New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith was named Sixth Man of the Year on Monday, per ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley.
Smith finished with 484 total voting points (72 first place votes), while Crawford ended up with 352 points (31`first place votes), according to the NBA’s official voting breakdown.
This comes as a disappointment to Jamal Crawford supporters, as many believed it was a foregone conclusion he would win the award after he started the season on a torrid pace and led the Clippers in scoring for the first few weeks of the season.
Overall, Crawford averaged 16.5 points, 2.5 assists and 1.0 steals this year, to go along with averages of 43.8 percent shooting, 37.6 percent on 3-pointers, and 87.1 percent from the free throw line. Smith, meanwhile, averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals, while shooting 42.2 percent from the field, 35.6 percent on 3s, and 76.2 percent from the free throw line.
Neither player started a game, and both guys tied for the league lead with 29 20-point games off the bench. It was certainly a close call (feel free to compare them here), but Smith had the bigger and flashier scoring outbursts, and finished the season stronger too.
On the surface it’s an even race, but there were a few key factors that likely went against Crawford in the mind of voters.
First, as you can see, Smith is the slightly more versatile and complete player (led PER 17.6 to 16.8), while Crawford is more efficient offensively (.511 eFG% compared to Smith’s .484, and .558 TS% compared to .522). Since most voters aren’t immersed in advanced statistics, they simply see that Smith is averaging more points, rebounds, assists and steals, and assume he is the better and more valuable player.
While that may be true, box score stats are becoming obsolete and rarely paint the full picture of a candidate’s seasonal masterpiece. Either way, Smith holds an advantage here, if only slightly.
Second, Crawford had successful bench mates flanking him in Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe, while Smith didn’t have to share the spotlight with anyone else in New York (off the bench, of course). Barnes and Bledsoe were the defensive ying to Crawford’s offensive yang, and provided just as much value at certain points in the season.
Third, though it’s rarely discussed among Sixth Man of the Year award candidates, defense was also a factor, and there’s no question that when he’s engaged, Smith can be a pretty good perimeter defender; the same can’t be said with Crawford, who’s a below-average defender (in his defense — no pun intended — he’s shown a unique ability to play passing lanes and has generally improved throughout the season).
And lastly, Smith closed the season in a remarkable fashion. The Knicks’ 13-game win streak didn’t hurt, as he averaged 23.2 points on 49 percent shooting during that stretch. Voters tend to have short-term memories, and the lasting image is Smith going nuts for a few 30-point games, not his awful stretch of play in December or January.
Crawford tallied off after the All-Star break scoring-wise (from 16.8 PPG pre-ASB down to 15.7 post-ASB), but shot the ball much better (46 percent shooting, 38.9 percent from 3). The award really could have gone either way, but Smith’s final resumé was apparently more impressive in the eyes of the voters.
Kevin Martin, Jarrett Jack, Ryan Anderson and Barnes were also viable candidates, among others, and this has to be the most competitive the award has been in quite some time.