(manager's note: Rami will contribute a column or article of some kind every other week until the end of the season.)
Coming into the season, we all knew that Rick Carlisle had a big role planned for the man formally known as "Half Man-Half Amazing," referring to him as a "future Hall of Famer" and the third piece to the "Big Three" alongside Nowitzki and Monta Ellis.
After averaging 13.4 points per game while shooting 40.6% from three last season, Vince Carter was expected to have another big season coming in. With a healthy Nowitzki, the addition of Ellis and Jose, and Carlisle's trust, Carter was an early season favorite for Sixth Man of the Year honors, but things didn't start so smoothly for the now 37-year-old. Carter had to carry a bench unit missing Brandan Wright and Devin Harris, leaving him with DeJuan Blair and Jae Crowder as his bench unit sidekicks.
With Harris and Wright back and having the All-Star Break to rest, Carter has started to hit his stride. Over the last eight games since the break, Carter is averaging 16.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, and shooting 46 percent from three, and over the last six Carter has been second on the team in scoring with 18.5 points per game (Nowitzki 20.2 ppg) He's also regained his shooting touch, shooting 51.4 percent from 3, which was highlighted by a 7-12 performance in the win against the New York Knicks.
Carter is now averaging 11.9 points (37.8 percent 3-pt), 2.8 assists, and 3.6 rebounds on the season season, which are improvements from his numbers during November of just 10 points, 2.3 assists and a terrible 35.5 percent from the field. Carter's numbers have improved month by month, in large part due to a healthier Maverick squad. With Wright attracting defense's attention down low and Harris able to create and handle playmaking duties, Carter is now finding himself free for open looks.
The Dallas Mavericks (36-26) will need Carter to continue providing instant offense as he leads the second-unit attack. With the Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, and Memphis Grizzlies battling for the 7th and 8th spots, the Mavericks will need everyone at their best to get back into the playoffs.
As great as Carter's recent surge has been, he'll have to continue to build on his numbers if he wants to be the fourth Maverick to win the award (after Roy Tarpley, Antawn Jamison, Jason Terry), as he'll have plenty of competition as the season winds down.
Taj Gibson, who might be the favorite to win the award if it was announced today, has greatly elevated his play this season. Without Derrick Rose (injury) and now Luol Deng (trade), Gibson has had a huge hand in the Chicago Bulls currently sitting fourth in the East. Gibson has seen his number skyrocket this season, averaging 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds this season after just 8 points and 5.3 rebounds last year. Gibson's stellar play has come at the expense of Carlos Boozer, who has been sitting at the end of games due to Gibsons' needed presence.
A plethora of injuries to J.J Redick may have caused reigning Sixth Man winner, Jamal Crawford to fall out of consideration. With Redick battling injuries, the Los Angeles Clippers have had to thrust Crawford into the starting lineup. Crawford has started 23 games compared to 37 off the bench. On the season Crawford has averaged 19 points for the Clippers, and he also has averaged 17.9 points when he's not starting. With Redick possibly out for the season, Crawford may continue to roll with the starters.
During a season where Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have combined to play just 16 games, the Los Angeles Lakers needed a scorer and some excitement. Enter Swaggy P -- in a lost season, Nick Young has given the Lakers someone who'll leave it all on the court. Young is second on the team with 16.8 points per game. His recent battle with injuries and the Lakers horrid record will most likely keep hurt Young's chances at snatching up the award.
Jamal Crawford isn't the only former Sixth Man of the Year winner in the running this season. After looking old and almost done during the playoffs, Manu Ginobili has had a good year for the 44-16 San Antonio Spurs. He's averaged 12.2 points on 45.2 percent shooting, 4.5 assists, and 3.2 rebounds this season. After missing 22 games last season, Ginobili has cut that down to just 11 absences. There's no doubt that a healthy and efficient Ginobili makes the Spurs a tough beat for any team.
Like Crawford, Reggie Jackson is another candidate who may ruled out of consideration after being thrust into the starting lineup. With Russell Westbrook being out throughout this season, Jackson has started 30 games, averaging 14.4 points and 4.9 assists in 31.6 minutes of action, while keeping the Oklahoma City Thunder atop the standings. In a reserve role (30 games), Jackson has averaged 12.5 points and 3.3 assists in 25.6 minutes. With Westbrook healthy, Jackson has the opportunity to build on his career high numbers of 13.5 points and 4.1 assists per game to make a run for the award.
The surprising Phoenix Suns will have plenty of candidates this season for an assortment of awards. Jeff Hornacek is a candidate for Coach of the Year honors, Goran Dragic and Gerald Green have built strong cases for Most Improved Player, and finally,Markieff Morris has had a strong year to be in the running for 6th man of the year. In his third season, Morris has put up career highs of 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds off the bench. He's shown a good already game, being able to score inside and even step out and hit some shots.
Whether or not Carter wins the award, the Mavericks will need him to finish the season strong to make a proper playoff push. We can't expect him to be Vinsanity, but if he can continue to give the Mavericks 13 to 16 points a night and shoot at a high clip, the Mavericks should find themselves back in the playoffs.
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