There have been 38 individual winners of the NBA’s Sixth Man Award since the honor’s launch in the early 1980s. No, that’s a lie, because there also have been players — such as Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams, Kevin McHale and Detlef Schrempf — who have won it multiple times. There’s never been a tie.
The Jazz this season have no player who has won the award a single time, let alone more than once. But the Jazz, who have never had a player in any year win it, are unique in this way: They have multiple players who are equally worthy of the award in 2021. And that’s exceptionally rare. Maybe there finally should be a tie.
Two trophies to two teammates.
Jordan Clarkson has gotten a lot of mention for the honor, and currently is the favorite to haul it in. But Joe Ingles deserves heavy consideration, too. They are the vanguards of a bench that a year ago remained a Jazz weakness. This season, thanks also to the addition of Derrick Favors and the shot-making of Georges Niang, it is an absolute strength, helping and enabling the Jazz to hold the best record in the NBA.
The advancement in the performances of Clarkson and Ingles should draw to them their due credit, but Quin Snyder is also deserving, considering he not only has put them in positions to concurrently thrive personally and bolster the team, he also has encouraged them to do what he believed they could so effectively do, which is to say, he turned them loose. He made room for them to be what they are, without attempting to put a leash on them, to restrict their talents, to hold them back for fear that they might hurt the greater good. And that release has done the opposite, giving the Jazz bench firepower unlike anything they’ve had in a long, long time.
The limitations — that Snyder has turned to license — might be understandable.
At earlier stops with the Lakers and Cavs, Clarkson was known as something of a black hole, a gunner, as a sort of lesser reincarnation of World B. Free. If there were shots to take, and even if there weren’t, Clarkson was eager to launch away. His swing thought seemed to be: Why waste a possession by letting someone else take a shot when I could do it first?
That led to an attitude by the powers that be that Clarkson, for all his energy, wasn’t all that valuable. Efficiency for him was just a suggestion.
When the Jazz needed scoring off the bench, Clarkson and his exact aggressive mindset were available. They acquired him in trade just before Christmas of last season and that helped boost the Jazz from a team lacking shooters to a team no longer in need.
As everyone knows, as a free agent during the offseason, Clarkson could have signed with a number of other teams. He wanted to stay in Utah — in part because he liked his teammates, in part because the Jazz were willing to pay him $52 million, in part because Clarkson not only could be Clarkson here, Snyder wanted him to be Clarkson.
And that’s saying something on account of the fact that Snyder, as a general rule, prefers ball movement. He typically doesn’t like the ball to stick. But what he likes even more, especially when his starting guards need a blow and he calls on his bench for reinforcement, is Clarkson sticking the ball in the basket. Doesn’t matter if he dribbles from one side of the floor to the other, if he zigs and zags, if he spins and gyrates, if he dips and doodles, if he does the hokey-pokey, if he squibs the ball like soap on a rope, as long as Clarkson scores, that’s adequate enough.
Thus far this season, Clarkson is averaging 17.4 points, with an effective field goal percentage of 52.5. Notable, especially considering the degree of difficulty on his shots would make the Russian judge hold up bold numbers on her scorecard. He makes 95 percent of his free throws.
He’s gone through buzzard-hot streaks and some slumps, at times taking wholly unrighteous shots, and none of that matters to the shooting guard.
“Missing shots,” he said, “that’s part of the season. Ain’t nobody playing 72 games at the highest level and shooting a crazy field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage in the amount of clips that I get up. There’s bumps, and you know I don’t get too high or too low about nothing. I stay even-keel. I know my shots gonna go in when I take them, and [I] keep continuing to make plays.”
Ingles is another matter, an even longer shot for ever being mentioned as a deserving Sixth Man candidate.
You know Joe’s story. Kid out of South Australia who never watched NBA basketball growing up, who played cricket and Australian Rules football, but quit the latter because he “hated getting hot and dirty and muddy.” He started playing basketball because that’s what his friends wanted to do. When he commenced in on thinking he was pretty good at it, he was told by Mrs. O’Reilly, his frumpy, bespectacled middle-school science teacher/counselor with the short, dyed-red hair, in so many words, to pull his head out because such a dream wasn’t a “realistic career choice.”
Well. Ingles made it real, first playing at 17 years old for the Melbourne South Dragons, before taking the long way home. He signed four additional basketball deals with teams on three different continents, the last of which was with the Utah Jazz before the 2014-15 season. He’s been here ever since, growing from a player who was angry because didn’t get enough playing time in the Spanish League, getting cut by the Clippers, before prospering with the Jazz.
He’s prospered more this year than any other.
And anyone who claims he knew Ingles would be this good is telling untruths.
Not even Joe knew.
But he still would love to call up Mrs. O’Reilly now and give her the what-for.
The stats tell a part of the tale, what with Ingles hitting 49 percent of his bombs on a team that values 3-pointers more than any other outfit does. He’s averaging 12.3 points, with a ridiculous effective field-goal percentage of 69.9 percent, and 4.4 assists.
But he does and means more than just that.
Ingles is the Jazz’s third point guard, behind Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell. Even when those guys are on the floor, he often initiates the offense, triggering the movement Snyder relishes. His work off the pick and roll is established and the Jazz bigs benefit from it, all in addition to his spotting up from distance.
The opposite of Clarkson, Ingles has needed — and he said has heard — urgings and directives from Snyder to shoot the ball more. Why? Because he makes them.
In that way, Ingles is the quintessential unselfish Jazz player.
That’s always been true, but it’s truer now than it’s ever been — mostly because of Snyder’s team-wide emphasis on the very things Ingles does well.
Back when the journeyman came to the Jazz, in that initial year, Snyder said this about him. Note how it’s playing itself out to completion all these years later:
“We have diverse guys on this team. But Joe’s helped us be and stay connected. I’ve been hard on him at times. But he’s been a bridge, someone I can rely on, even though this is his first year, to keep it together, to keep everyone focused. There’s trust there and it’s appreciated.”
Snyder also said: “He’s been a catalyst for a lot of the growth of our team … in ways that aren’t always visible to people on the outside.”
And he added one other thing: “Joe’s full of s---.”
Ingles has gotten better and fuller as the seasons have passed, particularly in this one.
Yeah. As far as the Sixth Man award goes, the Jazz have two of them, two Sixth Men, different and the same as they are, the team’s Frick and Frack, coming off the bench, and doing so in as significant a way as anyone, anywhere in the NBA.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.