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NBA Monday: Can Miami Keep The Big Three?

With the Miami HEAT closing in on a fourth NBA Finals berth why is there talk of the Big Three breaking up?… What is going on in Memphis?… Up Close With Noah Vonleh.

Steve Kyler

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Keeping The Big Three:  For some unexplainable reason – well not entirely unexplainable – there is this public and media driven belief that Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are somehow destined to break up. If not this summer, next summer or the summer after that.

All three players signed similarly constructed deals – they all have an option for free agency in July, another one next July and their contracts come to an end in July of 2016. So they all have the option to leave every summer for the next three years.

Having the option and wanting to use the option are two very different things.

Since coming together in July of 2010, the HEAT are 224-88, that is a win rate of 71%. They have won two championships and are on the eve of making their fourth straight Finals appearance and could collect their third championship this year.

Who Could Have Cap Space?

 Team  Max Possible Space
 Dallas Mavericks   $30,834,657
 Philadelphia 76ers   $28,797,920
 Utah Jazz   $26,276,061
 Los Angeles Lakers   $24,808,804
 Phoenix Suns   $23,118,682
 Charlotte Hornets   $18,356,720
 Orlando Magic   $16,139,426
 Cleveland Cavaliers   $16,038,933
 Detroit Pistons   $15,542,190
 Atlanta Hawks   $10,345,536
 Milwaukee Bucks   $10,326,218
 Washington Wizards   $9,380,622
 San Antonio Spurs   $8,265,107
 Boston Celtics   $3,279,450
 Toronto Raptors   $2,483,490
 New Orleans Pelicans   $1,604,459

***Would require renouncing all free agents, options and cap holds. Does not include draft pick placeholders.

The core of the team adores head coach Eric Spoelstra. HEAT president Pat Riley has delivered on everything he promised them in 2010 and HEAT owner Mickey Arison has said he’ll pay whatever he needs to pay to keep the championship train on its tracks.

So exactly what is not working that would have these guys looking for the door?

Dwyane Wade isn’t dead yet. As much as there is this perception among fans that James wouldn’t want to tie himself to Wade long-term because of repeated knee injuries, the two are extremely close friends and there is zero animosity between those two guys. There is a reason they sit at the podium together, there is a reason they came together in Miami in 2010. They are very close.

Bosh is playing the role they ask him to play. If you believe for a second that he can’t be more than he has been in Miami, you might be crazy. Bosh is one of the guys that has put his game in the closet to win championships. He is absolutely capable of doing more for the HEAT and from time to time he shows that. Bosh playing in the paint gums up how Miami plays, so he’s been asked to dial it back to things that fit into the system, and he is more than happy with that. He still makes the All-Star team; he has started a nice jewelry collection and has bought his second massive piece of property in Miami.

He isn’t looking for the door any more than Wade is.

So this brings us back to James.

There is this sense that because he left one team, that he will pick up and leave another. That when the championship train slow down, he’ll get off and go find a new one.

Could you imagine saying that about Tim Duncan? How about Kobe Bryant? Dirk Nowitzki? How about Michael Jordan? He left the Bulls when the Bulls gave up on him. He didn’t hop from team to team trying win championships.

But because James left once, there is this perception he’ll do it again, which completely overlooks how happy he is with his team, his coach, management and ownership.

James has a family in Miami. He is getting absolutely everything he could have dreamed for and a little more and he is packing up and leaving?

He has the option, so because that option is there it must be talked about, because it is an option.

James’ camp does their best to keep everyone honest and aggressive with rumors and innuendo. They want the HEAT to continue to add top level pieces around him to keep that ring train rolling and with how the HEAT’s roster is structured they will be able to do exactly that this summer.

Virtually all of the current roster players’ contracts expire this summer. Udonis Haslem has a final year worth a little more than $4.62 million that is a player option. Chris Andersen has something similar worth $1.44 million. Norris Cole is the only player with a fully guaranteed deal worth just over $2 million. So the books become pretty clean in Miami this summer.

Behind The Numbers
Big Three’s Current Deal

 Year  Salary
 1  $20,590,000
 2  $22,112,500

A New Four Year – $80 Million Deal

 Year  Salary
 1  $17,278,618
 2  $19,092,873
 3  $20,907,127
 4  $22,721,382

The Big Three all have two years and just over $42.7 million left on their deals. If they opt-in, the HEAT won’t have much to work with, but if all three opt-out, the HEAT have plenty of options.

What they re-sign for opens up a lot of possibilities.

A new three year deal in the three years for $60 million range gets the HEAT to roughly $54 million next season to those three players and opens up roughly $9 million in cap space depending on how they manage Haslem and Andersen.

A new four year deal worth $80 million gets the HEAT to $51.8 million in commitments to those three players next season and could open up as much as $11 million in cap space depending on how they manage Haslem and Andersen.

The message to the Big Three is a new four deal lets you pick two or possibly three players from the free agent pool to fill in the roster. Do similar ‘trade you one for two’ deals with Haslem and Andersen to spread out what’s owed across one more year and the HEAT are under the cap, under the tax and have the ability to add whatever they want.

But wait, that means giving Wade and Bosh a bunch of money right?

That’s the cost of keeping the band together.

It’s possible you could say to Wade, give us a little bit of a break and he might do that, especially if it means bolstering the team where he doesn’t have to do as much.

But the money paid out to those guys isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds, mainly because we have seen the salary cap increase significantly this year and with a new National TV deal on the horizon the cap could go up even more in the life of their contract giving Miami more room to add and build around those guys.

Would the last year of Wade’s deal be ugly? Sure, but if it yields two or three more championships do you honestly believe anyone cares?

It’s easy to say James goes looking for a new championship contender. He has done it before, which means he could do it again. He has the options in his contract and this year’s HEAT are not nearly the unstoppable force that they were even a year ago.

The HEAT have to add fresh blood to the team, and there is a window to do exactly that this summer. As much as some want to talk about the Big Three breaking up, what’s far more likely is that the Big Three opt-out and re-up and give Pat Riley some breathing room to add to the roster. Trading two years and $42 million for four years and $80 million doesn’t seem like a crazy compromise to help your team get under the cap to go after one or two significant free agents.

The HEAT have all kinds of options in front of them and as fun as it is to speculate that it will all come apart as quickly as it all came together, the sense of things is the HEAT have done everything they promised those guys they would do and they all would like for this to keep rolling.

He Is In, He Is Out, He Is In Again:  If you are watching the Memphis Grizzlies from afar, they have become a head scratcher. Out of the blue majority owner Robert Pera ousted the front office and management that had turned the Grizzlies from a perennial money loser with no future beyond what was on the roster, into a profitable team with possibilities beyond the current core of guys.

Thanks for nothing I guess.

As rocky as head coach Dave Joerger’s start was to the season, he found his way mid-season and got the team into the postseason, but as the front office was packing, so too came the belief that Joerger was not Pera’s guy and that he was going to be fired and replaced by a higher profile coach.

There were media reports that Pera wanted to give the team to Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau much like Detroit did with Stan Van Gundy. That was followed by additional reports that suggested if Pera couldn’t get Thibodeau, he’d target Jeff Van Gundy.

Oh what a league it would be if both Van Gundy’s completely ran teams. Can you see it?

Smartly, Joerger started looking at his options and landed on the Timberwolves’ radar. The Wolves were granted permission to interview Joerger for their open coaching position and it seemed like the two were headed towards an agreement.

Joerger met with Wolves president Flip Saunders, who escalated the process to ownership and it seemed a coaching deal was imminent.

However to everyone’s surprise Joerger announced yesterday that he was not heading to Minnesota and that he and Pera had spoken on the phone and that both got to know each other a little and he is excited to remain in Memphis.

Huh?

Pera took to Twitter to defend his team and his direction. He made sure to point out that the media knew nothing about what was going on and that none of what was being reported was true. He was excited to have Joerger back, and he believes he is the right coach to lead the team.

Huh?

If you have watched all this unfold and find yourself confused, you are not alone. Former managing general partner Jason Levien who brought all of this together in Memphis, is likely as stunned as everyone else in the equation. Some where he has to be saying ‘I brought this all together and I am the one who is out?’.

If the image of a power mad tech billionaire jumps into your head, that might not be far from the truth.

If you have not seen this, Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer did a breakdown in 2012 of who paid what in the Memphis ownership group.

Robert Pera paid $45 million for a 25.6% ownership controlling stake in the team.

Huh? $45 million?

Things in Memphis have taken an absolutely weird turn towards the uncertain, and while Pera seems to want to manage the story from Twitter, at least the team has a head coach.

Chris Wallace, who was as far on the outside of the process as you are two weeks ago, is now back running the show and the draft. It’s completely unclear who will be running the team in the long-term, but for the time being stay tuned to Twitter, because that seems to be how news is going to come out now.

It’s been an odd couple week for Memphis, that’s for sure.

Up Close With Noah Vonleh:  While the top five spots in the 2014 NBA Draft might be pre-slotted to some combination of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum and Julius Randle, Indiana big man Noah Vonleh is very much in the discussion. With amazing length and shooting ability Vonleh gets compared a lot to a young Chris Bosh, and while no two players are the same, Vonleh’s physical dimensions and his scoring averages coming out of college compare extremely close to Bosh and that has teams more than intrigued.


More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: Should the 76ers Make a Splash?

Midway through the season, the Philadelphia 76ers sit atop the Eastern Conference. Still, if the 76ers are serious about competing for a title this season, they should look to add one more piece.

Quinn Davis

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Against the Utah Jazz, Tobias Harris entered overtime with just nine points. But, at the behest of Joel Embiid — who is himself in the midst of his own MVP season — head coach Doc Rivers chose to feature Harris and fed him in the post.

And, for their trust, Harris rewarded the Philadelphia 76ers with multiple huge buckets to close out a season-defining win.

There was plenty to take away from the game, but those last five minutes stood out. In recent seasons, the 76ers have struggled to close out games consistently, especially on the biggest stage. But, during that most recent game (and through much of the season’s first half), Philadelphia has looked their best when it’s mattered most. They sport the league’s seventh-best offensive rating and fourth-best field goal percentage in clutch minutes, per NBA.com. When faced with a top-10 defense, they jump to fourth in offensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass.

While the regular season data is auspicious, it might not mean much. Particularly in this weird season where a lack of offseason conditioning and empty arenas have led many teams into a lull to start the year. Additionally, the clutch data on NBA.com can be a bit unreliable; for reference, the 2017-18 76ers finished fourth in clutch time offensive rating before that number collapsed in the playoffs.

That said, there are certainly differences in this team to be encouraged by.

For starters, Embiid has clearly taken a leap. He’s hitting 53 percent of his long twos and 41 percent of his threes this season, per Cleaning the Glass, while his face-up shooting and post-up game have been as efficient as ever. Arguably his biggest step this season, however, has been his fitness, which would now seem to be at the point where Embiid can stay on the attack for an entire game.

While a bit more subtle than Embiid, Ben Simmons has also improved. While he’s still a non-shooter, Simmons has been more far more aggressive on offense, particularly over the last month. He’s also improved his free throw percentage to just over 70 percent in that span.

The play of those two, along with a rejuvenated and motivated Harris, has been enough to carry the team to the top of the Eastern Conference this season. Now, the question for Elton Brand and Daryl Morey is simple: do they believe those improvements are enough to push the team through the postseason?

Like every contender, the 76ers could and should make some minor additions and adjustments before the trade deadline. While they lead the East, Philadelphia’s net rating is three points worse than both the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, the conference’s second and third seeds, respectively. In fact, the 76ers’ plus-3.1 number is just eighth in the league. The disparity between their record and net rating can be largely attributed to the fragile construction of their bench; when Embiid and Simmons share the court, Philadelphia is crushing teams and posting a plus-15.1 net rating, per Cleaning the Glass; when either of them sits, the number plummets.

As currently constructed, the roster is akin to a house of cards: strong and sturdy when everyone is involved, but when one piece is removed the entire structure collapses. The struggles sans Embiid and or Simmons have been well-documented, but it goes beyond just the two stars. When Seth Curry missed time due to COVID-19, the lack of spacing was near-detrimental to the offense. When Shake Milton missed a few games, the bench went to wrack and ruin without a solid ball-handler to generate offense.

With that in mind, the 76ers are likely to be in the market for at least another ball-handler and a floor-spacing big man. Delon Wright, George Hill and Nemanja Bjelic, three players that would fit and shore up the team’s shaky reserves have been floated as possible additions.

But, was Philadelphia to go on a deep postseason run, those additions would only ever provide spot minutes. If they truly want to make a run with their current core, the 76ers must aim higher.

Morey, more than anyone in the team’s front office, should know this. With the Houston Rockets, Morey went all-in on Chris Paul as James Harden ascended to superstardom. In seven games, they came just short of an NBA Finals appearance, felled by one of the greatest teams the NBA has ever seen assembled. But, had Morey not pulled the trigger, the Rockets probably never get that far.

If they do look to add a big name, the pickings will be slim. The clear need is in the backcourt, particularly someone with range that can create out of the pick-and-roll.

Of course, that’s arguably the league’s highest-valued skill set. Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine, the two that best fit the bill, are likely unavailable, with both of their teams aiming for a playoff berth. CJ McCollum, another name frequently brought up in 76ers’ trade talks, is injured and just as unlikely to be moved.

So, who is obtainable and could get the job done? Kyle Lowry or Victor Oladipo likely represent the team’s best-case scenario.

Lowry, a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, is the heart and soul of a surging Toronto Raptors squad. But the door is open, as parting ways would seem to beneficial to both parties. Unlikely to compete for a title, Masai Ujiri and Toronto could cash out their aging star before his eventual exit and build around Pascal Siakam. Meanwhile, Lowry, 34, might want to compete for another title, with Toronto or not, sooner rather than later.

As for Oladipo, Houston would be crazy not to move him. 28-years-old and also an unrestricted free agent, Oladipo should be the furthest thing from a fixture in the team’s post-Harden plan. Unlikely to re-sign, the Rockets should recoup what they can from a team that might not mind losing Oladipo to free agency.

Lowry would be the more expensive of the two. But, at this point, he is the better player and the Raptors have more reasons to hold the face of their franchise. That said, almost any deal, even if it were to include a young player like Tyrese Maxey or multiple draft picks, would be worth it for a player of Lowry’s caliber. Oladipo would be a decent consolation — and cost significantly less — but he may not be enough to push the 76ers over the edge.

Beyond those two, the right fit is hard to find. Buddy Hield would be nice (and is a rumor mill fixture), but the Sacramento Kings have shown no desire to trade either him or Harrison Barnes. Evan Fournier is another name that could work but, while it seems as if he’s been on the block for years, Orlando has yet to move him; is this the year they finally cut him loose? Given the emergence of Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham could also prove a cheap but worthwhile addition as well.

Regardless of their target, Philadelphia must seize the moment. Embiid has played like an MVP, Simmons a Defensive Player of the Year and Harris is in the midst of a career-year as well; to let all that come and go and not so much as sniff the NBA Finals would be a major missed opportunity.

There are many reasons to feel good about the current 76ers roster, but they can — and must — think bigger.

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Nuggets, Analysis and Predictions for This Year’s All-Star Festivities

Bobby Krivitsky shares his analysis, noteworthy nuggets and predictions for this year’s All-Star festivities.

Bobby Krivitsky

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This year marks the 70th edition of the NBA All-Star Game, an event that began in 1951. Atlanta, for the third time and first since 2003, is set to host the festivities; one of the league’s more memorable All-Star games, the Eastern and Western All-Stars combined for more than 300 points as the East prevailed 155-145 in the lone double-overtime game in the contest’s history. Despite the awkward circumstances surrounding the event, here’s hoping the 2021 iteration can be just as eventful!

So, without further ado, here’s a primer on this year’s All-Star Sunday, featuring noteworthy nuggets, matchup analysis and predictions.

Slam Dunk Contest, 3-Point Shootout and Skills Challenge Predictions

Let’s start with the festivities taking place before and at halftime of the All-Star Game, beginning with the Skills Challenge. It’s always fun to pick a dark horse to win the obstacle-course competition that tests players’ dribbling, passing, agility and three-point skills — of the group, Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic and Robert Covington (the lone non-All-Star participant) of the Portland Trail Blazers best fit that description.

But who has the best chance to come away with the award? It would seem Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks’ wunderkind, would be best suited to take home the hardware versus the field.

Later, the Three-Point Contest is expected to be a flurry. Among the participants is a former champion: Stephen Curry, who won the contest back in 2015. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Boston Celtics’ two young stars, are entrants this year, as is Donovan Mitchell, who’s shooting a career-high 38.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. With Devin Booker, another former champion, expected to miss the contest due to a left knee sprain, Mike Conley has been tabbed to replace him. In a crowded field, Curry, inarguably the greatest shooter the game has ever seen, is deservedly the favorite. That said, this writer is backing first-time All-Star Zach LaVine, who’s shooting a career-best 43.5 percent from three — the highest mark among this season’s participants — on well over eight attempts per game.

For the Slam Dunk Contest, which is set to take place during half time of the main event, the three participants are all taking part in the event for the first time. New York Knicks’ rookie Obi Toppin evokes comparisons to Amar’e Stoudemire, thanks in large part to leaping off two feet to throw down the thunderous dunks when he rolls to the rim after setting a screen.

There’s a difference, however, between being a powerful in-game dunker and one whose pageantry can captivate the audience and earn the top spot in the competition. 

Trail Blazers’ guard Anfernee Simons stands at six-foot-three, making him the shortest participant in this year’s contest — some might argue that an advantage, given the added excitement of jams from smaller entrants. That said, Indiana Pacers rookie Cassius Stanley should be considered the favorite; Stanley registered a maximum vertical leap of 44 inches at the 2020 NBA Draft Combine, tied for the third-highest mark since 2000. And, at six-foot-five, the elevation he gets on his dunks will still stand out – case and point:

 

Noteworthy Nuggets

  • The Phoenix Suns are the fourth franchise Chris Paul has been named an All-Star for; the only other NBA players to accomplish that feat are Moses Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. 
  • LeBron James is making his 17th All-Star Game appearance, the third-most behind Kobe Bryant (18) and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (19). Odds are, three years from now, there will be a new record holder.
  • At 20-years-old, Zion Williamson will become the fourth-youngest player in league history to not only participate, but start in an All-Star Game. Bryant, James and Magic Johnson are the only players who took part in an All-Star Game at a younger age.
  • LeBron wisely chose Giannis Antetokounmpo with the first pick in this year’s All-Star draft. The two-time league MVP has the highest scoring average in All-Star Game history, producing 27.3 points per game over his first four appearances. By the way, LeBron’s 385 points are the most in the event’s history.
  • A record six European players got selected to this year’s All-Star Game: Antetokounmpo (Greece), Doncic (Slovenia), Rudy Gobert (France), Nikola Jokic (Serbia), Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania) and Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro).
  • There are a record nine international All-Stars, while five were voted starters, also a first: Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Gobert, Jokic, Sabonis, Vucevic, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons.
  • The Duke Blue Devils and Kentucky Wildcats are the two universities best represented at this year’s event, with three alums from both schools earning a spot in this year’s matchup. The former Blue Devils — Tatum, Irving and Williamson suit up for Team Durant along with former Wildcat Julius Randle. Booker and Anthony Davis, the other Kentucky products, are both out due to injury. Six All-Stars — Curry, Sabonis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Damian Lillard — did not play at a Power Five school.

Matchup Analysis

Unfortunately, Embiid and Simmons join Davis and Booker, though the Philadelphia 76ers duo is out due to contact tracing, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Their health — and the health of the greater All-Star group — is what matters most. But how could their absence affect the game?

On the surface, it’s a devastating blow for Team Durant, who will now play without their starting center and defensive anchor. Expect Team Durant to experiment with units exclusively composed of guards and wings. Expect Williamson, who was moved into the starting group in Embiid’s absence, to play heavy minutes at center, too. On offense, expect Leonard, Irving, Bradley Beal, James Harden and Donovan Mitchell to shoulder the load.

As for Team LeBron, expect more of a group attack. James’ group is made up of the NBA’s elite facilitators — Doncic, Jokic, Paul, etc. — and should be able to easily find the open man for the easy basket. Further, James snagged some of the league’s best from distance, including Curry, Lillard and George. Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, is a matchup nightmare himself; expect Team Durant to have their hands full with him.

Team LeBron projects to be more cohesive and dynamic than Team Durant, which is why they should be considered the favorite.

The Return of the Elam Ending 

Last year’s festivities sparked a new trend where the fourth quarter is untimed and, in honor of Kobe Bryant, 24 points are added to the leading team’s total after three quarters to establish a target score. It made for a thrilling final frame and, to little surprise, the Elam Ending is back this season.

Nick Elam created the alternate ending in 2007; the idea was born from a determination to see more action at the end of games rather than the trailing team fouling to extend the contest, the leader stalling to protect a lead and or players launching low-quality shots out of desperation.

Who Wins the Game? MVP?

LeBron James is 3-0 since the NBA switched formats to have the two All-Star captains draft their rosters. Sizing up this year’s respective rosters, he seems poised to earn his fourth-straight victory.

James has put together what should be considered one of the greatest passing teams in the event’s history; he’s flanked by Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Chris Paul. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo James’ first pick, has the highest scoring average in the history of the All-Star game: 27.3 points per game. Adding to his team’s dynamic composition is a bevy of lethal three-point shooters such as Curry, Lillard and Doncic. When it’s time for the final frame and the intensity ramps up, Team LeBron would seem able to get a bucket by any means, a fact that should easily position them to emerge the victor.

As for All-Star MVP, James taking over in the game’s final stages is a distinct possibility. The same could be said for Antetokounmpo, who has yet to earn the award in his five appearances. Doncic, dazzling with his passing and long-range prowess, or Jokic, delivering dimes with surgeon-like precision and scoring from all levels of the floor, could also come up big and earn the honor. 

That said, the prediction here is a hot shooting performance from Curry should earn him the award for the first time in his career, while also leading Team LeBron to the win.

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NBA Daily: Sixth Man of the Year Watch — March 6

With the All-Star break upon us, the Sixth Man of the Year award would appear to have a heavy favorite. Ariel Pacheco examines.

Ariel Pacheco

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With the All-Star break upon us, it’s a good time to take a look at the candidates for Sixth Man of the Year. In comparison to other award races, the race for the Sixth Man is a lot more clear-cut in terms of the favorite and their competitors. 

There are certainly plenty of players that are having great seasons off the bench but, due to a variety of reasons, are out of contention for the award. Still, their play is deserving of recognition: Terrence Ross is averaging 15.5 points per game for an Orlando Magic team that has fallen out of playoff contention due to terrible injury luck. Montrezl Harrell, last year’s winner, has seen his numbers dip significantly with the Los Angeles Lakers this season — he’s still productive, but his 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game just won’t cut it this season. Tyrese Haliburton has been a surprise, but the rookie and his 13.2 points, 5.4 assists and 43.3 three-point percentage off the bench has been a bright spot for an otherwise bad Sacramento Kings squad.

That said, while they’ve performed well, none of those players — and many others — have a real chance to compete for the award. In fact, barring a major mixup in the season’s second half, the race to the award might come down to just three individuals.

3. Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets are in the midst of what is currently the longest losing streak by any team this season. They’ve lost 13 in a row and have completely fallen out of the playoff picture. Houston’s poor record hurts Gordon’s case, but the 32-year-old is still putting up big numbers and, despite a hefty salary over the next few seasons, may even be a guy teams look to add at the trade deadline.

Gordon is averaging 17.8 points per game, the second-most by any bench player this season. He hasn’t been as consistent from beyond the three-point line as in years past, or when he won the award back in 2017, but Gordon’s still more than capable from distance and has been one of the league’s best at attacking the rim. Gordon has also provided some excellent on-ball defense.

Gordon has become a perennial candidate for the award — and for good reason. Still, at this point, it’s hard to justify him over the other two candidates in these rankings.

2. Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors

The opposite of a household name prior to the 2020-21 season, Boucher has burst onto the scene and been a revelation for the Toronto Raptors. His play has been a needed spark for a team that struggled mightily out of the gate but has since turned their season around. So far this season, Boucher has, by far, been Toronto’s most consistent and important big — and he’s been so despite the fact that he plays just 23.8 minutes per game.

Averaging 13.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, Boucher has slid nicely into a role similar to what Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol fuflilled a season ago. And, despite a janky-jumper, Boucher has made his presence felt on the outside, hitting 44.5 percent of his 3.8 three-point attempts per game and clearing major space down low for Toronto’s offense.

In almost any other season, Boucher would have a strong case for the top spot on this list. But, as it stands, may not even garner any first place votes for the 2020-21 iteration of the award.

1. Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz

Because Jordan Clarkson has just been that good.

This year’s runaway favorite for the Sixth Man of the Year award, there just aren’t many arguments that stand up to what Clarkson’s been able to do this season. He’s scoring the most of any candidate and doing so on great efficiency. Further, he’s proven the offensive fulcrum for the bench of the best team in the NBA.

Clarkson is averaging 17.9 points with a true shooting percetnage of 58.1 percent. He’s been consistent yet forceful offensive punch for the Jazz and their second unit, scoring in double digits in all but one of Utah’s games this season, including a 40-point outburst agaisnt the Philadelphia 76ers’ top-tier defense and 10 games with 20 or more. While All-Stars Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley deserve a lion’s share of the credit for the team’s success this season, Clarkson has also played an integral role.

Were the vote cast today, Clarkson’s selection for the Sixth Man of the Year award would likely be unanimous — again, he’s been that good. Utah recently gave him a four-year, $52 million deal and, if Clarkson can continue to play at this level, he’ll prove that deal a steal for the Jazz in short order.

For now, this is where the race to the Sixth Man of the Year award stands — but anything could happen in the second half of the season. With that in mind, keep on the lookout for Basketball Insiders’ next peek at the race.

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