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Jose Alvarado’s surprising Sixth Man of the Year campaign has him in elite company

USA TODAY Sports Media Group
USA TODAY Sports Media Group
 2022-12-05
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Jose Alvarado recorded a career-high 38 points for the Pelicans.

It was the most points ever scored off the bench in franchise history. This performance (12-19 FG, 8-11 3P) was an unexpected surprise from the guard, but it is indicative of something bigger and somewhat underdiscussed about Alvarado.

This wasn’t just a fluky moment for a run-of-the-mill player. The former undrafted free agent guard is legitimately having an excellent season.

Here are the players who rank better than Alvarado in FiveThirtyEight’s catch-all metric RAPTOR so far this season: Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic, and Joel Embiid.

Yes, you read that right! Alvarado trails only the back-to-back MVP, the back-to-back runner-up MVP, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, the preseason MVP favorite, and emerging 2022-23 MVP candidate Anthony Davis.

New Orleans is outscoring opponents by 14.7 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court, per Basketball-Reference, which literally ranks as the best among qualified players in 2022-23.

Isn’t that exactly the type of player that voters should look for when they decide on candidates for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year?

A deeper dive into the numbers shows us that the Pelicans actually score an additional 39.8 points per 100 plays (!) in transition when Alvarado is on the floor relative to when he is not. That ranks in the 99th percentile among all players in the NBA, via Cleaning the Glass.

It’s not particularly hard to figure out why. Alvarado is able to force turnovers like no one else in the league; he is a mastermind pickpocket.

Among the 250 players who have logged as many combined minutes as the guard has between this season and last season, no NBA player has recorded as many steals per 36 minutes as Alvarado.

This year, when Alvarado is on the floor, the Pelicans have added an additional 2.9 points per 100 possessions on transition plays coming from steals. That is the second-best mark among all players in the league.

The Pelicans have been particularly successful when Alvarado and Nance are on the court together. They have outscored their opponents by 21.2 points per 100 possessions in those 242 minutes. The game can get crazy when both of these scrappy players are featured in the lineup.

Alvarado has assisted Nance for 13 shots at the rim in those 242 minutes.

For comparison, Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray has shared the floor with John Collins for 616 minutes. Murray has only found Collins for 10 assists at the rim. Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns have appeared together for 591 minutes. Edwards has assisted Towns for just 5 assists at the rim.

These two players keep the Pelicans competitive when their key players like Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are resting.

Statistically speaking, Nance likely has an even better case than Alvarado when it comes to winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

But within the past few days, Alvarado’s odds to win this have actually jumped from +30000 (which suggests an implied probability of 0.3 percent) to +6000 (implied probability of 1.6 percent).

Different sportsbooks have Alvarada’s Sixth Man of the Year candidacy at drastically varying odds between +4000 and +18000.

Russell Westbrook (shockingly!) and Malcolm Brogdon are the favorites to win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year right now. But it’s already time to start including Alvarado in these conversations.

For what it is worth: The average winner of the NBA’s 6MOY started 21.4 percent of games played for their team during the season in which they won.

Alvarado is currently at 28.5 percent of games started, which would be the highest for a winner since Jamal Crawford appeared in the starting lineup for 34.7 percent of his games played in 2013-14.

Assuming that he doesn’t move into the starting lineup, Alvarado deserves even more love than he is currently getting.

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