Though always overshadowed by the Most Valuable Player talks (understandably, of course), and sometimes, other awards too, the Sixth Man of Year race is one to always watch out for. It has become one of the more underrated accolades in the NBA, and usually not talked about until mid-February, which is strange given how tight the race can be and the number of very worthy candidates every time.
In fact, recent years have featured multiple candidates on one team. Jordan Clarkson won in 2021 and his top competitor was Utah Jazz teammate Joe Ingles; the same happened in each of the two prior seasons, both between then-LA Clipper stalwarts Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, who took turns bringing the hardwood home.
This year’s race is no different than most years as it looks to be another a neck-and-neck battle until the end, with two players – Boston Celtics’ Malcolm Brogdon and New York Knicks’ Immanuel Quickley –jockeying for the top spot, dethroning one another almost every other week. It’s now theirs to lose.
There’s a handful of names in the pool, but while they have time to make their cases stronger, it’s ultimately unlikely to jump into the top two by season’s end. One by one, other contenders have simply fallen behind – Russell Westbrook is now a starter, Norman Powell and Malik Monk’s numbers have slowed down, Tyrese Maxey has had too many starts to be considered, and Christian Wood’s Dallas Mavericks squad has been stumbling as of late.
That leaves Brogdon and Quickley as the considerable top dogs 6MOY, which, aside from the close head-to-head numbers and overall impact, continues another trend: the domination of guards. They’ve basically owned the award as 17 of the last 18 winners have been guards, with Harrell being that outlier in 2020.
Let’s now discuss why the two leading candidates are where they are:
The Celtics have been gifted a ton of great trades over the last decade, and getting Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers is another one on that long list – it’s basically three bench warmers, two nice role players (Aaron Nesmith and Daniel Theis), and a conditional 2023 first-round pick.
The 30-year-old veteran didn’t disappoint, as evident in putting up an efficient 14.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in only 25.6 minutes of action. Aside from being an absolute floor general that comes off the bench, he’s also a reliable support scorer and a deadly shooter, so much so that he’s actually top three in three-point percentage (45.2%) and even led the league at some point. All of that works well with Boston’s makeup because it allows All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to have a lighter workload on certain games.
Such a season has helped Boston become one of the best teams this season, not just record-wise, but offensively as well (top 3 in scoring and offensive rating).
As a late, 25th pick in the 2020 draft, Quickley was mostly seen as a backup that’s potentially going to be a journeyman within a few years. He still might, but for now, he’s a beloved teammate and a major sparkplug in the Knicks’ second unit, one that’s showing improvement on both sides of the ball. He’s a straight-up ‘Tom Thibodeau’ type of player too.
The Knicks have come to life after a disappointing 2021-22 campaign. They are 39-29, currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, and will likely return to the playoffs. IQ’s role in all of that is to be that extra burst of energy that will complement the main guys – Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, and RJ Barrett. He’s doing his job effectively through hitting timely baskets, pushing the pace whenever he can, and being that pesky on-ball defender and hawk in the passing lanes.
Quickley is posting a career-high 13.3 points per game while also dishing out 3.2 assists and sinking 1.9 threes, all in 28.1 minutes of play. Further, as seen in his terrific road performance against the Celtics last week, wherein Brunson was out with an injury, he has the confidence to come up big in the clutch.
Unless one of them gets suddenly benched or have his minutes dwindled drastically, which is next to impossible, the battle will continue to be tight. Their respective teams want to build momentum for the postseason, and their services are needed. It should be good to watch.