3. 6th Man of the Year
Young: Jamal Crawford. Many would have Taj Gibson fitting this bill, and I understand. However, I take into account the caliber of the West, and how tough it is to win games. Then, consider that Chris Paul (floor general) missed 20 games this season. The veteran Crawford stepped up appropriately, and went through nagging injuries himself. 18.6 points per game in an unbalanced rotation does it for me.
LaFollette: Manu Ginobli: The presumptive favorite is Taj Gibson. However, Gibson has had a greater opportunity to contribute on a team riddled with injuries and shaken by roster moves. Ginobli has had more impact on the Spurs’ second unit while seeing less court time. Ginobli’s shooting percentages are better than Gibson’s, and The Patch’s ability to improve the play of his teammates (Nando Do Colo who?) registers higher on my eye test. Who needs advanced stats when you have gut feeling?
Dhani: Jamal Crawford. Even at 34 years old, the man still gets it done off the bench. Every year, it seems like Crawford is in the running for this award and he deservedly gets it this year. In his second year with the Clippers, he’s averaging nearly 19 points per game along with three assists. That’s pretty darn good. It also helps when the stats show his scoring improves in crunch time, with fourth quarter averages being ranked among the league’s elite.
Washburn: Taj Gibson. I don’t think Gibson is the best bench player in the league, but I do think he’s the most important one. Chicago desperately needs him to come in on a nightly basis and kickstart their offense and he has delivered more often than not in 2014
Friedman: Taj Gibson. Usually the 6th man award winner is someone who wins it just because of his scoring. This year Taj has been able to provide great scoring outbursts from the bench while dominating the boards and playing solid defense.
Sartori: Taj Gibson. Taj isn’t a typical 6MOY candidate – he doesn’t come off the bench and immediately providing a bit scoring burst – he comes on and provides a solid post presence while offering great rim protection on the other end. This award generally goes to guards, (Lamar Odom is the only non-guard to win it in the last 9 years) and there is no shortage of guard candidates this year, I just believe Taj is more deserving.
Bishop: Taj Gibson. He’s sort of like Mr. West in a way. Jamal Crawford deserves some praise here but he played a lot of starter minutes when JJ Redick was injured. Manu Ginobili is a close second.
Stewart: Taj Gibson. Need I explain?
Rettig: Taj Gibson. The man is a force to be reckoned with. Most other 6th Man candidates have started their fair share of games this season, not something I like to see for this award. I look for true reserve players that are first off the bench and bring energy and relief to their starting ‘mates. Gibson could likely be in the starting lineup for the Chicago Bulls come November.
Grand: Jamal Crawford: As the Clippers dealt with injury after injury, Blake Griffin and Crawford kept them afloat. He’s been an absolute rock with 18.6 points per game and 36 percent shooting from three. There are many qualified candidates for this award, but Crawford is the choice.
4. Most Improved Player
Young: Anthony Davis. The scariest power forward in the league within the next two years. He has a chance to expand his game greater than Blake Griffin has this season. I’m excited for New Orleans.
LaFollette: Lance Stephenson: I like how Zach Lowe contextualizes this award. It’s like voting on who we all thought used to be the worst player. CONGRATS! Phoenix’s Goran Dragic is getting heavy consideration, and rightly so, but The Dragon has already proven his worth as an viable NBA point guard. Certainly this was his best season, but he’s been a staple in starting rotations for a few years. Stephenson, on the other hand, was by no means born ready. Upon his arrival in Indy in 2010, he sparred with coaches and seemed apathetic about his place on the bench. This year, Swaggy Steve delivered on his self bestowed nickname, leading the team in rebounding and assists, playing elite wing defense and pooping on the collective corpse of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Dhani: Goran Dragic. He was the force behind the Suns unexpected playoff run this season. Phoenix was just a win against the Grizzlies away, but it still doesn’t take away the amazing season they had, particularly Dragic’s who had averaged about 20 points and six assists per game.
Washburn: Goran Dragic. I think he deserves to make 1st or 2nd Team All-NBA. No player has improved more dramatically this year than Dragic, not even our beloved Sir Lance-a-lot.
Friedman: Goran Dragic. Forget that he was one of the most exciting players to watch this season. Goran wouldn’t even have been considered a top 30 point guard last season; now he’s suddenly in the top 10.
Sartori: Goran Dragic. Almost 30 years of giving out this award, and still, nobody really knows what the heck it means. In my view, Dragic just looks far more polished and confident than he did last season. Goran became just the second guard in the last twenty years to average 20 points per game while shooting at least 50% from the field and 40% from 3 – keep in mind, this guy shot 31.9% from three last season, making his jump to 40.8% all the more impressive. He’s been solid on the defensive end too, and all the while led a Phoenix Suns team that everybody predicted to be at the bottom of the Western Conference, to within one win of a playoff spot.
Bishop: What is the criteria for this award? I’ve noticed some choose Anthony Davis, but didn’t we see this coming? Let’s give it to a former Pacer Miles Plumlee. No one saw this coming. He became a Tyson Chandler type of player, dunking on rolls to the rim and defending the rim adequately.
Stewart: Anthony Davis. The man has been a nightmare for just about every team he has faced this year. An incredible post presence as consistent numbers have forced me to vote up for Anthony Davis.
Rettig: Lance Stephenson. One has to look at the season in its entirety. Stephenson led the league in triple-doubles at age 23, improved in every statistical category across the board and brought energy to the game each night. Anthony Davis had a stellar season and should be a perennial All-Star selection.
Grand: Anthony Davis: Yes, he was the No. 1 pick, but two years ago he couldn’t do anything except dunk and block shots and now he is an offensive weapon. He’s developed a mid-range game and can grab double-digit boards to go along with 20 points per night. The defense is still there as well, making Davis the total package. We all knew Davis was going to be a beast, but to get there this quickly is definitely surprising.