After James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets from the Oklahoma City Thunder in late October, he was thrust into a starting role, thus making him ineligible to defend his title as last season’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year. With last year’s winner out of the picture, the award is left up for grabs.
Charlotte Bobcats guard Ben Gordon is making a case that he should be considered for the honor. Gordon was traded, along with a future first-round pick, to the Bobcats from the Detroit Pistons in June. For much of his three-year tenure with Detroit, Gordon struggled. His per game averages in points, rebounds, assists and steals all noticeably dropped from his numbers in his five seasons with the Chicago Bulls.
Gordon appears to be revitalized in Charlotte, though. He’s provided instant-offense off the bench and become a primary option when the Bobcats need a big score.
His stats early this season back the idea of a rejuvenated Gordon. In the 15 games that he has been healthy, Gordon is averaging 15.1 points per game on 45.2 percent shooting and 2.9 assists per game, all of which are his highest since his last season in Chicago in 2008-2009.
Moreover, Gordon has been lights-out from three-point range this season, hitting 38 of his 77 attempts. That averages out to 49.4 percent, which would be a career high for him.
To capture the Sixth Man of the Year award, though, Gordon will have to out-duel other quality sixth men this season. Two of the leading candidates for the award right now are New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith and Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford.
Smith is averaging fewer points per game, 13.5, with worse shooting percentages than Gordon. But he is also averaging close to three more rebounds and a half of an assist more per game than the Bobcats sixth man.
Crawford is the reciprocal of Smith’s comparison, averaging more points per game, 17.8, but averaging a half of a rebound and a little more than one assist less than Gordon. Crawford’s field goal percentage is only .1 points higher than Gordon’s, but his three-point percentage is significantly less.
It can be assumed that Gordon’s shooting percentages will regress slightly, particularly his percentage from long-range. Last season, Steve Novak lead the league in three-point percentage at 47.2 percent, 2.2 percent lower than Gordon’s current percentage. In 2010-2011, Matt Bonner led the league at 45.7 percent. Essentially, the success rate that Gordon is hitting three-pointers at is historically unsustainable.
However, what will continue to be high is Gordon’s role in the Bobcats offense. He is one of the few veterans that plays a large role for Charlotte. Even if his three-point percentage does falter slightly, he will still be looked to for his offensive prowess and receive open jump-shots because of Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions’ dribble-penetration ability.
The thing that will weigh in favor of Smith and Crawford instead of Gordon is the success of their team. Both the Knicks and Clippers have better records at this point in the season and are projected to continue that success. How the Bobcats finish the season is a bit of a mystery.
After a mildly successful 7-5 start to their season, Charlotte has lost their last five games. If the Bobcats are able to right their course through the rest of the season and finish the season respectably, the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year will include Gordon.
In that way, Gordon controls his own destiny when it comes to the award. As such a major part and catalyst in the Bobcats’ offense, his performance will determine many whether or not Charlotte is able to succeed this season. If Gordon succeeds, the Bobcats will most likely succeed. If the Bobcats win, Gordon will have a chance to win the Sixth Man of the Year award.