Clippers shooting guard Lou Williams earned his second Sixth Man of the Year award on Monday night a few months after becoming the first predominantly bench player to lead his team in points and assists.
Williams' win was a shoo-in. He averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists for the Clippers, coming off the bench in 60 of them. He shot 43.5 percent and made 36 percent of his 3-pointers, and there was a real argument he should have been an All-Star. Even when the Clippers dealt Blake Griffin in February, Williams gave the Clips an outside shot at the postseason; ultimately far too many injuries cost them, though Williams played in all but three contests.
The Bulls, like the Clippers, had a dynamic scorer off the bench this season. Bobby Portis turned around an ugly, ugly situation with Nikola Mirotic in the preseason and made it a career year. The quick numbers show Portis averaged 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in just 22.5 minutes per game. He shot 47 percent from the field and 36 percent from deep as a bench contributor behind stud rookie Lauri Markkanen.
His per 36-minute numbers were out of this world: he joined Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins as the only players in the league to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes. That Portis was able to produce to much in relatively few minutes spoke volumes to just how improved he was.
It also begs the question: Can Portis win the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award in the near future?
For what it's worth, Portis believes it will happen sooner than later.
2019 nba 6th man of the year. Speak everything into existence https://t.co/XStDVZw7ui— Bobby BP Portis (@BPortistime) June 2, 2018
Three factors are working against Portis, which we'll address quickly before writing why Portis certainly could win the award in due time.
First, Portis will be 24 years old next season; the only Sixth Man of the Year younger than 27 the last decade was 22-year-old James Harden, who posted absurd numbers in Oklahoma City in 2012. Harden also posted those numbers for a 47-win Thunder team that was on pace to win 61 games in a lockout-shortened season.
And that's the second step working against Portis; this award goes to players on winning teams. Of course, Williams just won the award for a Clippers team that went 42-40. But before this season the last 11 Sixth Man winners came on 50-win or better teams (Harden's 47-win Thunder being the exception that we're counting).
And you have to go back to 1994 and Dell Curry to find a player who won the award on a team at or worse than .500 (the Hornets went 41-41). Detlef Schrempf won it in 1992 when the Pacers went 40-42, marking the last time a player won the award on a losing team.
Will the Bulls be better in 2019? Of course. We'll assume they back David Nwaba and Zach LaVine, and they've added two solid pieces in Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. They'll certainly be better than the 27-win campaign they put together a year ago, but it's probably a stretch to think of them as a playoff contender.
That could change if two or more players make significant jumps, but for now we'll assume Portis will have to wait.
Looking forward, however, presents an interesting scenario. Portis has one year left on his deal before he hits restricted free agency and a likely hefty payday. If the Bulls want to keep Portis for the long haul - all signs point to this being the case - they'll have to invest in him. But they also have invested first-round picks in Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., meaning the starting positions are filled up for the forseeable future.
This hurts Portis in some fashion, but it helps his Sixth Man of the Year case (for whatever that's worth; for this story it's important).
Though Lamar Odom in 2011 is the last non-guard to win the award since 2004, Portis is the kind of scoring threat that plays among Sixth Man voters. It's his best attribute, and he's not a lot like the forward version of guards who have won the award recently like Williams, Jamal Crawford and J.R. Smith.
The next wave of the Bulls as contenders could see Portis is line to compete for Sixth Man of the Year. He's a valuable asset on the second line, he posted impressive numbers in limited minutes and will be in that veteran age group by the time the Bulls are challenging the Celtics and Sixers in the East.