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The first “half” of the 2021-22 NBA season is in the books and, because of the league’s calendar, more than two-thirds of the campaign is over. As such, award season is firmly here and, while a lot of attention will be paid to the NBA’s Most Valuable Player race above all others, the jockeying for position will continue in other pursuits. One piece of hardware that is interesting to monitor is the push for Sixth Man of the Year and, this time, there is a clear front-runner at the All-Star break.
Here is a look at the candidates, coming to you in alphabetical order.
Herro is the clear favorite, both in the mainstream discussion and in the betting market. In fact, the betting market lists Herro as more than a -1000 favorite, suggesting that he is overwhelmingly likely to win the award. Even if you throw out that angle, Herro does have an impressive profile. Scoring is generally rewarded in the Sixth Man race, and Herro is the only player in the top 50 of the NBA in scoring that also would qualify for the award. One potential argument against Herro is a sky-high usage rate, but the third-year guard has reasonable efficiency and carries bench groups for Miami when called upon. He also has name recognition and, while this isn’t everything, it probably helps Herro that he is on a very good Heat team.
Hield is off the radar now after a trade to Indiana, but he was at least a fringe candidate in Sacramento. Like Herro, Hield makes his biggest impact in the scoring category, and he is one of the best three-point marksman in the NBA. It is possible that Hield will be a fully entrenched starter for his new team, but the only requirement for Sixth Man eligibility is that a player has to come off the bench more often than he starts. Hield is going to meet that threshold.
Love being on this list would’ve been unthinkable in the recent past. He flamed out of the U.S. National Team over the summer, and there was buzz that Cleveland might even try to send him away, either by trade or buyout. Fast-forward to now, and the Cavs are firmly in the playoff mix in the East and Love is playing quite well. He has been supplanted by Evan Mobley at the 4, but Love has been a highly valuable role player, providing much-needed spacing with his three-point shooting. Love is playing frisky basketball on defense, and he fits well with both Mobley and Allen. If Herro falters, Love could step in.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Only Herro is averaging more points than Oubre at this juncture. As noted above, that is usually a pretty good metric for projecting Sixth Man consideration, and he has some “flash” games to attract attention. No one would accuse Oubre of being terribly consistent, but he is averaging more than 16 points per game on league average efficiency for a pretty good team. That’s a solid formula in a year that doesn’t have too many glaringly obvious candidates after Herro, but he also may have to contend with a new teammate (see below) for positioning.
Jordan Clarkson – Points. Per. Game. Clarkson won the award a year ago and, to be fair, he enjoyed the best season of his career. This time, he hasn’t been as good or as efficient, and the Jazz have fallen below expectations. Can that change? Absolutely, and Clarkson is kind of the embodiment of a traditional Sixth Man candidate who primarily derives value from microwave scoring.
Montrezl Harrell – Harrell might’ve been on the list above if he stayed in Washington, and he still might get there in Charlotte. The situation is just a bit uncertain, but Harrell is a former winner in 2019-20. He also has a penchant for putting up stats and doing so in a reserve role.
Cam Johnson – It hasn’t been an incredible year for Johnson, but the Suns are the best team in the league. That team distinction usually bumps players a couple of spots in consideration and, with a weak field, Johnson could snare some No. 3 votes.
Anfernee Simons – At the time of this post, Simons qualifies by coming off the bench more often than he starts. With that said, his eligibility will almost certainly change, as Simons is now a key piece of Portland’s future-facing approach. If the Blazers really wanted to get Simons into the award race, they could play him 32 minutes off the bench, but that doesn’t seem to be a priority.