In recent history, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award has typically gone to the high-scoring guard off the bench. Since Antawn Jamison won it in 2003-04, only one true forward has won the award, and that was Lamar Odom with the Lakers in 2010-11.
In late January, ESPN published their NBA Winter Forecast, where a panel of writers make their picks for the awards and final standings. Sure enough, four of the top five in the voting for Sixth Man of the Year were guards, with the Spurs' Manu Ginobili winning the vote. The only non-guard was Markieff Morris of the Suns, and he finished fourth in the voting.
With this in mind, it might seem like a long shot for the Bulls' Taj Gibson to win the award. But recently, Gibson has been getting some serious love from the national media.
In the final minutes of the Bulls' victory over the Nets prior to the All-Star break, TNT analyst Steve Kerr openly campaigned for Gibson to win the award this year (via Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald):
"I want to pump up Taj Gibson for sixth man of the year," Kerr said during the broadcast. "We usually give it to the scorers, the (Manu) Ginobilis and Jamal Crawfords, but Taj Gibson is the best sixth man in the league this year."
And Friday morning, ESPN's Marc Stein named Gibson his Sixth Man of the Second Trimester, which basically includes the last 25 to 30 games. Other names Stein offered up as candidates for the trimester were Morris, Ginobili, Jeremy Lin and Vince Carter.
We've discussed ad nauseam the improvements Gibson has made this season. Gibson has always been a great defender (one of the best players in league this year at defending the rim, per SportVU), but it's the strides he has made on the offensive end that have helped him surpass Carlos Boozer as a player. Tom Thibodeau has always liked going to Gibson during crunch time, but now it's basically an every-game thing because there's just not an offensive drop-off from Boozer to Gibson like there used to be. Plus, Gibson has simply performed better in the fourth quarter.
On the season, Gibson is averaging 13.2 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 48.3 percent in 29.2 minutes per game. In February, Gibson is averaging 16.7 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 46.7 percent in 31.5 minutes per game. And while some of Gibson's bigger games came when he briefly started in place of the injured Boozer, there really hasn't been much of a decline since he returned to his reserve role. Gibson has failed to reach double figures in scoring just once all month, and he also ended January with six straight games in double-digits.
I'm still not really expecting Gibson to win the award. Ginobili is a more household name and is having an excellent season despite battling injuries, posting a PER near 20. Jamal Crawford is putting up big numbers again, averaging 19.0 points for an excellent Clippers team. The Thunder's Reggie Jackson is another popular name, although both he and Crawford have spent a lot of time starting this year due to major injuries to their respective teams. Nick Young was also a top-five finisher in the Winter Forecast voting, but the Lakers stink and he has been hurt.
All I know is Gibson's superb two-way play makes him as deserving as anybody, especially with the way he has helped pull the Bulls out of the abyss. So I'm hoping that perhaps this national recognition means there's a good chance his excellent season gets honored. And maybe he somehow hits those all-defense incentives and sticks it to the Bulls, forcing them to pay the luxury tax. There's like a zero percent chance that happens, but it would be hilarious...until the Bulls cheap out down the road due to paying tax this year.