flopper who flails, falls, and tricks the refs into bogus calls. Yet, such blatant manipulation of the rules merits praise. He knows what he can get away with and uses that knowledge to frustrate opponents.
Some foes consider his defense belligerent and dirty. When it comes to securing loose balls or rebounds, Varejao bows to no one.
He does not block shots with frequency. Instead, he clogs the lane and utilizes his length against post-up players and drivers.
He can be attacked and obliterated by athletes who can face-and-go. He also fouls more than a key cog should.
Still, Varejao plays an integral role on the league's best defensive team.
Crawford's underwhelming assist numbers undermine his clever playmaking faculty. His handles allow him to get easy shots for Joe Johnson and the Hawks other lethal scorers.
If double-teamed, he can make the right pass. He also excels at throwing lob passes.
Varejao is still a klutz with the ball in his hands. He can fire accurate passes only against minimal defensive pressure. The idea of the Brazilian manning the point should cause anyone to shudder, especially Cavs Coach Mike Brown.
Production Against Winning Outfits
Crawford has totaled 576 points and 77 assists in matchups against winning teams.
Varejao has totaled 307 points and 259 rebounds against winning teams.
Crawford wins in this category with 653 to Varejao's 566.
Best Clutch Moments
Crawford cooled the Phoenix Suns with a step-back trey just before the buzzer in a 102-101 win on Jan. 15. Most impressive, he drilled the shot after bricking six of seven threes through the first 47 minutes of the game.
In a Dec. 30 slog against the Hawks, Varejao drained a go-ahead three that iced the game. Mo Williams bobbled the ball with the shot clock winding down and threw it to Varejao in desperation.
LeBron James never expected this 25th birthday present.
While Terry, Ginobili, J.R. Smith, and others deserve consideration for the award, Crawford and Varejao lead my list.
After an examination of both players' credentials, Crawford edges Varejao by a hair.
The guard will make his first postseason appearance in 10-plus seasons and nab this coveted award.