Mid-Season Awards (Part III)
6TH-MAN-- This race can always be a little volatile because sometimes it can be hard to identify who qualifies as a 6th-man. Guys moving in & out of lineups from injuries or coaching decisions can make the race tricky. Perfect example is Ben Gordon, who has been reinserted back into the starting lineup recently. What do you do with him? Guys like Granger & J. Crawford are tough to gauge as well.
Gordon--Just inserted into the starting line-up, so does he count? For this mid-season report, I say yes since he has been coming off the bench for 1st half of the season. His production has been super for a 30-minute man--21, 3.4 apg & 2.7 rpg. Another thing that is encouraging is he has been more consistent in his play. The main knock on him is his erratic play, probably too much so to be a reliable #1 option. His shooting is better this year, but the turnovers are still an issue.
Barbosa--Only second to Gordon in my mind, and could be the frontrunner for the hardware at season's end if Gordon stays in the starting lineup . Basically just a 6th starter. Averaging 16.4ppg, 4.3 apg & 1spg on 46.8% overall & 38.8% from 3pt.
D. Lee--Some wonder why he's not starting over Frye, but I like the energy he brings off the pine. But I guess it would not hurt Isiah to play him 5-6 more minutes a game. One of the best rebounders in the league at 10.5 and he does this only 30 mis per. Also, shooting above 60% from the field; just one the most efficient bigs in the NBA.
Maggette--For all the crap that this guy has to go thru in trade rumors, he seems to quietly go about his business. Yes, he does have some irritating faults--dubious shot selection, bad turnovers, & subpar defense--but he slashes & draws fouls like few can and he rebounds very well from the SF position. In 28 mins per, he puts up 15.5ppg, 6 rpg, 2apg, and a gaudy 7.5 free throw attempts per. If there is any team crying for his scoring punch off the bench, it's the Spurs. Pop just has to be willing to accept Corey's faults.
L. Head--Not seeing him mentioned much in 6th-man conversations, but I think he has been a steady contributor for Van Gundy. Nice combo guard with a nice stroke (44.4% from 3pt.) & plays with nice poise for a 2nd year guy.
S. May--Has been highly productive in only 23 mis per--11.6 ppg & 6.8rpg on 49.3%. Has scuffled with injuries again this year (already missed 10 games). The rebounds don't surprise me, but the scoring does somewhat. I loved his refined footwork & shooting touch at UNC, and but I felt the combination of lack of length & athleticism would make it difficult to get good looks off in the post even with the polished skills. The main question is--can he co-exist with Okafor down the line in the starting lineup?
Korver--This year's move back to the bench has not hurt Korver's play--he is averaging 14.5 ppg, 3 pts higher than last year while playing the same exact minutes. As always lights out from deep (43.7%). Loved to see him used as the 11th-12th man on Team USA.
Honor Mention: C. Atkins; T. Lue; Stackhouse; Harpring; J. Calderon; Mo Peterson; Pargo; H. Warrick
MY PICK: For the mid-season 6th-man I have to go with Gordon since he spent most of his time coming off the pine. Followed in order by 2) Barbosa, 3) D. Lee & 4) Maggette. But if he stays supplanted in the Bulls starting line-up then Barbosa becomes the frontrunner for season's end honors with Lee nipping at his heels.
*--If Nocioni's recent switch to 6th-man sticks for the rest of the year, he could be the Bull that makes a serious challenge to Barbosa & Lee by the end of the year. Also, out in Golden St you have multiple new candidates with the way Nellie has been shuffling his lineup--M. Barnes, Ellis, & Pietrus could be contenders later on.
MOST IMPROVED: This where I think the per-40 mins stats come in real handy, & are highly useful. There's a difference between a truly improved game & just receiving more minutes and increased opportunites. Sometimes you have to be careful with 2nd-year guys because sometimes the improvement is just a natural progression or that they have more confidence/life experience on & off the court. Also, players could be playing under new coaches who play different styles that might artifically inflate numbers.
Matt Barnes--One of three Warriors on this list. Swingmen who has bounce around the fringes of the league for a couple years. Multi-dimensional wing who's scoring average is about 4pts higher than expected. But his shooting percentage has seen a significant drop, but his 3pt. % is currently 40%, way above his career numbers.
Biedrins--Playing twice as many minutes this year, and his points & boards are better than expected after adjusting for minutes played. Shooting % is the same as last year (62%), although most of his shots are within 5 feet. Uses his nice athleticism to grab boards all over the paint (9.5rpg) and to be a defensive presence (2bpg).
Matt Carroll--Another guy who had a rep as just a shooting specialist who has been a small surprise in Charlotte. Averaging 11ppg on 45%, which is 5% higher than last year. Also shooting 40% from 3pt. Believe it or not, has been called upon to be the Bobcats go-to-guy when they need some offense, even a few times in the clutch. Which is good for Carroll's career, but not such a good thing for the Bobcats, since it means they have few other choices on offense & are relying on Matt Carroll to create shot opportunities.
M. Ellis--If there is one thing that you praise Coach Nellie for, it's letting his young players play freely. Averaging 17.7 ppg, 4.3apg & 2.8 rpg in 34 mins. His points are much better than expected even with the increased minutes and his shooting averages have made significant jumps--47.6% overall (up 6% points from last year) & 34% from 3pt (up 7% points). The one negative is his turnovers which are at 3.5 per, way too high, & more than twice as high than last year.
Kapono--Has been a pleasant surprise for the Heat, so much so that he has unseated Antoine Walker in the starting lineup. Known as an outside shooting specialist, and has always been good from long-range (41% career 3pt.). But has stepped it up to a new level this year by shooting a whopping 55.5% from 3pt, which leads the league by a wide margin. Riley seems to have put more confidence in him this year, and seems to have looked the other way at his defensive defiencies. He's averaging 10ppg on 52% in 24 mins which is about 3 pts higher than what last year's numbers would skew if you adjust his minutes.
Lee--Also in the running for a 6th-man award. Brings great energy of the bench for the Knicks. Double-double threat every nite (11ppg & 10.6 rpg) in only 30 mins per. And one of the leaders in field goal % (60.3%).
K. Martin--Has a legit case for All-Star consideration. Has been the best player on the Kings in the first half of the season. Has been one of the most efficient players in the league--shooting 49% overall & 39% from 3pt. Averaging 20.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.1 rpg, & 1.2 spg. Scoring 6 pts higher than last year's numbers would indicate based on points/mins.
H. Warrick--Has been overlooked in the Most Improved race, but quietly having a solid year off the bench in Memphis. Has increased his average from 4.1 ppg in 11 mins to 12.4 in 25 mins. Also, has seen his shoooting percentage go from 44.3 to 51%.
L. Walton--He came out of Arizona as a spotty shooter, and this was a big reason for him lasting until the 2nd round. He lived up to this rep his first few years, but this year he has made a huge jump in his shooting--47.8 overall (41.2 last year) & 39.2 from 3pt. (32.7% last year). Also, putting up 12, 5 rpg, & 4.2 apg and one of sweetest spin moves in the NBA.
Honor Mention: Deron Williams; Al Jefferson; A. Bynum; L. Deng
MY PICK: Have to go with K. Martin. He pretty much seems to be the consensus pick right now & I totally agree. Kmart is followed by 2 Warriors, M. Ellis & Biedrins.