Toronto Raptors guard Lou Williams is your 2014-15 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, the league announced Monday, earning recognition as the NBA's top reserve after helping propel the Raptors to a franchise-record 49 wins and their second straight Atlantic Division title.
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Williams received 78 first-place votes and amassed 502 total "award points" — five points for a first-place vote, three for a second-place nod, one for third-place — from the panel of 130 sportswriters and broadcasters who cast ballots. Isaiah Thomas, who came off the bench in 66 of his 67 appearances for the Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics this season, finished second in voting, receiving 33 first-place votes and totaling 334 points.
Last year's winner, two-time Sixth Man Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers, finished third, receiving eight first-place votes and 131 total points. Golden State Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala, who had started every game of his 10-year career prior to sliding to the second unit for Steve Kerr this season, finished fourth, receiving seven first-place votes and 100 total points. Fellow Warrior Marreese Speights, Chicago Bulls forwards Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson, and Houston Rockets swingman Corey Brewer each received one first-place vote. (You can check out the full voting breakdown here, if you'd like. Transparency!)
Williams' win breaks a longstanding individual-honor drought for the club from the Great White North:
Lou Williams is the first Raptor to win a non-rookie-of-the-year NBA award, and the first Raptor to win any NBA award since 1999. Hey now.
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) April 20, 2015
... which is pretty neat.
Williams also wins a car from award-sponsor Kia:
... which will be donated to The Remix Project, a Toronto- and Chicago-based organization that works to help young people from disadvantaged communities continue their education or find job opportunities in creative industries. Kia's going to give a new Sorento to the charity of choice of each the five winners of the NBA's 2014-15 year-end awards, which — coming on the heels of Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook's decision to donate his All-Star Game MVP Kia to a local single mother in need — seems like a pretty cool decision.
Two members of our Yahoo Sports NBA panel — me and BDL colleague Eric Freeman — chose Williams for Sixth Man of the Year in our playoffs-and-awards predictions. Marc J. Spears and Ben Rohrbach opted for Thomas, while Kelly Dwyer picked Mirotic.
You could've made arguments for a slew of selections in this year's Sixth Man balloting. Thomas was an absolute game-changer as a pick-and-roll playmaker off the pine, especially once he got to Boston, helping push the Celtics into the playoffs; he also boasted a stronger statistical profile than Williams in a number of offensive categories, from shooting percentages through per-minute scoring and assisting and Player Efficiency Rating.
Thomas weighed in from the Celtics' Monday shootaround between Games 1 and 2 of their first-round series with the Cleveland Cavaliers:
Isaiah Thomas on 6th man vote: "Congrats to Lou Will… All I’m going to say is numbers don’t lie. Congrats to him, he deserves it."
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) April 20, 2015
Mirotic essentially helped keep the Bulls' offense afloat amid a raft of injuries in his monster March, proving to be every ounce the frontcourt difference-maker Chicago hoped he'd be after bringing him over from Real Madrid this summer while flashing better-than-expected playmaking and a capacity to credibly defend small forwards in Chicago's jumbo sets. Cleveland's Tristan Thompson (who finished fifth in voting despite earning no first-place selections) slotted in perfectly as a third big man this year for the Central Division-champion Cavs, working his tail off defensively and attacking the offensive glass with abandon to make a major impact without needing plays called for him.
Iguodala was sensational in the Bay, playing an integral role in the switch-heavy scheme that made Golden State the No. 1 defense in the NBA in points allowed per possession while adding a needed dose of playmaking to the Dubs second unit when All-Stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson hit the bench. And while Crawford didn't look to these eyes to be quite the game-breaker he was in L.A. last season — and while he missed 18 games this season, including just over a month after the All-Star break with a right calf contusion — he was the only real reliable source of second-unit offense for Doc Rivers' club, which is something, at least.
Fine cases, all, but Williams got the nod for averaging a career-high 15.5 points per game (nearly a point-per-game fewer than Thomas and three-tenths fewer than Crawford, while playing in 13 more games than the former and 16 more than the latter) in 25.2 minutes per game for the Raptors. He led Toronto in scoring 18 times, ranking as the only reserve in the league to finish in the top 15 in 3-pointers made and attempted as well as free throws made and attempted. He also helped All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry carry the Raptors offense when shooting guard DeMar DeRozan missed 21 games from late November through mid-December with a torn tendon in his groin.
Williams often served as an offensive catalyst for a Raptors team that finished third in the league in points scored per possession but had a tendency to stagnate at times. He finished 27 percent of his team's offensive possessions with a shot, foul drawn or turnover during his time on the floor, a top-20 usage rate and the second-highest mark among Raptors to log at least 100 minutes behind DeMar DeRozan. Mostly, he shot or drew a foul; Williams coughed it up on just 8.4 percent of his offensive possessions, a microscopic rate that ranked 16th-best in the league.
On one hand, that number does make clear that Williams is an inveterate chucker; it's awful hard to turn the ball over when you've already launched a shot, which the far-from-bashful Williams did nearly 17 times per 36 minutes of floor time this season. On the other, though, it offers a glimpse into the value that Williams can offer an offense with his tight handle, his talent for attacking the basket and getting himself to the line (he had the 10th-highest free-throw rate among wings to play at least 500 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com) and his willingness to put the ball up, creating offensive rebounding opportunities for Toronto's bigs. The Raptors scored 111.3 points per 100 possessions in 2,016 minutes with Williams on the floor, which would have ranked No. 1 in the NBA in offensive efficiency this season, compared to 104.6-per-100 in 1,955 minutes without him, which would've ranked 10th-best.
It's not like a top-10 offense is anything to sneeze at, of course, but given how leaky the Raptors' defense was this year — 23rd in the league in points allowed per possession — every ounce of offensive firepower matters, and Williams boosted Toronto's scoring prowess just about every time he touched the floor this season. And when it came time to vote for an award that has primarily gone to top reserve scorers over the years, that was enough to earn Williams the nod, fulfilling the prophecy that one Aubrey Drake Graham laid out back in February.
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