Timberwolves

Could Jaylen Nowell Be the Sixth Man Of the Year This Season?

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

NBA awards are always a fun topic of discussion. No matter what you say, someone will get upset. The MVP race has seemingly changed its parameters every year, Stephen Curry couldn’t win it as a low-seed in 2020, but Nikola Jokic did the year after. The ROTY award is no stranger to this either. Factoring in team records was a relatively new concept until LaMelo Ball won it in 2020.

But Sixth Man Of The Year (6MOTY) is the one award that’s kept its parameters the same.

Since its conception, the award has mostly gone to the player who can average the most points off the bench. Points seem to be all that the voters seem to look at. Going back through the list of 6MOTY award winners, almost none of them won it because of their defense. Eric Gordon, one of the only plus defenders on the list of winners, had to average 16 points per game to win the award. Not only is Gordon the rare positive defender on this list, but he’s also the rare non-guard winner. Twenty-four of the 39 winners have been a guard.

6MOTY is a very rudimentary award. In the era of advanced stats and analytics, voters still decide to vote on this award based on PPG, and that’s pretty much it. The award has strange criteria and needs improvement, but that’s an argument for another day.

These odd parameters leave Jaylen Nowell in an excellent position to win 6MOTY next year. After losing Malik Beasley in the Rudy Gobert trade, the Minnesota Timberwolves need a sixth man. With Jaden McDaniels likely starting at small forward next season, Nowell is in a prime position to become their sixth man – a position he will thrive in.

Historically, guards like Nowell have succeeded in this position. The Seattle native shares many of his attributes with Jamal Crawford, an Emerald City legend. A crafty guard, Crawford shares the record for most 6MOTY awards with Lou Williams. If anyone on the Wolves roster has a shot at this award, it’s Nowell.

According to Vegas, Nowell has the 39th best odds to win 6MOTY. His +8000 odds rank him below teammate McDaniels (+6500). It’s safe to say Vegas isn’t on the Nowell hype train. So if they aren’t, why should anyone be?

With Beasley’s departure, Nowell is set to receive the most minutes of his career by far. After averaging only 15 minutes per game last season, it’s not a stretch to say Nowell could see 10+ more minutes a game. Beasley averaged 25 minutes per game in his sixth-man role. I’d expect Nowell to play about two or three more minutes because he can be a combo guard, unlike Beasley.

Finch only used Beasley in off-the-ball actions to get a shooter open. In Nowell’s case, not only can he create offense for others, but he also has excellent self-creation skills. That will allow Chris Finch to use him in more roles.

Nowell’s self-creation shines in the mid-range and around the rim. Although he’s still a threat behind the arch, Nowell shot 45% from the mid-range last season. That’s only 3% less than Kevin Durant, who is easily the best mid-range shooter in the league. As Nowell improves his game and Finch increases his role, he could become one of the more lethal mid-range shooters in the league.

More important than any stat is Finch’s belief in Nowell. “We’re trying to figure out how to get a role,” Finch said before the Gobert trade, “a more consistent role for him.” The Gobert trade opened up the door to this role for Nowell. With his head coach’s full faith in him, it’s up to him to perform.

Having his coach’s faith gets one major problem out of the way early, and that’s playing time. Nowell has always had skill but not always the opportunity. Now he gets the opportunity in a big way. If Nowell is immediately productive, his role could easily increase into a 30-minute per game player. But it’s hard not to overstate how badly Nowell needs to get off to a hot start.

However, I could see Nowell’s sixth-man role diminish if he has an extended slump at the beginning of the season. If he starts the season averaging 10-12 points in a 25 minutes per game role, he loses two critical aspects of award races.

  • High minute count off the bench
  • Social media narratives

As much as it takes away from the fun of awards, social media narratives play a huge role in award voting. Not everyone is gonna be able to tune into every Timberwolves game, so they rely on the media to understand who is really contributing. If you ask the average NBA fan who Tyler Herro is, every single one of them will be able to answer. However, just over half of them probably know who Nowell is.

If Nowell is gonna have any chance of winning this award, he needs to be able to get his name out there as quickly as possible. If he can drop a couple of 20-point games in the first week or so, his minutes will increase, and people will start to learn about his game. There’s no feasible way that Nowell can compete for the award averaging 25 minutes per game. Household names like Jordan Poole, Herro, and Malcolm Brogdon will exceed the 30-minute mark.

Nowell can win Sixth Man Of The Year. He’s a sleeper pick, but I’d say he has a better shot at winning it than many people with better odds than him. The key is to start hot and stay hot and use his improving offensive skill set to set him apart early on. With Finch’s trust behind him, the ball is in Nowell’s court.

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