Although the information had already leaked last week -- and Prime Ticket even created a congratulatory graphic acknowledging it -- it was not until today that Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers was officially designated the winner of the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.
As we've already pointed out, this is Crawford's second time winning the award -- he also won four seasons ago while playing for the Atlanta Hawks. He becomes the first player ever to win the award for two different teams, as well as the oldest player to win the award at age 34.
We've already discussed his season and why he deserved the award -- I won't repeat that discussion here. Since the news had already leaked, we've pretty much already covered it. (The Donald Sterling controversy forced the NBA to put awards season on hold for a week; with the Clippers next home game coming tomorrow night, they have announced the award today so that Crawford can be honored in front of the home fans tomorrow.)
We do have some new information today however -- we have the actual results of the voting. I've been adamant all along that while advanced statistics have more currency than they once did, that there was no way that a 13 point per game scorer (Taj Gibson) was going to beat out a guy who averaged 18.6 points per game. I was right -- but I will admit that the vote was much closer than I expected.
Crawford received 57 first place votes; Gibson got 49. (Manu Ginobili came in a fairly distant third in the voting and received nine first place votes.) There were 14 voters who left Crawford off their ballot completely, meaning that they did not believe he was among the three best reserves in the NBA this season. And for the first time the NBA is releasing the actual ballots, so we know who those people are, and they include such respected NBA writers as Zack Lowe and Kevin Arnovitz (who each voted for Gibson, Ginobili and Markieef Morris in that order).
Without doing a full regression analysis I don't know for certain, but I think we would see that more analytic, national level writers (Lowe and Arnovitz certainly fit that description) leaned towards Gibson, while the lion's share of play-by-play announcers and beat writers who make up the bulk of the voting population favored Crawford, the scorer. But even though Crawford did win, as I said he would, I think this vote may in fact represent a sea change in the analytics movement -- it would not have been so long ago that Crawford would have won in a landslide. The fact that Gibson was as close as he was tells us quite a bit.
Of course, part of what it tells us may have something to do with voters' views of the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are an iconic team that is on television a lot in a time zone more friendly to the viewing habits of most of the voters. With Derrick Rose missing the entire season again, and Luol Deng traded away, the Bulls certainly overachieved during the regular season, and one gets the impression that more than a few writers felt compelled to reward them. For instance, while Joakim Noah certainly had a nice season for the Bulls, I doubt anyone would argue with a straight face that he's the fifth best player in the NBA -- yet he finished fifth in MVP voting. I won't dispute that Noah deserved the Defensive Player of the Year award, but the presence of Noah and Gibson on so many writers' ballots in so many categories may say as much about the Bulls as it does about those players.
I wonder where I would stand on the question of Crawford as Sixth Man if he played for a team other than the Clippers. The fact that Gibson emerged as the primary alternative is interesting in that one big knock on Crawford is that he's not a highly efficient scorer -- but Gibson isn't either. Crawford's true shooting percentage of .556 is much better than Gibson's .524 (a truly dreadful number for a power forward, by the way). Which seems to indicate that those who preferred Gibson to Crawford, if they had a reason beyond their gut, were basing the decision entirely on defense. That's one way to go, but there's one big problem with that -- evaluating defense in basketball remains an incredibly subjective undertaking in which it is virtually impossible to disentangle the individual from the team and where specific statistics remain more or less useless. Other than Tony Allen and a few others, I'd be hard pressed to identify NBA defenders that I was absolutely certain were at the top of the class. Taj Gibson? He's a very good defender, but that's in comparison to Carlos Boozer and within the structure of Tom Thibodeau's team concepts. I just don't see Gibson's defense alone making him worthy of a Sixth Man Award -- not for a guy who's a relatively poor scorer and a so-so rebounder.
In the end, there's no question that Crawford deserved this award in the context of what it's always been. The classic sixth man role in the NBA is instant offense, and Crawford provided that far better than anyone else in the NBA this season. If the award eventually evolves into something else, so be it. But for now I'm happy for Jamal, one of the nicest guys in the NBA, and a player who knows, embraces and fulfills his role incredibly well.