Although Doc Rivers is mixing lineup combinations off the bench however he pleases at the moment, the Los Angeles Clippers are still one of the deepest teams in the league. The Clippers bench were league leaders in points per game (50.5) coming into the bubble and was third in plus/minus (2.0). Usually, teams go to their bench to hold leads while their starters rest, yet the Clippers reserves have shown that they can do more than that. They can be positives on the court and pull away from teams of their own accord. The key to that is their possessing two Sixth Man of the Year candidates.
Those two cogs are, of course, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams. They give LA a spark and energy off the bench when called upon, and allow Rivers a lot of flexibility in late-game situations. Williams and Harrell know what their roles are and play them exceptionally well. Their play has earned them talk of winning this year’s Sixth Man of the Year award. But they are not alone in the race for this honor. Dennis Schroeder of the Oklahoma City Thunder is also in the mix, and many media members with ballots have stated they are voting for him. Each of them has reasons for why they should be the winner as they have shown to be an impact for their team’s reserve units. Let us take a look at all three candidates and what they bring to the table.
The Thunder are not shy to use all three of their top point guards whenever they want to. Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Schroder were all in the top three in minutes played for OKC before the shutdown. It should therefor come as no surprise that they are three of the top four scorers on the team. Billy Donovan has found the right lineups and roles for each of the three. But Schroder has a slightly more unique role in that he comes off the bench, starting only one game so far this season. He has rebounded well from a drop in scoring last season to average 18.9 points while playing 30 minutes a game. His rebounding and assist averages have stayed around the same, however, as OKC uses him in more of a scoring role.
Schroder has seen a sizeable uptick in his shooting metrics as he’s become more efficient this season. His effective field goal percentage jumped up six points while his true shooting went from below average at 50.8 to slightly above average at 57.8 percent. It’s a pretty big jump for Shroder given both of these averages are career highs for him. Part of the drive in that efficiency is that he’s become a much more reliable three-point shooter this season. Schroder is shooting a career-high 37.9 percent from downtown and on a career-high number in attempts per game as well with five. He’s been a floor spacer for the Thunder, acting as a kick-out option for when defenses crash in on Paul in the mid-range or the lane.
Defensively, Schroder has been solid for the Thunder so far this season. He currently has a defensive rating of 103.0 per game, third-best of anyone on the Thunder who has played more than 40 games. At 6’1, Schroeder can struggle when matched up against bigger lead guards, as they can shoot over him. On drives, however, OKC has plenty of help surrounding Schroder, as Nerlens Noel and Steven Adams are there to protect against any opposing players who find their way into the lane. But according to the advanced metrics, his defense has been a mixed bag. On one hand, he has a negative defensive box plus/minus of -1.2. On the other, his defensive player impact plus/minus ranks out at 0.87, fourth-highest on the Thunder.
Playmaking is sill an issue for Schroder this season. His assist percentage has dropped off massively ever since he came to the Thunder. But some of it can be attributed to a new role on the team, and given that he plays with Paul, it’s fair to expect him to be more on the receiving end of assists rather than giving them. His efficiency, while improved, is still only near league-average levels and there is room for improvement in that department as well. But given his impact on offense with his scoring and at least being an average defender (depending on what metrics you use), Schroder has a strong case in this Sixth Man of the Year award race.
When you think of a sixth man scorer, Lou Williams is the guy who appears in many people’s minds. He has been the winner of this award three times in his career and has won it the past two years running. Ever since coming to the Clippers in Paul trade, Williams has found his fit on this team and has played to his strengths brilliantly. He can catch fire from the floor at any time and can go on game-winning scoring runs by himself. Williams is also excellent at getting to the line, averaging 5.3 free throw attempts per game, third-highest on the Clippers. He can get defenders off balance by changing directions quickly to create space, and is also adept at drawing contact with creative fakes to get his man to jump into him. Even if space isn’t created off the dribble, he is excellent at jumping away and still getting off a clean shot. Williams will pull this move off multiple times a game. It’s been effective and is a part of the reason why he’s such a dangerous scorer. He always seems to find creative solutions to generating offense.
Like years prior, Williams was one of LA’s top scorers. He is currently fourth on the Clippers in points per game at 18.5 and averages the third-most minutes (29.1). It’s not just all scoring with Williams on offense though, as he can find open teammates and create good shots for them too. He leads LA with 5.7 dimes per game and takes advantage of defenses when they focus all-in on stopping him alone. Williams is always a threat from three, shooting around 36 percent and taking nearly five attempts a game from there. Defenses can’t help off him and run the risk of leaving him open when challenging Kawhi Leonard of Paul George.
The knocks on Williams have been ones that have been there for a while. His efficiency and defense are still a problem. William’s effective field goal percentage has dropped in recent years, going from 51 in 2016-17 to now around 47 percent this season. His true shooting numbers do show him being around average from the field at 54.5 percent. The advanced metrics have been on both sides of the coin for Williams. His offensive box plus/minus of 2.1 is the lowest total he has recorded since the 2013-14 season, but his O-PIPM is the fourth highest on the Clippers and the highest of any guard on the team.
Defensively, however, the metrics and numbers seem to tell the same story. Like Schroeder, his height does factor into his struggles as a defender. He has had his best defensive season according to defensive box plus/minus since coming to LA but it’s still at a negative (-1.4). His D-PIPM is the lowest on the Clippers at -2.40 and teams sometimes try to pick on him defensively.
You cannot deny Williams’ scoring prowess and the fact that he’s a big part of what makes the Clippers depth so valuable. The ability to pick them out of slumps with his scoring is extremely helpful, especially in a bubble setting where everyone is still trying to get back into the swing of things. Scoring has been Williams calling card for quite some time and the reigning sixth man award winner is a candidate to go for a three-peat in this year’s race as well.
Another addition in the Paul trade was big man Montrezl Harrell, which the Clippers are thankful for, as he has blossomed into an excellent scoring big off the bench. It is the second year in a row we have seen production like this from Harrell, showcasing some consistency. So far this season he has averaged career highs in points (18.6) and rebounds (7.0) per game. He has played around 27 minutes a game, the most of any center on the roster. Like Williams, Rivers isn’t afraid to play him in crunch time.
Harrell isn’t exactly an offensive creator by any means. He doesn’t take many jump shots at all and there is no three-point presence from him. But he is extremely reliable when it comes to scoring in the paint, throwing down lobs, or finishing at the basket after catching a pass as the roll man. Out of players who average more than two possessions per game as a roll man, Harrell is eighth highest when it comes to points per possessions and seventh in eFG%. Any time you get it to Harrell near the hoop, he’s almost guaranteed to score, shooting 70.5 percent from shots at the rim. Although his eFG and TS percentages dropped from last year, they were still pretty good overall. Of Clippers players who have played more than 1,000 minutes, Harrell is second in true shooting (60.7) only behind Ivica Zubac. He does struggle from the free-throw line, but Harrell isn’t one to shy away from contact. His 5.6 free throw attempts per game are second to Kawhi Leonard. He is one of their most important and impactful players on that side of the ball, as his 0.88 O-PIPM ranks third on the team.
As their inside scorer, Harrell adds another dimension to the Clippers. While their other top scorers mostly come from the outside as jump shooters, he is the go-to guy for everything else. Additionally, Harrell brings energy to Los Angeles whenever he steps on the court, always crashing the glass or running to the rim. He can absolutely turn games around with his energy alone, which is invaluable.
However, like Williams, defense can be a problem for Harrell. His D-PIPM and defensive rating rank fourth and seventh-worst on the Clippers respectively. He is more than willing to step in front of an opposing player for a charge, and effort isn’t a problem either. However, in the modern NBA, bigs need to be able to drag themselves out of the post and be comfortable defending on the perimeter. This isn’t always the case with Harrell, as he sometimes gets caught flat-footed and watches his man dribble right by him. When teams space the floor, Harrell is frequently caught in no-mans land. He has to choose between defending the paint or constantly stick to his assignment, and sometimes doesn’t do either. He then can’t recover quickly enough, and in the playoffs, opposing teams will exploit it. The Clippers do benefit from having two elite wing defenders in George and Leonard, but it is fair to ask questions of Harrell’s defense.
Harrell has been LA’s best big man this season (Editor’s Note: Ivica Zubac fans might quibble with that). His inside scoring is much needed, and is crucial for opening up other areas for their offense to thrive. George and Leonard won’t always get the chances they have without Harrell there. With his dunks and willingness to chase after any loose ball, he has become a fan favorite and for a good reason. He has never won this award but given his contributions and importance to one of the best teams in the league, he should be a strong candidate as well.
It’s very hard to decide a winner to this year’s Sixth Man of the Year award race. All three players offer different strengths and weaknesses, and have different cases to win. What do you all think about who should win the sixth man of the year award this year?
213Hoops is an independently owned and operated L.A. Clippers blog by Clippers fans, for Clippers fans. If you enjoy our content, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. Subscriptions start at $1 a month and support from readers like you goes a long way towards helping us keep 213Hoops sustainable, growing, and thriving.