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NBA Saturday: Don’t Overlook Julius Randle

Julius Randle is striving for greatness, and he could be one of the best players to come out of this draft class.

Alex Kennedy

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Two years ago, Julius Randle was being labeled as one of the best high school players in the nation. He was a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, winning three state titles in four years at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Texas while averaging 32.5 points and 22.5 rebounds as a senior. However, he didn’t care about the attention he was receiving because he had his sights set on bigger accomplishments.

“All I am right now is a player that’s good on the high school level, but I’m trying to be great in college and then, hopefully, in the NBA,” Randle told me in 2012. “If I make it to the league, I want to be great. I have bigger goals than being recognized in high school and stuff like that. It doesn’t really affect me. I’m grateful that people think I’m a great player and everything, but I have bigger goals than this.”

Two years later, Randle is on the verge of achieving those goals. He just finished his lone collegiate season in Kentucky, in which he was dominant. He averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds, leading all Division I players in double-doubles for the season. Randle led all NCAA players in total rebounds (416), registering the second-most defensive rebounds (277) and the fourth-most offensive rebounds (139). He put up an impressive efficiency rating (25) and led Kentucky to the national championship game. Not bad for a freshman who just turned 19 years old in November.

Now, Randle is weeks away from being drafted and turning his NBA dream into reality. He’s going to be a lottery pick on June 26 and potentially a top-five selection. He’s one step closer to becoming the great player that he strives to be, and he can’t wait to begin his NBA journey. He’s confident that his game will translate to the NBA and that he can have the same success he had at every other level.

“I think my versatility [separates me from other power forward prospects],” Randle said.“We’re all athletic and fast, but I think my versatility – being able to shoot the ball, handle the ball really well, having the intangibles to guard on the defensive end even and I’m still getting a lot better at that – I just think my versatility separates me from a lot of people.”

Randle has the killer instinct and confidence that NBA talent evaluators love. That was obvious dating back to his high school days, and he confirmed it at Kentucky.

“I want to be totally dominant on the court in every game,” Randle said in high school. “When I walk off the court, I want to be known as the best player.”

For most of his life, that has often been the case. Randle is an intriguing prospect, since he’s so strong and physically gifted. He’s explosive, quick and always active, which is why he’s such an excellent rebounder. He’s able to score in the post, even against bigger defenders, and he consistently gets to the free throw line and converts. But perhaps the most attractive thing about Randle is his motor. The team that drafts Randle doesn’t have to worry about him giving anything less than 100 percent. He’s an intense competitor who always goes hard, and he has an outstanding work ethic.

There have been some concerns about his height (6’9), since he’s somewhat undersized for a power forward in the NBA. There was also talk that he had relatively short arms, but at the combine his wingspan was measured at 7’0 and his standing reach was 8’9.5, which means that his arm length shouldn’t be an issue in the league.

Randle is confident that he’ll be effective in the NBA and he’s looking forward to further proving himself throughout the pre-draft process. He knows that this is his chance to improve his draft stock and impress the teams that control his fate, and he’s ready to make the most of the opportunity.

“Am I able to stand out? Yeah, I feel like I’ll be able to stand out in any situation just because of my belief in myself and my confidence and my ability,” Randle said.“Regardless of what goes on, I’m just trying to have fun with it all.”

Throughout the college basketball season, Randle and his Wildcat teammates were under the microscope and trying to live up to ridiculously high expectations. Entering the season, Kentucky was ranked No. 1 in the country and being described as the best recruiting class ever. Fans were anticipating an undefeated season and a national title. However, the team ended up losing 10 games before the NCAA tournament, but Randle said he thinks that’s what brought the team together and propelled their impressive run in March.

“It helped us mature a lot just because we had to become closer to each other,” Randle said.“We leaned on each other a lot because we were going through an everyday process together and it really brought us closer than we already were. … I just learned how to attack adversity every day. How I can get better every day, even when things aren’t going the way you want them to? I was able to do that.”

One of the benefits of playing for Kentucky is that there are many, many former Wildcats in the league who are still very involved with the program. Randle has been receiving advice from a number of these players, many of whom went through this same NBA pre-draft process recently and were top picks as well.

“[They told me to] just be myself and have fun with everything since it’s something you only get to do once,” Randle said.

Randle has been training for the draft back in Texas and working on several aspects of his game.

“I’m just going to keep getting into great shape, keep working on shooting, keep being that versatile player and keep getting better on the defensive end,” Randle said. “I put in a lot [of conditioning work], just because I want to be ready for the workouts, ready for the summer league games and eventually ready for the season. Being in shape as a professional is something you should always be in.”

NBA talent evaluators love Randle’s game and believe he has what it takes to be an impact player at the next level.

“He’s interesting,” one Western Conference executive said. “He’s a little undersized for a four, but he’s a guy that coming into the league can come off your bench and score baskets. He’s got to develop a 15-17 foot jump shot, which I think he will. He’s very left-handed, but I think he can rebound at the NBA level. Offensively, I think he’s going to come in and score baskets.”

“He’s a guy that can be Zach Randolph,” said Ryan Blake, the Senior Director of NBA Scouting Operations. “At this stage of the game as a power forward, I project him to do a lot more with his development [considering the] hard work that he puts into it.”

He’s a man, and he won’t get pushed around by other players,” one Eastern Conference scout said. “Right now, he’s left-hand dominant, so he must work on his right hand and keep improving his jumper if he wants to take the next step and really wreak havoc. He should be able to play in the league for a really long time, but the question is how good will he be?”

Randle has been waiting his whole life to play in the NBA, brushing off past success because he strived to be great on the professional level. Soon, Randle will be on basketball’s biggest stage and have the chance to solidify himself as an elite player. This draft is loaded with talented players who have been hyped up for years, but Randle shouldn’t be overlooked.

(Check out this breakdown of Randle’s game, from our friends at DraftExpress).

Phil Jackson Asks Carmelo Anthony to Opt In

Will Carmelo Anthony opt into his contract and delay his free agency by one year? That’s what Knicks president Phil Jackson has asked his star to do. Jackson wants Anthony to give him and his new head coach one season to change the culture in New York and show ‘Melo how things are going to be moving forward before he makes his free agency decision.

If Anthony opts in to the final year of his contract, he’ll make $23,333,403 next season. By opting in and increasing his contract number, he would be eligible to sign a larger contract next offseason when he’s a free agent, since salary increases go off of the previous year’s figure. It’s risky, because Anthony would be delaying his multi-year, lucrative payday and could get injured during the 2014-15 season, but he could end up making more money in the long run if all goes as planned.

This would also take Anthony’s contract off of the books in the summer of 2015, when the Knicks want to pursue “headline players,” according to Jackson. The Knicks only have $290,000 in guaranteed commitments for the 2015-16 season, so Jackson and his staff would have a ton of money to throw around to re-sign Anthony and then put a star (or two) next to him in New York.

Jackson said that Anthony is considering opting in, and he reportedly has until June 23 to make his decision and inform the Knicks.

“I’ve told him it might be a good idea to hang in here and see what it’s like for a year, and go on to next year,” Jackson said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “But that’s his option. That’s what he’s earned and part of his contractual agreement. He has the right to [opt out]. But I just offered that to give him an opportunity to see how this is going to change – with the coaching, the system and the culture we impose.”

In the meantime, Jackson needs to find a head coach. He nearly had Steve Kerr, even coming to a verbal agreement with the first-time coach, but then the Golden State Warriors job opened up and he couldn’t resist considering the team’s talent and his California roots.

“Unfortunately, I had told [Anthony] that Steve Kerr was coming in to coach the team when I felt it was the time to tell him,” Jackson said. “Then I obviously had to back off that. And we haven’t talked about coaches since.”

“I had to kind of release [Kerr] to actually go to this job and say, ‘You have to do what’s right for yourself’,” Jackson said, according to the New York Daily News. “I understood entirely the process he was going through to have that [Warriors] job open up. That was something he kind of thought would be a good fit for him. So that’s good, we’re happy for him.

“There were plenty of things in the contract where he could have come here and been very satisfied. So that really wasn’t the issue. The issue was about California, and the issue was about — to be perfectly honest – it’s a better job for him. He’s a California guy. It’s a group of guys that are for him, been in the playoffs, been there, they have a really good operating team right now. … We’re still a team that didn’t make the playoffs, have to put together a roster. I’m not saying we have to rebuild, per se, but we have to build a competitive team, whereas that team — what did they get, to the semifinals last year, and this year they got bumped in the first round. But playoff experience is important.”

Jackson admitted that some people in the organization have “suggested” that he return to the sideline and coach for a year while he mentors a young coach. However, he says he’s not interested. He doesn’t think he can physically do the job at his age, which is a big reason why he’s hesitant to coach again.

Derek Fisher, who currently plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder and spent many years as Jackson’s point guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, is someone who he is considering to be the Knicks’ next head coach since he’s a great leader and familiar with the triangle offense.

“For the last two summers, Derek and I have talked about the next step in his career. And he’s gone back to playing,” Jackson said. “But we’ve talked about the next step over the last two years. So I kind of know what he wants to do, and his feelings. He’s got a family—kids, little kids, in L.A. I’ve got no idea if he’d want to move his family to come here. There’s so many unknowns, and I’m not talking to him [yet]. But he’s definitely on my list of guys who could be a very good candidate for this job.”

Jackson would love to steal his old protégé Brian Shaw from the Denver Nuggets, but he doesn’t want to give the team any compensation.

“Denver has everything that we’ve owned for the last few years already,” Jackson joked, since the Nuggets have two draft picks and four players from the Knicks’ trade for Anthony. “There’s nothing else I want to give them.”

It remains to be seen if Anthony will opt in and who the next head coach will be in New York, but as always, the Knicks are an interesting team to keep an eye on.

 

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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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