Here are four of the NBA’s best on playoff contenders with their stats elongated out to per-36 minute averages.
Player A, a nine-time All Star, averages 18.4 points on 52% shooting with 7.5 rebounds.
Player B, a tw0-time All Star, averages 16.1 points on 48% shooting with 7.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
Player C, a leading Sixth Man candidate, averages 16.5 points on 49% shooting with 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.
Player D, the other leading Sixth Man candidate, averages 18.6 points on 48% shooting with 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
Player A is Chris Bosh, who according to ESPN’s new Real Plus-Minus statistic, is responsible for 8.71 of Miami’s 53 wins.
It appears pretty mysterious that Morris, who owns arguably the most aesthetic per-36 minute averages of the bunch, is rated as five wins less valuable than any of his counterparts.
The obvious flaw in relying on ESPN’s WAR statistic to compare the first three players with Morris is that the new statistic undervalues players on teams that play at a fast pace and over-credits players on teams that minimize the number of possessions in a game.
Bosh’s Heat, West’s Pacers and Gibson’s Bulls all rank among the bottom 10 teams in the league for possessions per game (better known as PACE).
Morris’ Suns, meanwhile, rank in the top 10 in PACE with nearly six more possessions per game than the Bulls.
Considering Phoenix allows 103.8 points per 100 possessions at their fast-paced speed, those six possessions come out to about seven extra points that the team allows per game. This negatively affects Morris’ Defensive Real Plus/Minus drastically. While no one is making the argument that Morris is a lockdown defender, it’s hard to trust the statistic when LeBron James ranks worse than teammate Rashard Lewis.
So while Gibson’s WAR is certainly helped by the defensive intensity his team brings every night, Morris’ WAR is deflated by his team’s added focus on offense.
Gibson and Morris aren’t the consensus favorites to win the award, although they should be at this point. While they’re both in the discussion, pundits across the country are still advocating for Jamal Crawford, Reggie Jackson, Manu Ginobili, Vince Carter and even Nick Young.
The reason I’m hesitant to give more credit to Crawford or Jackson is that both players were aided by additional playing time when their teams were struggling with injuries. While Crawford leads the sixth men in scoring, he had 23 games in the starting lineup in which his usage went up considerably and his efficiency dropped to below-average rates (40% on all field goals over that stretch). His scoring off the bench is still impressive (17.6 points) but hardly in a league of its own.
Jackson had 35 games in the starting lineup in which his scoring and assist rates increased noticeably. Since returning to the bench, he’s failed to give Oklahoma City the major offensive spark he was providing earlier in the season. In Russell Westbrook’s absence, Jackson erupted for 18+ points in 13 different games. The only time he’s scored 18+ points since Westbrook’s return was in Toronto when Westbrook left the game with an injury.
Ginobili is a worthy candidate for the discussion. By all means, his rejuvenation this season indicates he could be in for a big postseason. Unfortunately for him, the Spurs’ overall dominance and the emergence of Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli (both averaging 10+ points per game off the bench) render Ginobili “less valuable” than he’s been in past years. Though his efficiency is unparalleled by other candidates, it’s hard to make the case that he’s been a more important part to his team than either Gibson or Morris.
Chicago and Phoenix would be drastically different teams without their sixth men. In many ways, Gibson’s emergence as an interior post threat has offset the offensive void Luol Deng’s departure left at the trade deadline. Chicago, without Derrick Rose, Nate Robinson or Deng, has managed to improve its record from last year with four games still to go.
Meanwhile, of Phoenix’s best 10 five-man lineups with significant minutes played together, nine include Markieff Morris. Morris’ offensive impact usually determines the Suns’ fate. In the 33 games in which Morris has scored over 15 points, the Suns are 24-9. In other words, in games when Morris fails to score 15 points, the Suns are a mediocre 23-22. Hard to believe that the Suns were pegged for 22 wins in preseason over/under betting. Everything you need to know about gambling on basketball is one click away.
The Sixth Man award has traditionally gone to players who thrive offensively. Morris would be the traditionalists’ choice. Gibson would represent a change to that rule. With a week to go and two candidates still lighting up the box scores, it’s simply too close to call.
On to the rankings…
DROPOUTS: Vince Carter (5).
FIVE TO WATCH: Alec Burks, G, Utah; Patty Mills, G, San Antonio; Nick Young, G, Los Angeles D.J. Augustin, G, Chicago; Mike Scott, F, Atlanta
Jacob Eisenberg is a student at Emory University, spending the spring semester abroad in Brazil, and covers the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. Check out his website and click here to follow him on Twitter.