The success of deep teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors should prompt the NBA to consider adding a new award to their end-of-the-year recognition of excellence around the league: Best Second Unit Award.
Jamal Crawford was awarded the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award this season for a record 3rd time. While Crawford’s ability to score has been valued by every team he’s played for, he still displays severe flaws that inhibit his ability to be considered one of the truly great players in the NBA.
Sixth Man of the Year is often biased towards gunners because points per game is the easiest statistic to quantify for players off the bench. Since bench players don’t play as much as starters, it’s difficult to determine what kind of impact they’re having on the game simply by glancing at their stat lines.
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Any guy who averages double-digit scoring off the bench is impacting the game in a very tangible way, not leaving much room for doubt.
Guys who get hurt with this award are players like Andre Iguodala, who most objective fans can admit is more important to his team’s success than Crawford, even if his numbers don’t look as gaudy.
Crawford averaged 14.2 points while Iguodala averaged a mere 7.0, and it’s easier for voters to leave it at that instead of taking into account Iguodala’s playmaking, his rebounding ability, and his talent for lock-down defense against some of the game’s most dangerous offensive weapons. Crawford does only one thing well, but that one thing happens to be the stat most associated with success.
These problems that arise when analyzing bench players makes this hypothetical “Best Second Unit Award” an appealing alternative. Along with the individual honor Best Sixth Man, Best Second Unit can recognize the solid play of a group of players that primarily does their damage off the bench, both contributing to team success and allowing the starting unit the luxury of not having to over-exert themselves over the course of a season.
In order to narrow the award criteria, each team would submit 5 names of who they consider to be their most important bench players. To be eligible for the award, each player would have to have come off the bench in more games than they’ve started.
For example, the Spurs would choose Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, David West, Boris Diaw, and Kyle Anderson. That’d be a difficult group to beat out. The award overcomes some of the flaws attached to the Sixth Man Award because a collective bench unit wouldn’t be judged on pure scoring ability as much as a singular player in the same situation would be.
Plus/minus totals for specific units on the court as well as individual contributions can be taken into account when determining who wins the Best Second Unit Award.
The “best” bench player isn’t always the guy who scores the most, but the award meant to commemorate the highest quality player off the bench more often than not falls into the trap of weighing scoring totals more than overall game impact. The Best Second Unit Award would go a long way in ensuring that the play of bench players is examined through a bigger lens.