Let me preface this premature 6th Man of the Year conversation by pointing out that the best 6th man in the league has started for most of the season. His name is Lamar Odom. He plays for the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers and was once traded for Shaquille O’Neal back when that meant something. Also he’s a Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner’s son(in-law). But so far because of Bynum’s inability to stay healthy, Odom has primarily been a starter. So for the moment, he’s out.
So who’s in? The most popular pick I’m reading around the internet is Jamal Crawford. He’s not a bad pick. His scoring punch off the pine is crucial to the Hawks, and they are playing very well right now (currently 3rd in the East; likely to fall to 4th after getting brutalized by the Hornets tonight). I’m not a fan of the pick at this point though for one reason. San Antonio. The Spurs have been the best team in the league so far, and they play true team ball, getting great contributions from their deep roster. I’m not generally a fan who thinks you have to pick every award winner from the top teams in the league, but I do believe 6th Man is an award for winners. If you’re a great bench player on a lousy team, you’re coach should be fired for not starting you. Of course Crawford is certainly not a lousy team, but is he really playing so much better than George Hill, the 6th man for San An, that his total points make up for their superior record? Probably. But I don’t care.
George Hill backs up Tony Parker and Manu Ginobilli and will also run with them in a 3 guard line-up a la the Isiah Thomas – Vinnie Johnson – Joe Dumars Pistons. He plays tremendous on-ball defense at both the 1 and the 2 and has done some nice work against very good players including Kobe Bryant , Russell Westbrook, and Deron Williams in Spurs wins. He’s also scoring 11 efficient points per game on 38% three-point shooting and has the highest total win share of any bench player so far this season. His raw +/- is a plus 3.3, great for a bench player and better than every starter on his team except All Stars Duncan, Parker, and Ginobilli. His vs. opponent +/- is also a positive 1.8, meaning he’s bringing 1.8 more points per game than his head to head matchup is per minute every night.
Jamal is scoring more points, 16 per game, and has a strong 17 PER. But his total win shares and per minute win shares are lower. His +/- numbers are even better than Hill’s, but of course his team isn’t winning as many games, and he’s never been much of an individual defender.
Frankly both players have good arguments, but I believe the knee-jerk reaction to give the 6th Man to the highest bench scorer in the league is a poor measure. I don’t advise ignoring numbers completely and putting forward a good team guy like Glen Davis because Big Baby just doesn’t have the individual production and efficiency to be considered here. On the other hand, ultimately a team is measured less by its metrics than its wins and losses, and a bench player ought to measured less by his production than by the ways he helps his team win. George Hill has done it at both ends for the winningest team in the league. To quote the Okey-Pokey, “That’s what it’s all about.”