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NBA Daily: Sixth Man of the Year Watch — 11/8/19

A few unexpected names have surged into contention for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, no matter how early in the season it is. Douglas Farmer takes a look at five.

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At the risk of overreacting to a small sample size, a name that once led these Sixth Man of the Year considerations is now off the list entirely. More than a testament to others’ rises, and there have been some surprises in the East, that is a reflection of a 30-year-old perhaps finally showing some signs of age.

If not that, then Eric Gordon’s candidacy is a casualty of the Houston Rockets’ uneven start. Of course, his shoddy play has not helped Houston’s cause, as he has hit a career-low 23.3 percent of his shots from three and is averaging only 10.3 points per game.

Gordon is not the only name to be outright removed from these thoughts, but his is the only one due to performance; J.J. Redick and Gordon Hayward are both starting too many games to be considered Sixth Men.

What players, familiar and new, have emerged to replace them on this watch list?

Serge Ibaka — Toronto Raptors

Ibaka has found a home for himself for as long as Toronto will have him, and that latter possibility could be for a long while given the Raptors’ early success this season. Ibaka has been a key part of that 5-2 start, averaging 14.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.

Many expected this franchise to tear itself down after winning the NBA Finals and losing Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers, but playoff contention alone might be reason enough to keep this team intact. As long as that is the case, veterans like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Ibaka will stay in town, and Ibaka’s efficient play — shooting 52.6 percent from the field — will eventually earn notice around the league.

Devonte’ Graham — Charlotte Hornets

The second-year guard is little known, but if he keeps shooting 41.8 percent on 6.9 three-point attempts per game, that will change quickly. Graham’s hopes for accolades may be torpedoed by Charlotte’s presumed downfall in the standings, but the Hornets are currently 4-4, and Graham is a key part of why.

He poured in 35 points in a 122-120 overtime victory against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, and that was only the first explosion from the former second-round draft pick. Much of the NBA universe noticed when PJ Washington scored 27 on 7-of-11 shooting from deep in Charlotte’s season opener, a 126-125 victory against the Chicago Bulls. Few realized Graham went 6-of-7 from beyond the arc to score 23 points that night, each point just as needed as Washington’s.

Lou Williams — Los Angeles Clippers

The three-time winner of this award, and two-time defending, began the year as the final name on this list, the presumptive frontrunner. The downtick to third is more a reflection of his relative struggles than anything else. The 33-year-old currently has a career-low 45.2 eFG percentage, and his 40.4 field goal percentage is his lowest in half a decade.

Despite Williams’ 22.4 points and 5.8 assists per game, those regressed rates will be reason enough to poke holes in his try to win the Sixth Man of the Year award for the third year in a row. For that matter, Leonard’s arrival did not help Williams’ narrative, turning the plucky franchise’s clutch scorer into a bench luxury buttressing a title contender. That is, obviously, a deal Williams should have no qualms with.

Derrick Rose — Detroit Pistons

Rose has continued his career resurgence in Detroit after it enjoyed sporadic moments of promise last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The difference between 2018-19 and 2019-20 is consistency.

Injuries limited Rose to 51 games last year, while he has played in six of the Pistons’ nine games to date. A balky hamstring has kept him out of action this week and Rose remains listed as day-to-day. If that continues to be an issue, Rose will not stay in these discussions for long.

When healthy, Rose is playing far more efficiently than he did in Minnesota. He shot 48.2 percent from the field a year ago, a number that has noticeably jumped upward to 56.2 percent this season, allowing Rose to average 20.8 points per game. Combine that with 6.3 assists per game and Rose has become nothing but a positive for Detroit … when on the court.

Montrezl Harrell — Los Angeles Clippers

Leonard’s arrival may have short-circuited the narrative of a three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner like Williams, but Harrell’s storyline remains that of a hard-playing energy provider who happens to be filling the stat line. In 29.3 minutes per game, Harrell is averaging 20.4 points and 6.7 rebounds, all while shooting 67.6 percent from the field.

Harrell will have a litany of opportunities to impress national viewership in key games, something Rose, Graham and Ibaka will all lack, and he frequently closes games for the Clippers, even if he has notched only one start this season.

Harrell finished third in this voting last season, behind Williams and Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis, now a full-time starter. While it is still early in the season, Harrell has already established himself as the man to beat to be the Sixth Man.

Contributing writer to Basketball Insiders, based in Minneapolis since 2017 with previous stops in Dallas and Los Angeles. Went 32-of-40 at the backyard free throw line this past Christmas. Twitter: @D_Farmer

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