Evaluating Victor Oladipo’s Sixth Man of the Year candidacy

Dec 20, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) defends against Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) during the second quarter of a basketball game at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 20, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo (5) defends against Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) during the second quarter of a basketball game at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Victor Oladipo was expected to play a leading role for the Orlando Magic this year. Plans have changed slightly, but he is still in the mix for a postseason award.

Not many people would have predicted Victor Oladipo would be coming off the bench for the Orlando Magic at the beginning of the season. After early struggles from Oladipo and solid play from Evan Fournier though, that is exactly what has happened.

Even I predicted on this site before the season Oladipo could take his game to an All-Star level. While the third-year guard still may be on hand for some of the festivities in Toronto next month, he has not been able to find a significant enough role in Scott Skiles‘ offense to vault him among the Eastern Conference’s top players.

However, Oladipo has thrived along with the Magic as part of the second unit before a recent cameo back as a starter to spell an injured Elfrid Payton.

While he may not have as good of raw numbers as a reserve and is not playing as many minutes, he has fit what the team is trying to do at the moment.

Orlando is now 13-7 in games Oladipo does not start. The interesting question becomes with his role impacting team wins in a positive way, where does he stack up in the race for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award?

Just a few weeks ago, CBS Sports published their top five in the running to take home the hardware. They had Oladipo ranked first based on his consistency and the Magic’s success with him in a bench role.

As always, looking back at history is one good way to decipher how valid Oladipo’s case may be. Let us take a look at some basic stats on the last five players to win an award.

2015Lou Williams15.
2014Jamal Crawford18.
2013J.R. Smith18.15.32.717.6
2012James Harden16.84.13.721.1
2011Lamar Odom14.

Oladipo right now is averaging 12.8 points, 3.9 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game and has a 14.6 PER.

Those numbers would suggest Oladipo is a little below the threshold of what it takes to be regarded as the best sixth man in the league, but the last five winners were a particularly strong group as well.

While Oladipo’s stat line is a bit low, could the Magic’s winning ways have an impact on his candidacy? Every single one of the last five Sixth Man of the Year award winners was at least a division champion with their teams.

Despite their surprising 19-17 start, it appears Orlando might not even be doing enough winning for Oladipo to merit consideration. However, looking at the past is just one form of evaluation.

It is important as well to delve into the field of competition Oladipo currently has for the award this season. Remember, the only qualification set in front of the voters is the players they select must come off the bench more games than they start.

What one finds when evaluating the pool of candidates is a weaker-than-normal set of competitors.

Ryan Anderson (NOP)
Will Barton (DEN)
Alec Burks (UTA)
Enes Kanter (OKC)
Jeremy Lin (CHA)
Tristan Thompson (CLE)

Out of that list, there may be two primary barriers for Oladipo being selected as Sixth Man of the Year. If the voters go solely by the raw statistical numbers, then Anderson or Barton would be the pick. Their scoring off the bench is simply off the charts and that gets notice with voters.

Anderson is up to his old tricks shooting 37 percent from three while providing decent rebounding. He has ironically been mentioned as an ideal fit in a trade to return to his old Magic team.

Barton may also be in the running for Most Improved honors while shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from three. He is Denver’s second leading scorer but one wonders if the voters will question his numbers since they are being compiled on a woeful Nuggets team.

While Anderson and Barton are purely obstacles to Oladipo’s candidacy from a numbers standpoint, Enes Kanter might check off all the boxes for voters.

Kanter is making the most out of just more than 20 minutes per game and his field goal percentage is fourth in the NBA. Factor in that he plays for the 25-11 Oklahoma City Thunder who currently sit third in the Western Conference and I think you have your winner. Or at least your front-runner for now.

Certainly, there is still plenty of season left to be played and a lot can still happen with these candidates. Oladipo may even find a permanent home back in the starting lineup and this conversation would be a moot point.

Next: Talking Orlando Magic's recent slide with BangTheBook Podcast

For now though, he looks to be a few paces off of first place in the Sixth Man of the Year race. At least he can be part of the conversation and a candidate in the running.