The Orlando Magic have played 19 games so far, nearly one-quarter of the way through their schedule, and have gotten MVP-caliber production from center Dwight Howard and All-Star-quality point-guard play from Jameer Nelson. But in the early going, it certainly seems like they have another potential award-winner. Brandon Bass may not have taken enough of a leap forward to content for Most Improved Player of the Year, but if everything breaks just right, he could take home some hardware for being the league's most valuable reserve. Indeed, it's difficult to look at Bass' performance this season and conclude he shouldn't contend for that honor when all 82 games enter the books.
In each of the last seven seasons, the eventual Sixth Man award has gone to high-scoring guards on good-to-great teams, as the table below demonstrates:
|2009/10||Jamal Crawford||Atlanta Hawks||18||2.5||3||44.9||85.7||53-29|
|2008/09||Jason Terry||Dallas Mavericks||19.6||2.4||3.4||46.3||88.0||50-32|
|2007/08||Manu Ginobili||San Antonio Spurs||19.5||4.8||4.5||46.0||86.0||56-26|
|2006/07||Leandro Barbosa||Phoenix Suns||18.1||2.7||4||47.6||84.5||61-21|
|2005/06||Mike Miller||Memphis Grizzlies||13.7||5.4||2.7||46.6||80.0||49-33|
|2004/05||Ben Gordon||Chicago Bulls||15.1||2.6||2||41.1||86.0||47-35|
So clearly, based on the recent voting history, Bass' position and modest scoring put him at a disadvantage. But big men have nonetheless managed to win the award, and perhaps none is more relevant to this discussion than Corliss Williamson, who took home the award in 2001/02. For a 50-32 Detroit Pistons ballclub, Williamson averaged 13.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in just 21.8 minutes per game, ranking as the team's third-leading scorer (behind Jerry Stackhouse and Clifford Robinson) and rebounder (behind Ben Wallace and Robinson). In these areas, Bass holds his own: 10.6 points (fifth on the team), 4.9 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. And though voters may not notice it right away, or at all, Bass has a huge edge on Williamson with regard to scoring efficiency, with a 62.9 percent True Shooting mark to Williamson's 51.7 percent. Bass, in short, is as good a role-player on a contending team as there is in this league.
Volume-scoring guards figure to dominate the voting once again, especially with Terry posting 15.8 points and 4.8 assists for a successful Dallas team. But one can't reasonably discuss candidates for the Sixth Man award without mentioning Bass' name, which indicates how far he's come in just one year. Last season, Bass tallied 31 Did Not Play-Coach's Decisions. Now, he's eighth on the team in minutes per game and an invaluable rotation player.