Every team needs a guy that provides a spark off the bench. When the starting five comes out, that player has two different responsibilities depending on the flow of a game—sustain the lead or get it back.
As a three-time winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award, Jamal Crawford is the epitome of what one should be. This year, there have been a number of players that have brought a boost already. Whether it’s been Jeff Green’s resurgence with the Cavaliers, Lou Williams cooking from deep as usual for the Clippers or Will Barton providing energy and hustle for Denver, the bench players across the league have done a solid job.
Staying on the subject, let’s take a look at six early candidates for the prestigious Sixth Man of the Year award.
6) Kyle O’Quinn
Just because he’s playing less than 17 minutes per game doesn’t mean we should downplay O’Quinn’s impact. When he’s on the floor, the New York Knicks averaging their highest offensive rating by far (112.6) as a team. With his current playing time, he is averaging 7.1 points per game with a 62.2 true shooting percentage. He’s also pulling down six boards.
On a 36-minute scale, these averages significantly boost up to 15.1 points and 12.8 rebounds. Among players with 30 minutes of playing time or less per game, the 6-foot-10 big man ranks fourth in Box Plus-Minus and fourth in DBPM. Whenever the Knicks need somebody to step in because of injury or simply need a physical body, O’Quinn gets the job done almost every time.
5) Julius Randle
Due to recent rumors of him being shopped around by the Los Angeles Lakers this likely won’t continue, but as a bench player, Randle has absolutely flourished. Similar to O’Quinn, he’s been battling for rebounds game-in and game-out and is tied for the most total rebounds on the team (78) with Kyle Kuzma. But it’s been his influence on both ends of the court that’s been the most deadly for Luke Walton thus far.
Offensively, Randle’s been efficient. He’s letting the game come to him by getting better looks and not forcing things, and it’s paid off. In 12 games, he has a true shooting percentage of 63.7, which is second highest on Los Angeles behind the sidelined Larry Nance Jr. Per 36 minutes, he is averaging 21.4 points and 12.2 rebounds. Now that the production has been there this season, it’s up to the Lakers to decide what to do.
4) Jonathon Simmons
From a D-League tryout to making a roster spot on the San Antonio Spurs and earning a major payday from the Orlando Magic this past summer, it’s been easy to root for a guy like Simmons. Some questioned how he would fare without Gregg Popovich making the transition over to his new home, but the 28-year-old has proven he not only belongs in this league, but he’s a real threat with the basketball in his hands.
Nicknamed “The Juice” from his time in Texas, Simmons has established himself as an all-around talent for his new head coach Frank Vogel. As the top facilitator of the Magic’s second unit, he attacks the basket and makes the right plays to get his teammates involved. In 25 minutes per game, he’s averaging 14.5 points on 52.3 percent from the field. He’s also knocked down 40 percent of his three attempts, most of which have come from above the break. His offensive burst off the bench is a huge reason why Orlando has a 7-4 record to start off the year.
3) Jordan Clarkson
As the second Laker on this list, Clarkson’s really made strides in the first 12 games of the season. Just like his teammate Randle, his efficiency has improved while his aggressiveness has remained the same. Compared to last year, his true shooting percentage is seven points higher (59.6) and he’s taken smarter looks.
Coming in to give Lonzo Ball a spell, Clarkson has been the go-to guy. With a 29.6 usage percentage, it’s the highest on the team and second highest among bench players. The most notable change in his game so far has been his willingness to drive as opposed to settling for threes. He’ll still pull up from mid-range, but most of the time it’s because that’s where he’s comfortable.
Scoring 15.3 points per game, he has an Offensive Box Plus-Minus rating of 3.5, which compared to other bench players is the sixth highest. Multiple times he’s shown how he can take over a game when necessary, and it’s given the Los Angeles second unit a true leader.
2) Rudy Gay
Could there have been a better mutual fit for Gay and the Spurs? It’d be hard to argue otherwise. Sometimes R.C. Buford acquires players that need a little bit of coaching or a fresh start. Popovich then usually turns those guys into a perfect addition to his system and gets the most out of them. This isn’t the case with this particular situation.
Gay is already a well-known and highly-talented basketball player. Speaking from an individual standpoint, he’s been fairly consistent wherever he’s gone. Gifted as a volume scorer, it was expected that he would fit right into Pop’s system—and those predictions have been proven to be true.
His transition to the Spurs has been a seamless one. Coming off a ruptured Achilles that ended his season in Sacramento last year, Gay looks like he still has plenty of bounce and hasn’t taken a step back with his offensive game. With the team-style ball in San Antonio, he hasn’t gotten off as many shots as he’s used to, but he is shooting the highest field goal percentage (48.7) and three-point percentage (44) of his career thus far.
With Gay on the floor, the Spurs are scoring 107.8 points per 100 possessions, which is good for the team’s best. They’re also a net -6.7 on the same scale with him on the sidelines in regards to defensive rating. He was my pre-season selection for the Sixth Man of the Year award, and though it’s early, he’s making a real case to win it.
1) Tyreke Evans
Evans could be in the conversation for multiple awards this season. Between what he’s done off the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies as a leader and the numbers that have come with it, it’s been a spectacular breakout for the former Rookie of the Year. Just take a look at what he’s doing. Both the eye test and statistics tell the story here.
Averaging 17.5 points per game with a 60.6 true shooting percentage, Evans has been the anchor of the second unit for David Fizdale. Along with Chandler Parsons, Jarell Martin, Dillon Brooks Mario Chalmers, and others, he’s helped steer the Grizzlies bench to the second-best net rating in the NBA. Defensively, the group is tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s for the top defensive rating, allowing just 94.6 points per 100 possessions.
Among those playing at least 20 minutes coming off the bench, Evans leads the way in BPM with a 5.1. Taking it a step further, he’s 17th in the entire league in that category and the only second-unit player in the top 20. He’s doing it all on both ends of the floor and has been a vital factor for Memphis being a 7-4 ball club.
Perhaps the most deadly element about Evans’ game this season has been his willingness to take the high-pressure shots when the Grizzlies need it. That is the definition of a true competitor and somebody who is unafraid of the moment. If he and the bench bunch continue to play the way they have, Memphis will keep itself in contention for the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference.
NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft
Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.
The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.
The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy
The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.
The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.
In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.
Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?
The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.
Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.
Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.
Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.
Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly
After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.
Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.
The Rich Got Richer In Boston
The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.
Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.
Luka Doncic Found A Good Home
The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.
For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.
Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.
Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.
NBA Draft Night Trades
David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.
Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.
1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks
The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.
Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.
For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.
2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers
The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.
For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.
The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.
The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.
3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns
The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.
Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.
For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.
The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.
4. Second-Round moves
There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.
For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.
The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.
The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.
The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.
In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.
#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors
With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.
Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.
Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.
Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.
The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.