Welcome back to the latest installment in our potential-end-of-season award series. For each of the NBA’s major gongs I’ll be making a case as to why a player from the Magic should be the one taking home the hardware. We’ve already seen Evan Fournier claim the MVP and Jonathan Isaac the DPOY, and more are still to come. Today we turn our attention to the Sixth Man of the Year award. Could we again have someone in pinstripes ready to claim the crown? You bet!
A quick disclaimer: although I’m building a (largely) serious case for each individual award winner, please understand that this is not a totally serious endeavor. The Magic won’t be bringing home any awards come season’s end. However, in my world I’m letting my Floridian bias shine. So strap on those Magic-tinged glasses, keep those faces straight, and join me as we envision a world in which Orlando claim award after award after award. Let’s dive in and have some fun!
Sixth Man of the Year - Michael Carter-Williams
There are a number of obvious names in the race to be named this season’s top reserve. Lou Williams has had a stranglehold over the award recently, winning the title the last two seasons and three of the last five. His case again this year is strong — 18.7 points and 5.7 assists — as is that of his frontcourt teammate, Montrezl Harrell, who has put up 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game on 58% shooting. Elsewhere there’s Dennis Schroder, averaging a tidy 19.0 points, 4.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds, as well as the rejuvenated Derrick Rose and his 18.1 points and 5.6 assists per contest. Davis Bertans (15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 42.4% from three) and Goran Dragic (16.1 points, 5.1 assists) are both in the conversation. Hell, even Dwight Howard version 3.0 (4.0? 5.0?) is getting some love in the debate.
All of the aforementioned players are worthy of consideration. Some should even consider themselves among the favorites to claim the award. However, outside of Dwight — which, really, is buoyed only by the feel-good aspect of his story — every single one of these cases is based solely on offensive output. We’d be crowning a winner based on nothing more than a mathematical equation. Basketball has always been more jazz than algebra, so to calculate the outcome of an award race based solely on numbers seems like a disservice to the spirit of the game. It also overlooks a vital element.
Is there any reserve in the league that plays with more passion, intensity and disregard for individual safety — heart! — than Michael Carter-Williams? Is there any super-sub that willed their fortunes from ‘teetering on the edge of extinction’ to ‘integral cog and soul of team’ more absolutely than Michael Carter-Williams? Is there any bench technician more likely to leave absolutely everything on the court than Michael Carter-Williams?
I think not.
MCW’s case for the award is one based on heart. The intangibilities of the game of basketball are such that there are some important contributions for which no statistical metric exists, and it just so happens that Orlando’s third-string point guard embodies these better than anyone. From the moment he checks in his teammates, the opposition, and viewers alike are aware of his presence; he’s a hyperactive irritant on defense and an in-motion cog on offense. He hunts out transition opportunities, attacks the paint, and shows no hesitation in flinging the full extent of his physicality into every possession.
This fact does lead to a consideration of this season’s injury record. Carter-Williams played in only 42 of a possible 65 contests, missing time with a variety of maladies sustained through bruising contact. The man has demonstrated a willingness to put his body on the line for the good of the team time and time again; unfortunately, this same willingness has necessitated some absences. However, the fact that his injuries have come as a result of his willingness to sacrifice physically for the Magic is indicative of his valuable contributions as a sixth man for the side. The time missed actually bolsters his case for the award.
A deep dive into the boxscore also adds something to MCW’s claim. It’s been a consistent campaign for the seven-year veteran, with averages of 7.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks in just 18.4 minutes per game. His shooting figures across the board are career bests: he’s never been more accurate on two-pointers, three-pointers or free-throws than he was this season. His game has coalesced at both ends of the court, with dependable contributions on both offense and defense.
His value to the Magic is also emphasized in other statistical data. He’s sporting a PER above league average (15.7), a positive box plus/minus rating (0.4 points per-100 possessions), and a VORP rating of 0.5. Again, all of these are arrived at in less than 20 minutes of court time each night. Orlando has also proven to simply be a better team when Carter-Williams is on the floor: 3.7 points per-100 possessions by Basketball Reference’s calculations and 3.4 points by those of the NBA Stats site.
He might not be the sexiest name in the discussion, but a case can be made that he’s the worthiest. MCW has made valuable contributions to the Magic all season long when the opportunity presents itself. He’s a two-way bench spark plug who never fails to put the team first. Forget Hollywood; with hustle and heart to spare the Sixth Man award for 2019/20 belongs to Michael Carter-Williams.
With the case now made for three award winners out of Orlando, we bring the latest installment in this very serious series to an end. Be sure to come back in a few days time to find out how the Magic can lay claim to other accolades such as Most Improved Player, Coach of the Year, and — yes, that’s right — even Rookie of the Year. The award season sweep is on!