The “For Your Consideration” series will argue the award case for an individual who is not the clear frontrunner (you will not see a Curry for MVP piece here, for example).
One additional note: I also will only do one of these for cases I believe in rather than all possibilities, so this functions as an endorsement of sorts.
Sixth Man of the Year does not exactly have the most rigid rules. The only hard line is that a player must have come of the bench in more games than they started. Beyond that, NBA uses the wording “best player in a reserve role” in press releases for the award so we can go with that.
The Contenders (in no particular order):
Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder: 11.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 23.3 PER
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets: 15.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 16.9 PER
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors: 7.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 12.6 PER
Ed Davis, Portland Trail Blazers: 6.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 18.5 PER
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans (yes, he qualifies): 16.1 PPG, 6.0 APG, 20.2 PER
NOTE: Tristan Thompson fits the qualifications at this moment and would be a strong contender but he is starting games now and will get enough of them to be eliminated from qualification by the end of the season. Plus, he is close enough already (29 starts in 63 games) that some voters would probably exclude him from consideration.
Andre Iguodala’s case for Sixth Man of the Year cannot come by traditional counting stats but those do not accurately reflect his value to the Warriors. Voters who want high scoring and efficiency can point to Kanter and Jrue Holiday (whose presence on the list feels like cheating since he is averaging about 27.3 minutes a game but came off the bench most of the year) who are clearly having better seasons statistically.
Iguodala actually has a somewhat “normal” playing pattern for a sixth man as he anchors second units but also gets minutes with the starters. In fact, the two players Iguodala has played the most with are Stephen Curry and Draymond Green rather than a second unit guy. That makes sense- after all, someone on the court for 27 minutes a game has to spend serious time with the core.
While simply playing minutes with the starters is unavoidable for heavy minute bench guys, Iguodala closing games for the Warriors elevates him over some of the Sixth Man of the Year contenders. In fact, Iguodala is sixth in the entire league in Net Rating during clutch situations (defined as a five point or less margin with five minutes or left remaining) behind four Warriors and Mario Chalmers. Golden State is outscoring opponents by an insane 42.6 points per 100 possessions when Iguodala plays in these situations and have only lost once (18-1 record in those spots).
The biggest reason Iguodala deserves Sixth Man of the year is another aspect of his value that is hard to quantify: his defensive impact. Beyond the basic “watch their games” consider that when Draymond Green is on the floor without Iguodala, the Warriors allow 98.3 points per 100 possessions. That is very strong- a little better than the team does as a whole and it would be good enough for #2 in the league this season if extrapolated to full games. However, when Green and Iguodala play together, opponents score almost four points per 100 less, dropping that down to an eye-popping 94.4. Amazingly, that figure is better than last year with both on the floor in a season where the Warriors led the league in defensive efficiency and is also #3 for any duo in the league this season behind Tim Duncan with Kawhi and LaMarcus Aldridge.
That ties in with another key element of Iguodala’s argument: his integral place in the NBA’s best lineup. While not used a ton (149 minutes in 32 games) during the regular season, the Nuclear Lineup outscores opponents by a seemingly impossible 50.3 points per 100 possessions. The next-best non-Warriors lineup is one of Houston’s at +40.0 with less than half as many minutes and the next with more than 100 minutes played is an Atlanta one all the way down at +27.1. When Iguodala missed time recently due to a hamstring issue, Coach Kerr did not deploy Draymond at center variants often and attributed that to Andre’s absence on Wednesday when Iguodala returned. His defensive aptitude helps those units function in a way no one else can replicate. In fact, there are four Warriors lineups that are among the top 30 in the league (of the top 250 in minutes played). Iguodala is in all four along with Curry and Draymond- even Klay is missing in more of them than Andre.
If it needed a clincher, keep in mind the historical element in play for Iguodala. The Warriors are a historically great team and Andre Iguodala will likely finish the season as the fourth most valuable member accounting for minutes played behind the three All-Stars. Both centers have both missed time this year (and Iguodala plays more than either anyway) and Harrison Barnes has disappointed somewhat. Davis and Kanter have both been factors in their team’s successful seasons but Iguodala takes that to a different level whether the Warriors reach 72-10 or not.
In a somewhat unusual turn, there are a series of worthy candidates for Sixth Man of the Year this season. Andre Iguodala is the best and most deserving of that strong group.