Translation: Andre Iguodala should be the reflex answer any time someone asks you to name the best sixth man in basketball.
That said …
There’s really no difference between the Sixth Man Award race and the MVP race in this regard: We’re gathered here to try to pinpoint the best season assembled by any sixth man in the league in 2016-17.
So just as we don’t simply hand the MVP trophy over to LeBron James every October without waiting to see what happens over the next 82 games, in a nod to LeBron’s ongoing status as the most feared individual force in the game, we can’t make Iguodala, the Golden State Warriors forward, our choice here without concluding that he assembled the season’s best resume off the bench.
And closer inspection inevitably points you in Eric Gordon’s direction.
For everything James Harden has given the Houston Rockets in an MVP-worthy campaign, they couldn’t have had the season they did without Gordon’s long-awaited resurgence.
Operating largely as a reserve after coming into the season with just 19 non-starts in his career, Gordon has managed to hang with the likes of Harden and Stephen Curry all season in terms of 3-point makes, emerging as the first player in league history to hit 200-plus triples as a sub for a season and cementing his place as an integral part of the most prolific 3-point shooting team this league has ever witnessed.
With Harden off the floor this season, furthermore, Houston has still managed to outscore the opposition by 3.9 points per 100 possessions, with Gordon stepping up as the focal point of the Rockets’ offense during Harden’s breaks.
In short: On top of his newfound durability — appearing in 73 of Houston’s 79 games to date — Gordon is the second-leading scorer on the league’s third-winningest team.
Strong case, huh?
But it had to be, frankly, to nudge Gordon past new teammate Lou Williams and Iguodala, because both — as well as underappreciated outsiders Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies and Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs — can make their own compelling arguments for Sixth Man honors based on what we’ve seen over the past six months.
With six 30-point games off the bench this season, when no one else in the league can claim more than one, Williams boasts the sort of rare flammability as a reserve that prompted the Rockets to surrender a future first-round pick to acquire him from the Lakers at the trade deadline in February.
A rough March with his shot (38 percent shooting from the field) has contributed to a significant dip in Williams’ player efficiency rating from where it was in Lakerland (23.9) to where it is with the Rockets (16.3), but this vote might have been even more complicated had LouWill stayed put and kept racking up crazy numbers as a reserve like he was in L.A. for Luke Walton.
Iguodala, though, doesn’t need gaudy box-score lines to turn heads. He’s threatening to become the first non-point-guard we’ve ever seen to lead the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and has been even more of a steadying force than usual during Golden State’s 14-game winning streak.
In those 14 victories, Iguodala is shooting 60.6 percent from the floor, has racked up 46 assists to just seven turnovers and is third on the squad in plus/minus behind only Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
The 33-year-old also appears to have found the proverbial Fountain of Youth; Iguodala totaled just nine dunks in November but summoned the spring to throw down 27 in March.
Iguodala clearly eased his way into the season to save as much fuel as possible for the playoffs, but wound up playing such a pivotal role during the Dubs’ long unbeaten run that he suddenly ranks as Gordon’s biggest threat in this category. You suspect there isn’t a coach on the planet who wouldn’t love to have access to Iguodala’s sticky D, high IQ and playmaking eye to inject into a game when the starters need the boost.
Gordon ultimately possesses the strongest October-to-April resume and thus should win out. Williams has clearly had his moments, too, while both Z-Bo (averaging his usual double-double after accepting this new life as a non-starter without complaint) and Mills (San Antonio is 36-2 when he scores in double figures) deserve more Sixth Man shine than they’ve gotten.
Yet we can also trumpet, with loud conviction no matter how the voting turns out, that Iguodala has spent the past month or so reminding us all that he has assumed Ginobili’s long-held mantle as the league’s most esteemed game-changer off the pine.
Which presumably means more to the awards-averse Iggy than winning the actual Sixth Man trophy.
Stein’s official ballot: 1. Gordon; 2. Iguodala; 3. Randolph.
October prediction: Iguodala.