Does Jrue Holiday Have A Chance to Win 6th Man of the Year?

Published: February 26, 2016

It’s nearly impossible to find a Pelicans fan who isn’t frustrated by the fact that Jrue Holiday is coming off the bench, but if you listen to Alvin Gentry, it doesn’t sound like it is changing anytime soon. Perhaps a few silver linings will come out of this, including a postseason award or two, as the Pelicans have the two leading bench scorers in the NBA in Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson. And while points per game is usually what voters look for most, winning has also factored in greatly to the award as well.

Last year, Lou Williams won the award, playing for a Raptors team that won 49 games. The year before, it was Jamal Crawford for a 57 win Clippers team. James Harden, Manu Ginobili, Lamar Odom, Leandro Barbosa – the list goes on and on. All guys who put up a bunch of points for winning, usually contending teams. In fact, the last player to win the award on a team that didn’t make the playoffs was Dell Curry for the Charlotte Hornets way back in 1994. That team finished 41-41, just one game out of the playoffs, as Curry narrowly beat out Nate McMillen for the award. McMillen averaged just 6 points per game that year, playing for a fantastic 63 win Sonics team, and as a result almost stole the award.

So as you can see, voters tend to want to give that award – and all post season awards, to be honest – to players on winning teams. It takes a truly outstanding performance to catapult over players with lesser numbers on winning teams, as evidenced by the fact that only 3 of the last 150 All-NBA members were on a team under .500 and/or missed the playoffs. Last season, 14 players got at least one vote for Sixth Man of the Year, yet not one played for a team that finished .500 or worse.

So now you can see the historical odds stacked against Jrue Holiday, but there are always aberrations and seasons that are unlike any other. You look around at some of the other viable candidates, and several of the favorites are currently on losing teams. Will Barton,for instance, is putting up terrific numbers (15.3 pts, 6.1 rebs) for a Nuggets team with an even worse record than the Pelicans. In fact, if voters are looking for quality numbers for a guy on a great team, it’s going to be tough. Enes Kanter probably has the best case for the award if you look at the contending teams, putting up nearly 12 and 8 in just 20 minutes for the Thunder, but his defense is a running joke around the league. The Warriors might just sweep all the awards if they win 73 games, so even though his numbers aren’t great, Andre Iguodala could take home the award despite averaging just over 7 points per game.

Jeremy Lin is somewhere in the middle, as he has solid numbers (12 points, 3 boards, 3 assists) on a team that looks poised to make the playoffs. Lin seems like a viable candidate, but if his averages stay what they are, even he would be an aberration, as no player has won the award averaging less than 13 ppg since Aaron McKie in 2001. Mckie, if you remember, was a terrific defender; Lin is not that. So perhaps this is just going to be one of those strange years for that award. Either you give it to a guy with great stats who is losing (like Holiday, Barton, or Ryno), or you give it to a guy with mild stats who is winning (like Iguodala or Patty Mills), or you split the difference and give it to a guy putting up solid stats on an average tem (like Lin or Evan Tuner).

Winning has been a common denominator of all winners, but so has scoring, and Holiday is doing that better than any reserve not named Ryan Anderson. He is putting up 15.5 points and 5.8 assists in just 26.5 minutes per game, and those numbers are just poised to go up as he is getting more and more minutes per game off the bench every month. As Nick Lewellen pointed out, since January 1st when the restriction was removed, he has averaged 18.4 points, 7.2 assists, and 4 rebounds per game in nearly 30 minutes. If he keeps putting up numbers like that,  he will finish the year scoring over 16 per game, with per 36 averages of nearly 21.5 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. Forget 6th Man numbers, those are close to being All-NBA numbers. Looking at the winners over the past 10 years, the only guy with comparable numbers was James Harden, whose per 36 was 19-5-4 when he won the award in 2012.

So, as an individual, Holiday has produced what it takes to win the award. His team has not. Some may say that he is just a starter masquerading as a reserve, but how is that any different than any of the winners in previous years? Lou Williams averaged just 25.2 minutes per game last year, but the nine winners before him all averaged over 30 minutes per game, and finished games for their respective teams. It is nothing new for teams to have one of their best players coming off the bench, so Holiday should not be penalized for what teams have been doing for years. For Holiday, it will all come down to how much voters penalize him for the Pelicans record, because there is no doubt that he has been the best player coming off the bench in the NBA this season.

Now, has he contributed to winning? You can argue that when he gets the minutes and is playing like this, he elevates a .300 win team to a .500 win team. Are the Warriors just a .700 win team without Iguodala? I doubt it. So, for those voters who look at this award as a “Bench MVP” award, it can be argued that Holiday is more valuable to his team than any other bench player is to theirs. As our own Jason Calmes pointed out on the recent ‘In the NO’ podcast, we have no idea what criteria each voter has in his or her own mind. What we do know, however, is that Holiday is producing more off the bench than any other player in the NBA currently. Maybe the award criteria should be that simple – give it to the best player who came off the bench for more than half of his games played.

If that is the case, Jrue Holiday should win the Sixth Man of the Year award, going away.


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