Lou Williams and the Sixth Man of the Year Award have become inextricably linked in recent years.
His first Sixth Man of the Year trophy came in 2015 in Toronto, when Williams not only won the award but also had a song written in his honor.
Former Clippers Jamal Crawford and Eric Gordon won the award in 2016 and 2017, but Williams returned for back-to-back trophies in 2018 and 2019. He capped those off with a more lasting tribute when he named his son Syx at the end of 2019.
Entering the 2019-20 season, Williams was the clear favorite for a fourth honor, but he didn’t see it that way. In an interview with Ros Gold-Onwude last week, Williams revealed that he had grander plans for the award this year:
I thought we were gonna make history, I honestly thought this year Trezz and I were going to be co-six men of the year. I felt like that was probably going to be the most appropriate thing...
I just felt like this was gonna be the year where, you know, we make so much history together. [Our] names are synonymous with each other. I thought this year we were going to be able to celebrate together. So, that’s how I want it to work. I also accept him winning it or me winning it, but ideally I want it to be a co for us to share.
Harrell finished third in the voting last year for Sixth Man of the Year, and he was the first person Williams thanked when he won. Even if the two players cannibalized some of the other’s votes, Williams’ season as the Clippers’ leading scorer was so dominant that it didn’t matter.
The idea of them sharing the award is far more interesting. There has never been a shared Sixth Man before, though it is theoretically possible. With three names on the ballot, it’s far more likely to have a split point total for Sixth Man than MVP, but there is 37 years of evidence indicating the inherent difficulties.
Even if the logistics are complicated, as Williams told Gold-Onwude, there is a statistical argument for he and Harrell to have a combined claim to the crown.
A lot of my success is hinged on the things that he do, and a lot of his success is hinged on what I do. You know our numbers are basically identical as far as our positions go, I’m not going to rebound as well as he’s going to rebound, he’s not going to pass the ball as well as I’m going to pass the ball. We were averaging basically the same in points, you know he was at 18.6, I was at 18.7.
Per Cleaning the Glass, Williams was on the floor for 3659 possessions this season outside of garbage time, and Harrell for 3578. They shared the floor for 2885 of those possessions, or about 80 percent. Williams assisted on 127 baskets to Harrell, the third-highest total in the league prior to the shutdown.
But Harrell’s individual offense has picked up this season. His ability to isolate and post up, as well as his relentlessness on the boards to create second chances, means he is less dependent on Williams than he has been in the past. Williams assisted on 32.6% of his baskets last year, and that figure came down to 27% this year.
The Clippers were actually better with Harrell on and Lou off the floor this year than both together. Their point differential with just Harrell was +6.3 compared to +5.6 with the pair, though the sample size for the former situation is admittedly low. The eye test confirms, however, that the Clippers needed Williams’ shot creation less this season with the addition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George than in years past, while Harrell’s inside presence remains irreplaceable.
Williams still had the best odds of making it a three-peat at +150 as of Feb. 25, with Harrell not too far behind at +175. Dennis Schroder was right in the mix at +200 and leads all bench scorers with 19.0 points per game. If I had a ballot, Harrell would be my pick. His efficiency and improved defense (he’s tied for the lead league in charges with Kyle Lowry despite playing fewer minutes) makes him more valuable than Williams, at least for this season. It figures to be a brutal decision, though the consensus appears to be leaning towards Harrell.
We can still hold out hope for a shared trophy, but if the Williams and Harrell can’t split it, rotating the honor in back-to-back seasons appears to be the most equitable way of recognizing what this pair has done for the team. They are the rising tide that has lifted the Clippers ship ever since they arrived from Houston.