Mavericks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. And Jalen Brunson Are Strong Candidates For Sixth Man Of The Year

Mavericks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. And Jalen Brunson Are Strong Candidates For Sixth Man Of The Year

Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic entered the 2020-21 NBA season as the odds-on favorite to win MVP. However, things haven’t gone quite as planned. While Doncic is still in the chase for the coveted award, other players have leap-frogged him with Denver’s Nikola Jokic looking like the player who will take home the trophy. 

Even though Doncic isn’t likely to win any hardware this season, the Mavericks have two players who are making strong cases for another award. While they might not currently be the favorites, both Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jalen Brunson are unquestionably in the running and more than deserving of winning Sixth Man of the Year. 

Hardaway emerged as a beacon of consistency for Dallas this season. He’s only missed two games—Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle dubbed him the team’s iron man recently—which is almost remarkable given how Covid-19 absolutely rocked the team. Since moving primarily to a reserve role in February, Hardaway has excelled.  

He is without a doubt still the streaky shooter he’s always been, but Hardaway has given the Mavericks the scoring punch they were missing off the bench. In 39 games as a reserve, he is averaging 15.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists. For the season, he’s averaging 16.5 points and shooting 44.2% overall and 38.9% from deep. Of course, with Hardaway, it’s all about getting buckets, and recently, he’s been on a tear.

In his last 10 games, six of which have been starts due to other players being out of the lineup, Hardaway has been a flamethrower. He’s averaging 20 points while shooting 45.1% overall and an eye-popping 40.2% from deep. His two largest scoring outbursts—42 points against the Detroit Pistons and 36 points against the Miami Heat—came when he was in the starting lineup. He averaged 13 points off the bench during this stretch. 

Apart from spending time trapped in a Denver hotel room in January, quarantined due to the NBA’s Covid-19 health and safety protocols, Brunson has been a stalwart for the Mavericks. Serving as the primary backup point guard, he’s averaging 11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 51 games off the bench. 

Although he can play as inconsistently as Hardaway’s hot-or-cold scoring outbursts at times, Brunson is without a doubt a leader on the second unit. It’s a role that he carved out for himself in his three seasons in the league and one in which he is currently thriving. 

Over his last 10 games, he’s averaging 10.7 points on 44.3% shooting, including 31.8% from deep. He also chipped in 2.9 rebounds and 3.3 dimes. What’s more, his shooting percentage in the restricted area is simply elite—an astounding 78.4%. That’s better than most big men in the league. Brunson is 6-foot-1. 

Despite what Hardaway and Brunson are doing to help propel the Mavericks into the playoffs, another teammate duo are jockeying back-and-forth as the favorite to take home the Sixth Man of the Year trophy. They are Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles of the top-seeded Utah Jazz. 

Since early on, it seemed like the award was Clarkson’s to lose. After bouncing around the league, he’s thriving with the Jazz. This season, he’s averaging 17.6 points, four rebounds and 2.5 assists. His shooting numbers could be better, though. He’s hitting 41.7% of his shots and 34.4% from long range. He’s picked his scoring up recently, but he’s shooting worse. In his last 10 games, Clarkson is averaging 18.9 points on 39.8% shooting and 32.9% on three-pointers. 

If there’s anyone who can give Clarkson a run for his money, according to many league prognosticators at least, it’s likely Ingles. He is again having a season that further cements him as Utah’s “glue guy.” There’s nothing he can’t do on the court. He’s shooting better than Clarkson—49.9% overall and 46.5% on three-pointers—and never lets the ball stick. Ingles dishes 4.7 assists per game to go along with 12.3 points and 3.6 rebounds. 

It’s not surprising that these two are at the front of the pack of Sixth Man candidates given their play and the Jazz’s record. Boring down further into advanced stats, the case for Ingles only grows. 

Ingles sports an impressive win share, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player, according to Basketball-Reference. He clocks in at 6.8, second only to Rudy Gobert on the Jazz. Clarkson, meanwhile, has 3.5 win shares. 

Hardaway and Brunson aren’t in the same league as Ingles when it comes to win shares, but they both fair better than Clarkson. Brunson checks in with 4.5 win shares, second only to Luka Doncic on the Mavericks. Hardaway has 3.7. Since winning games defines good teams and subsequently good players, it’s arguable that both Brunson and Hardaway are more important to Dallas than Clarkson is to Utah. 

It’s easy to only look at Clarkson’s scoring average and assume he’s the best bench player in the league this year. Frankly, it seems like Sixth Man is biased almost entirely toward scoring output now. Yet, the overall contributions of Hardaway and Brunson to the success of the Dallas Mavericks are hard to overlook, especially when Hardaway looks more and more like Dallas’ second-best player. 

Luka Doncic may not be taking home the MVP trophy—yet—but both Hardaway and Brunson have a shot at taking home an award. Voters casting their ballots for regular season honors will need to take a long hard look at their contributions when they decide who should be Sixth Man of the Year.

Source link