For most of the 2020-21 NBA season there has been a clear frontrunner to win the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award: Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson.
But, there’s another player that has gained some traction and has the second-best odds to win the honor and it’s Clarkson’s teammate, Joe Ingles.
Clarkson hasn’t been shy about wanting to win the award. Less than a month into the season he made his intentions clear.
“Definitely it was one of my goals going into this year, to go get that and play that role,” Clarkson said back in January.
Ingles on the other hand, who has started more games in his NBA career than he has come off the bench, said that he’s never even considered the award or thought of it as something he is chasing. But he does like playing with Clarkson and thinks that they bring out the best in one another when they share the court.
“We take pride in that role coming off the bench,” Ingles said. “I think we play well together. I think we help each other, we kind of complement each other well. It’s fun out there playing with him.”
Since becoming teammates last season, Ingles has gained a new appreciation for Clarkson’s game and has even learned quite a bit from him.
“I used to actually think it was hilarious to watch him when I played against him with just how aggressive he is,” Ingles said. “He just always, regardless of who’s out there, or how you shoot, if you’re shooting really well, if he’s 0-for-10, he plays the same way. It’s an honor to be teammates with him. He’s a hell of a teammate.”
“Definitely it was one of my goals going into this year, to go get that and play that role.” — Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson
Clarkson has long had a reputation for being a confident scorer who pays very little attention to his misses. That’s something that Ingles has had trouble with in the past. Ingles is more critical of himself and tends to beat himself up over mistakes. It’s those traits that help to balance out Ingles and Clarkson. Ingles benefits from being able to move on quickly from a miss and Clarkson benefits from a little bit of restraint.
Their combined success on the Jazz bench has paved the way for both of them to have interesting cases for Sixth Man of the Year honors, but rather than focus on the individual accolade, Clarkson says that the fact that both are being considered for the award, says more about the team than it does himself or Ingles.
“I feel like we have the best two bench players in the league right now,” Clarkson said. “It just shows how good of a team we are.”
So, who should win Sixth Man of the Year? Well, depends on what you value.
The Case for Jordan Clarkson
In his second season with the Jazz, Clarkson is averaging career highs in points (17.5), rebounds (4.0), 3-pointers made (3.0) and attempted (8.7) and free throw percentage (92.2%).
Clarkson has started in just one of the 56 games he’s played this season, and of players who have played at least 15 games coming off the bench, he leads the league in scoring and he is one of just two players who have played in at least 15 games off the bench who makes at least three 3-pointers per game (the other player is the Washington Wizards’ Davis Bertans).
Clarkson leads bench players in field goals made and field goals attempted and has missed just four games this season.
In eight of the last nine years, the winner of the Sixth Man award has gone to a player who was one of the three top bench scorers in the league. The only exception was when Jamal Crawford won the award for the third time in 2016. Of players who played at least 20 games off the bench, Crawford was the ninth leading scorer that season, but he was the third highest scorer after the All-Star break.
Clarkson has been consistent, dependable, is playing his best basketball and the Jazz are reaping the rewards.
The Case for Joe Ingles
Ingles’ scoring isn’t as prolific as Clarkson’s. He is averaging 12.3 points per game this season and just 9.9 when he comes off the bench, which makes him the 66th highest bench scorer of players who have come off the bench in at least 15 games this season.
But, it’s in efficiency where Ingles’ case can be made.
Ingles is averaging career bests in 3-point percentage, field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage and free throw percentage. He’s started in 18 games this season and his numbers dip slightly when he comes off the bench, but even then his percentages would be career highs. When Ingles plays in a reserve role he shoots 46.7% from 3-point range which is the best in the league of bench players who take at least four 3-pointers per game.
Ingles case probably takes the biggest hit because of how much he is relied on to start when another player is injured. He’s started in nine of the 24 games the Jazz have played since the All-Star break and his numbers are better than when he is on the bench. Though, for some, the fact that he is relied upon and is able to have such an impact when inserted into the starting lineup could be an indication of how good of a sixth man he is.
There are arguments to be made for both, but for now it seems as is the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award is Clarkson’s to lose.
And, if you ask Ingles, the fact that Clarkson is the Las Vegas odds leader to win the honor is a match made in heaven.
“If it’s got anything to do with Vegas and JC, I think he’s got a good chance to win,” Ingles said. “That’s a good combination.”