I spoke with James Johnson at Atlanta Hawks media day back in October when he was just another former first-round pick trying to convince another team – his fourth, to be exact – that he was good enough for another shot.
While the candidates look admittedly boring today, we’re not even at the All-Star break yet. There are events coming in the not-so-distant future that will make this race exciting.
For now, the candidates just seem disappointing because we’re still spoiled from last year’s perfect storm.
In 2012-2013, we had J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford and Jarrett Jack dueling it out for the top spot on a weekly basis. They were all indispensable sparkplug scorers for playoff-bound teams. They made the race fun by taking turns putting on memorable performances in the nationally televised regular season games. It became one of the most entertaining Sixth Man Award races in recent history because each candidate deserved so much consideration.
When 2013-2014 started, it looked like Smith, Crawford and Jack were going to have newfound competition from the likes of Tyreke Evans and Harrison Barnes.
Unfortunately, Evans has been nabbed by injuries all season and Barnes has simply failed to live up to his sophomore expectations.
Beyond the newcomers failing to meet their hype, the candidates we took for granted going into the season are currently off the radar this year.
Smith’s nightmare postseason from last year has flowed seamlessly into a nightmare regular season. While he’s slowly starting to turn it around (18.7 points over his last 10 games!), the hole he dug himself in the awards race (and with his own fans) appears too deep to overcome now.
Crawford was a promising candidate at the start of the year. He held control of the rankings for most of last season and looked poised to reclaim his spot atop the rankings for this season. However, in December he was inserted into the Clippers’ starting lineup to fill in for injuries. He has stayed in the starting lineup ever since.
Fortunately, Crawford figures to return to the bench soon as Chris Paul gets set to return to the court. Our award race will get instantly more compelling when Crawford gets more reps in from off the bench. But for at least one more week, he’s on the outside looking in.
Jack’s failure to recapture last year’s numbers has an obvious correlation to the team he’s currently playing for. Last year, with Golden State, he had an enviable role as the Warriors’ third guard. Surrounded by lethal shooters and playmakers, Jack thrived with newfound space and trust in the offense.
Now, playing in Cleveland, Jack’s team is horrendous and it’s affecting his abilities to contribute effectively. His scoring is down considerably (from 12.9 points to 8.9) and his distributing has been fallen off as well (from 5.6 assists to 3.7). While some projected him to be a favorite for the award entering the season, he now looks untradeable due to his enormous contract.
So as we stand here today, two weeks before the trade deadline, the fate of this year’s Sixth Man Award race hangs on the shoulders of Oklahoma City’s training staff.
When Russell Westbrook does return from injury, Reggie Jackson will instantaneously return to the top of rankings and serve as a worthy challenger to Markieff Morris (and hopefully Jamal Crawford).
Jackson has 26 starts on the season in comparison to only 25 games off the bench.
While Westbrook’s return date is undetermined, it looks like Jackson will return to his sixth man role sooner rather than later:
— John Rohde (@RohdeOK) January 29, 2014
If this is true, we should expect to see a competitive and high quality race by early March. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Now, on to the rankings…
When Deron Williams returned to the court on January 20th to face the Knicks after a five-game absence, coach Jason Kidd decided to take an unexpected gamble. Instead of reinserting the three-time All Star into the starting lineup, Kidd told Williams he would ease back into the rotation by coming off the bench.
After much anticipation, and to some chagrin, the NBA’s coaches have submitted their list of reserves for the forthcoming 2014 NBA All-Star game in New Orleans, LA.
Many of the All-Star reserve selections are expected, though there were a few selections (and snubs) that were unconventional, though deserving.
In the Eastern Conference, Chris Bosh [Miami Heat], DeMar DeRozan [Toronto Raptors], Paul Millsap [Atlanta Hawks], John Wall [Washington Wizards], Joe Johnson [Brooklyn Nets], Roy Hibbert [Indiana Pacers] and Joakim Noah [Chicago Bulls] all join the team as reserves.
Out west, Dirk Nowitzki [Dallas Mavericks], LaMarcus Aldridge [Portland Trail Blazers], James Harden [Houston Rockets], Dwight Howard [Houston], Damian Lillard [Portland], Tony Parker [San Antonio Spurs] and Chris Paul [Los Angeles Clippers] are all joining the Western Conference roster.
This year marks the first time Millsap, DeRozan, Wall and Lillard have been selected to the NBA All-Star game in their respective careers.
With the announcement of the All-Star Reserves Thursday evening, many players took to Twitter to voice their appreciation, congratulations and displeasure with the selections.
After starting off the season atop the Sixth Man Rankings and quickly dropping out, Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris has climbed his way back into the top spot following consecutive weeks of efficient scoring.
Despite playing the entire month of January without star point guard Eric Bledsoe – out indefinitely due to knee surgery – Phoenix still surprisingly stands seven games above .500. They are currently the seventh seed in a loaded Western Conference.
Coach Jeff Hornacek is in his first year and doesn’t have an All-Star (although Goran Dragic deserves consideration). The Suns are the fourth-least experienced team in the league. Miraculously, they just keep on winning.
Markieff Morris has been a huge reason why.