It will be a few more weeks before the major awards for this year’s NBA season are handed out, but there is no debate as to who should be named Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks.
In his second season with the team, Smith has averaged 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 33.5 minutes per game while shooting 42 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range, all off the bench. Call me crazy, but those look more like starter’s numbers than those of a role player. When he enters free agency this summer, chances are that the Knicks or some other team will pay through the nose to land him.
It certainly helps that over his last five games, Smith has posted 22.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while making 51 percent of his attempts from the field, plus 36 percent from beyond the arc.
Smith has also shown an incredibly well-rounded game this season. Rather than just be a shooter and dunker, he has shown a great ability to drive the lane as well as create off the dribble. In terms of sixth men, those qualities are incredibly hard to find.
More importantly, besides Smith, those remotely worthy of consideration at this point in the season are few and far between. Kevin Martin of the Oklahoma City Thunder has been a deadly three-point shooter all season long, averaging 14 points while making 45 percent of his field-goal attempts and 43 percent of his threes, but his production has not been nearly as consistent. Looking at his scoring averages in each month of the season, they all gradually decrease.
In Smith’s case, while the percentages are hit or miss, his production over the course of the season has been fairly consistent, easily better than par for the course. Over the last two months, he has averaged just over 22 points per game, above his seasonal average.
That said, the only man who could really give Smith a run for his money in the quest for this trophy is Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers. He has averaged 16.5 points per game and shot 44 percent from the field, plus 37 percent from long range in his first season in Los Angeles, and played an integral role in helping the Clippers win their first ever divisional crown this year.
Granted, Crawford isn’t as dynamic an athlete as Smith, but it’s clear just how important he was to his team.
But that doesn’t take away from what Smith has done for the Knicks. In games that team star Carmelo Anthony had to miss due to injury, Smith was there to step up on offense. Most important of all, let’s not forget the clutch factor.
Thus, when push comes to shove, it’s going to be hard to justify giving the Sixth Man of the Year trophy to anyone except Smith.