Toronto Raptors guard Lou Williams was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year on Monday, beating Celtics spark plug Isaiah Thomas by a comfortable margin.
Williams received 78 of a possible 130 first-place votes, while Thomas finished as the runner-up with 33 first-place votes. Last year's winner, Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, was third with 8 first-place votes.
"[The voting is] not in my control," Thomas told ESPN. "Congrats to Lou Will. I can't say too much about it. All I'm going to say is numbers don't lie. But congrats to him. He deserves it."
Thomas is showing respect by congratulating Williams, yet can't resist slipping in a mention that the numbers favored him. Looking at those numbers, it's easy to see that he was right.
Obviously this is cherry-picking a select few statistics, but it's difficult to find many metrics where Thomas doesn't compare favorably to Williams. Thomas averaged more free throw attempts, shot better from beyond the arc and even rebounded better (not that this was a specialty for either guard). Thomas may not start games, but he's among the best at finishing them, averaging 6.2 points in the 4th quarter this season, which tied him for sixth most in the league.
Thomas provided the Celtics with a spark that helped launch them into the postseason after he was acquired from the Phoenix Suns at the trade deadline. While you could argue that Williams gets an edge for playing on a higher seeded team that won their division, the counter for that would be that Boston had a better record than Toronto after the trade brought Thomas to town.
The biggest advantage that Williams has over Thomas is Win Shares (or other comparable cumulative advanced stats, such as Estimated Wins Added). This highlights the biggest factor that was working against Thomas, as he played in significantly less games. Due to injuries and the mid-season trade that sent him to Boston, Thomas ended up playing in only 67 games, while Williams played in 80.
Per game averages are important, but durability matters too. Missing 15 games puts Thomas on the edge of consideration for season awards, which has to be the reason why 30 voters excluded him from their ballots altogether. I mean, there couldn't possibly be that many people that didn't think Thomas' stats warranted at least top-three consideration, right?
Isaiah Thomas was on only 100 of 130 ballots. A look at the full voting. pic.twitter.com/9VBSEMbpnX— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) April 20, 2015
Most stats say that Thomas had the edge on a per game basis, which is why his Win Shares per 48 Minutes were higher despite his total Win Shares falling behind what Williams accumulated in more games. Williams winning the award may have come down to what the voters valued more - per game averages or total cumulative production.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens had lobbied for Thomas to win the award. When asked Monday about the decision, Stevens said that his vote would have been for Thomas. Mine would have been too, but unfortunately neither of us had a vote.
In what essentially came down to a two-man race, Williams came through with the honors. Celtics fans don't have to agree with it, but we can understand the reasoning behind it.