Welcome to the 2nd annual Chasing 23 end of the year NBA awards, as chosen by our writing team (with a special guest this year, the esteemed Bruce Blitz from blitzsportsnetwork.com). The first award we will give out this year is for Sixth Man of the Year. If anyone ever doubted that everything can change in one season, we’ll remind the reading audience that last year’s near consensus choice was Lamar Odom. Well, so much for a repeat in that category.
So, without further adieu, we bring you our thoughts on this year’s best 6th man;
The NBA Realist: James Harden
For those who have not had a chance to watch James Harden play this season, here is what you need to know:
a) He is easily the best kept secret in the NBA, as well as it’s most underrated player.
b) On most teams Harden would have been either the Alpha Dog, or second best player.
c) He is arguably the 3rd best shooting guard behind Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant. Yes, he is that good.
d) He is the most efficient scorer in the NBA, with a blistering 66% True Shooting in 2012. In sum, no player generated more points on fewer possessions.
e) He is Manu Ginoboli version 2.0 - a better, more athletic, and less follically challenged version of the Argentinean, masquerading as an 6th man, but in fact an All-Star starter.
Harden is the 2012 6th man of the year, and there really isn’t a close second.
Brown Mamba: James Harden
For those who questioned the OKC front office (arguably the best in the business) when they drafted James Harden at no. 3 in the 2009 draft ahead of Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, and Ricky Rubio, it’s time to apologize. Not only would picking those other 3 have failed to make sense (given OKC already had the point guard position solidified), but it may very well be the case that Harden has an NBA career that is much more productive than most of the folks drafted after him.
I remember Harden when he was at Arizona State. He had a combination of that Mateen Cleaves and Greg Oden “I’m 18 but I look 38″ persona, the weird hipster facial hair and fro of a Black Eyed Peas reject, along with the craftiness of a veteran NBA player. Not the quickest guy on the court, Harden seemed to always be able to get to his spots, changing direction in a manner that baffled his opponents. This year has been no different for Harden, as he has emerged as the #3 in OKC’s Big Three, helping to position the Thunder as the favorites out of the Western Conference.
Sean Cribbens: James Harden
A vital cog in the Thunder juggernaut, James Harden emerged this season as Oklahoma City’s Manu Ginobili: a bench assassin with a funky game and discombobulating (forgive the word) swag that can completely alter the outcome of a contest. And while his basic stats (17-4-4 on 49% shooting, including 39% from deep and 84% from the free throw line) don’t fail to impress, it’s by advanced measurements that one truly comes to understand his importance to his team: he ranks 6th in Win Shares, 5th in Offensive Win Shares, and has the 3rd highest Offensive Rating and 2nd highest True Shooting Percentage. In the league.
And while it’s wise to take said stats with a grain of salt (for instance: Ryan Anderson ranks 7th in Win Shares), Harden’s marked impact on his team’s fortunes should propel him past a deep field of potential candidates for the award in question.
Honorable Mention: Lou Williams
Bruce Blitz: James Harden
This award goes to James Harden hands down. When you look at what James Harden provides for the Oklahoma City Thunder with his playmaking, scoring, and defensive capabilities it’s no wonder that Harden is top 5 in NBA Win Shares per 48 minutes.
The impact that James Harden has on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s success is crucial. The Thunder hit dry spells offensively and Harden comes on the court to create scoring opportunities for himself and others with the ball in hand. Harden is a knock down shooter who stretches the defense for slashers like Russell Westbrook which is also crucial. The Oklahoma City Thunder do not boast the same creativity with their half court sets that a team like the Chicago Bulls do. The fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder rely so much on the pick and roll or drive and kick basketball is why James Harden is irreplaceable as the 6th man on this team. Without Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden creating off the dribble the Thunder wouldn’t be as successful. The argument could also be made that James Harden is one of the most, if not most improved, players in the NBA this season. The value that James Harden brings to the Thunder from the 6th man slot is far more valuable than any other 6th man the NBA has to offer today.
E-Dog: James Harden
Harden silenced those who doubted whether Oklahoma City should have drafted him in 2009 with his play this year. Simply put, he emerged as a budding star, scoring nearly 17 points per game, improving his shooting from the field and rebounding, and nearly doubling his assists per game, all of which are why he also rates a mention for Most Improved Player balloting. More important, his skills as a playmaker, and his ability to mesh with Durant and Westbrook, were perhaps the biggest factors in elevating the Thunder from a contender to a top contender this season. His absence was clearly felt in the Thunder’s loss to the Lakers last Sunday; the Thunder will need him back healthy in order to win it all.