While major alterations to the list have been made throughout this process, the race ultimately has come down to two players on opposite sides of the country: Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford and New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith.
Both players are in their first full season with their teams and both were able to add a bench scoring dimension to which neither team had previously been accustomed.
This East Coast vs. West Coast battle picked up its heaviest bit of steam towards the tail end of the season – and is where our decision became a bit easier.
Dating as far as All-Star Weekend, Smith has been at his best, playing better than he had at any point in the season. Crawford may have been the steadiest sixth man this season, but he didn’t finish like Smith did.
In other words, as close as the race was, it was the strikingly noticeable improvement by Smith after the All Star break that gives him the nod over Crawford, who never quite played the same high level of basketball after the break. Not like Smith, anyway.
If the season had ended at the All-Star break, the trophy would have gone home with Crawford without much protest. He was averaging 16.1 points per game on about 43 percent shooting. Smith was at 16.0 points on about 40 percent.
After the break, Smith made his move and didn’t really look back. While Crawford played well after the break, maintaining his previous pace, Smith played better than well. His 20.9 points on 44.6 percent shooting are numbers that most coaches – perhaps outside of Laker Land, South Beach and Houston – would love from their starting shooting guard.
Conveniently for Smith and the injury-riddled Knicks, his stellar play didn’t just lead to positive press for himself; it also led to wins. The Knicks have dealt with injury issues all season, most notably No. 2 scorer Amar’e Stoudemire.
With Smith assuming a huge chunk of the scoring load, along with an MVP-caliber season from Carmelo Anthony, New York has put together a 19-8 record since the break that included a 13-game winning streak that ended Thursday night in an overtime bout at Chicago.
JCrossover and the Clippers haven’t seen the same level of success. Thus far, they are just 13-9 since the break, and Crawford has not consistently blown up the stat sheet the same way Smith has over the same period.
Currently, the deeper, more talented Clippers are the fourth seed in the West, falling from the top spot they held during the season’s first half. The Knicks sit second in the admittedly weaker East, behind the powerhouse Heat.
Other candidates who climbed as high as second in our rankings – Golden State’s Jarrett Jack, New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Martin, Boston’s Jeff Green and Utah’s Gordon Hayward – all had solid seasons but weren’t able to consistently “wow” the way Smith and Crawford have.
Before last week, Crawford was the sole holder of the top spot throughout the season. Smith’s track record, especially over the last two months, speaks for itself. His clear impact on his team’s success – and the level of that success – gives him the award.
So, for the last time this season, on to the rankings: