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Sixth Man Of The Year Watch

Spencer Davies takes a look at six early candidates for Sixth Man of the Year.

Spencer Davies

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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.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA

NBA AM: Nicolas Batum Is Helping The Hornets Get Organized

Dwight Howard has predictably struggled with scoring efficiency, but Nicolas Batum’s return is already helping.

Buddy Grizzard

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With the Charlotte Hornets below .500 and presently out of the playoff picture almost a quarter of the way into the season, it’s not too early to start looking at what has gone wrong. While Dwight Howard has, predictably, been an inefficient contributor on offense, the loss of Nicolas Batum for much of the early season was a major setback. With Batum averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 assists in his first four appearances since his return, can he be the catalyst to help Charlotte turn its season around?

Batum scored 16 with five rebounds and six assists in his first appearance of the season in a loss to the Cavaliers. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it’s been a struggle to ease Batum back into the rotation due to his eagerness to be on the court.

“When he feels good, I just leave him out there,” said Clifford after Wednesday’s shootaround. “We just have to be careful because the first night, he gets going in the games and he wants to play more.”

Clifford added that Charlotte’s condensed schedule, featuring seven games in 11 days, has complicated efforts to bring Batum along slowly.

“He just needed to play some,” said Clifford. “I think once we get through this stretch he’ll be good. He eats up minutes anyway.”

Batum working his way back into the rotation could help the Hornets address one of the early issues, which has been the incorporation of Howard into the offense. Batum gives Charlotte another proficient pick and roll ball handler in addition to Kemba Walker, and he should help put Howard in better positions to score.

“It’s a lot different being out there with Nic,” said Walker. “He just takes so much pressure off a lot of us. It’s really good to have him back. He just makes the game easy for a lot of us.”

Three Hornets have executed over 20 pick and rolls as the roll man this season. Cody Zeller has scored 1.14 points per 100 possessions on 22 such possessions. Frank Kaminsky has scored 1.15 per 100 on 33 possessions as a roll man. This scoring efficiency for both players ranks just above the league average.

For Howard, in 24 possessions as a roll man, he’s scored .75 per 100, which ranks in the eighth percentile. In other words, Howard ranks in the bottom 10 percent of the league in pick and roll scoring efficiency. Just as Howard was unable to establish a consistent pick and roll partnership in Atlanta last season with point guard Dennis Schroder, Howard’s possessions as a roll man in Charlotte account for only nine percent of his total possessions.

By contrast, Howard has used 95 possessions this season in post isolation, which accounts for more than a third of his total possessions (35 percent). He’s scoring a ghastly .66 per 100 possessions, which ranks in the 15th percentile league-wide. Of the 17 players who have used at least 50 post-up possessions this season, Howard ranks dead last in scoring efficiency.

Despite these struggles, Clifford said Batum’s re-integration into the lineup has already resulted in more opportunities for Howard, both from direct and indirect assists.

“Since Nic came back now he’s getting the ball a lot more,” said Clifford. “That’s how Nic plays. It’s not only directly from Nic, but Nic will see how he’s playing and touch the ball to somebody else so they can get it to him.”

Clifford sounds relieved to have Batum back in the rotation, almost as if he’s an assistant coach on the floor.

“Certainly [it helps] our efficiency and organization on both ends of the floor,” said Clifford. “It’s the very nature of how he plays.”

With the Hornets just outside the playoff picture in the East, Batum’s return should help stabilize the team in its quest for the postseason. Batum wasn’t available to help ease Howard’s integration in the early part of the season. But now that he’s back, according to Clifford, he’s already been a huge asset to the team’s cohesion.

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Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner

Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.

Dennis Chambers

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Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.

After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.

Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.

For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.

Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.

Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.

His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.

Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.

Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”

Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.

“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”

Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.

Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.

“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”

On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.

When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.

Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.

“It’s turning around,” Turner said.  “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”

It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.

“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”

The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”

Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.

“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”

Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.

“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

Steve Kyler

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The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out our Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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