The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award race always brings about fascinating questions: Do voters reward scoring, defense, or playmaking the most? How much does winning matter?
That looks to be true this year as well.
Below, we've ranked the five most deserving candidates for the award.
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook
5. Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors (+15000)
The Raptors have clearly had a very disappointing season. However, there were various forces acting against the Raptors this season that no other team had to deal with, including staying in a different city all year, getting ravaged by COVID-19 and being booed by their own fans.
Through it all, Chris Boucher has been a consistently positive presence off the bench who provides the skills of a unicorn big man. At 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Boucher is a deterrent at the rim, averaging 1.9 blocks in limited minutes. He’s also nimble enough to chase around perimeter players, and while his slight frame has given the Raptors rebounding issues in the past, he’s also the same dude who dropped 38 points and 19 rebounds in a game earlier this season.
On offense, Boucher is a very well-rounded player, showcasing excellent efficiency in transition and in pick-and-roll situations. He also ranks in the 84th percentile on putback attempts, using his Laffy Taffy wingspan to create second-chance points for the Raptors.
For most role players, the job description is to try to at least stay above water with the starters. Very few coaches expect bench players to outperform starters, but that’s exactly what Boucher has done all season. The Raptors are 6.7 points per 100 possessions worse when Boucher is resting compared to when he’s playing.
Toronto may have had a lost season, but don’t look at Boucher when assigning the blame.
4. Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks (+1600)
As Kristaps Porzingis pops in and out of the lineup due to various injuries, Jalen Brunson has been a rock for a suddenly surging Mavericks team that has been on a tear ever since a lackluster start to the season.
Due to the lack of a consistent second scorer, Dallas has been overly reliant on Luka Doncic working his magic to make game-changing plays. Enter Jalen Brunson, who has been the best pure backup point guard in the league.
While the Mavericks wisely try to separate his minutes from Doncic so he can run the show when the Slovenian Sensation rests, they make a dynamic duo when they share the court. Brunson is everything you could ever want in a guard. He offers positional versatility, plays hard-nosed defense, hits almost 40% from deep and is a reliable playmaker. When he plays with Doncic, the Mavericks carve up opponents to the tune of 7.6 points per 100 possessions.
One negative about Brunson is that he’s shooting fewer shots than he should be taking. He currently sports an effective field goal percentage above 58%, which ranks fifth in the league among guards. Having guards like Brunson who can take playmaking pressure off Doncic is crucial, and Brunson has missed just four games this season, displaying impressive durability.
3. Derrick Rose (+10000)
Derrick Rose's resurgence has been a great story, but he has a few things going against him. For the first 15 games of the season, Rose was wasting away on the tanking Pistons. And since he’s also played just 47 games this season, with the 15 useless Detroit contests, that puts him at a disadvantage over other candidates on this list.
It's reminiscent of when Joel Embiid was vying for Rookie of the Year honors. The Sixers big man was clearly the best rookie, but since he played so few games, Malcolm Brogdon ended up winning the award.
Rose has been everything the Knicks could have asked for when acquiring him. He’s been a valuable mentor for younger guards such as Immanuel Quickley, hasn’t hogged the ball too much and is playing better defense this season. His ability to twist and contort his body to convert shots, from running floaters to contested one-handed shots, has been a treat to watch.
The Knicks are outsourcing opponents by an incredible 12 points per 100 possessions when Rose is on the floor and getting outscored when he’s on the bench. Those are superstar point differentials.
2. Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz (+500)
Joe Ingles is the lifeblood of what the Jazz represent: a smart, versatile option who plays team ball and beats the hell out of opponents with defense and shooting.
Ingles has been the most efficient scorer in the league this season thanks to his bonkers 68% true shooting rate, which takes into account all of a player's shot attempts, including free throws. Ingles is draining a crazy efficient 45% of his three-point attempts and is a huge boost for the Jazz off the bench.
He also cooks in isolation, using an array of head bobs, pass fakes and wily positioning to control the court in front of him. He’s producing 1.23 points per possession in isolation, good for the league’s 96th percentile, which is pretty fantastic for someone with average athleticism relative to the rest of the league.
The Jazz are outscoring opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions when Ingles graces the floor, a fat number that correctly represents his immense value on both ends.
1. Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz (-1250)
It’s always cool when the two best contenders for an award come from the same team, and that’s the case with the Jazz.
There’s a reason Jordan Clarkson is the heavy favorite to win the award, and that’s because time and time again, this award has historically rewarded scorers the most. And Clarkson sure knows how to get buckets, leading all bench players with just over 18 points per game. While he hasn’t exactly been the most efficient player in the league, Clarkson has carried Utah’s bench all season with his constant rim attacks and long-range shooting.
Clarkson is also slicing teams up in pick-and-roll situations, producing one point per possession, which ranks in the 85th percentile. And even though his efficiency hasn’t been golden, there is something to be said for actually shouldering the burden of taking all of those shots. It’s tiring to carry an offense, and while some teammates of his have high-efficiency rates, they don’t shoot as much on a per-possession basis.
Clarkson also has a great story, which, like it or not, plays a role in his candidacy. He’s been on horrible Lakers and Cavaliers teams and was labeled as a chucker who could never contribute to winning. Now he’s playing a key role on the league’s best team. The Jazz outscore opponents by almost eight points per 100 possessions with Clarkson on the floor.
Clarkson's had a wonderful season and has the stats, story and winning team to back that up.
Photo: Getty Images