Is Lou Williams or Eric Gordon the Better Sixth Man?

Have you ever heard the expression, "Christmas comes but once a year"? Well, it's true, but sometimes -- for one reason or another -- it seems like there's more than one December 25th.

That must be how the Houston Rockets feel this NBA season. Their two Christmases just happen to have fallen on July 9th and February 23rd.

This offseason, general manager Daryl Morey signed free agent Eric Gordon to a big contract with the intent of him being the team's sixth man and bolstering their bench production. Over the course of the year, Gordon's done the job, but before this year's trade deadline, the front office acquired Lou Williams in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.

In his time with L.A., Williams ceded the majority of the backcourt minutes to younger talent, so he was on the back-burner as it pertains to the Sixth Man of the Year conversation until the trade. Going from the bottom of the league to a playoff contender, though, turned Williams into a potential difference maker in the Western Conference.

Contrary to head coach Mike D'Antoni's belief that Williams would be the team's seventh man, all but assuring Gordon the Sixth Man Award, it's become clear there are two relevant and deserving Sixth Man of the Year candidates on Houston's roster.

That's a good problem for any team to have, but if you're a Rockets fan or one of this year's voters, which one do you choose? And why?

Blind Comparison

Raw Production

Without taking into account minutes or team pace, here's how the two stack up against one another.

Per Game Points Threes Assists Rebounds Steals
Player A 16.4 3.4 2.6 2.6 0.6
Player B 17.8 2.1 3.0 2.3 1.0

Nearly identical, right? While Player A has averaged over one more three-point make per game, Player B has averaged more points and assists while contributing more with steals on the defensive end. If you guessed right, Player A is Gordon and Player B is Williams.

For the most part, Williams has produced more in the box score than Gordon despite playing just 24.2 minutes per game to the incumbent's 30.8. Does anything change when we adjust for minutes?

Adjusted Production

If each player were to play an average of 36 minutes this season -- starters minutes, if you will -- this is what the numbers would look like.

Per 36 Mins Points Threes Assists Rebounds Steals
Player A 26.5 3.2 4.5 3.4 1.5
Player B 19.2 3.9 3.1 3.0 0.8

And, if we were to account for pace of play (the amount of possessions per 48 minutes) -- considering Williams played with the Lakers for a large part of the regular season -- would they look any different?

Per 100 Possessions Points Threes Assists Rebounds Steals
Player A 29.8 4.2 6.0 4.6 2.1
Player B 25.6 5.2 4.1 4.1 1.0

If the three-pointers and steals categories didn't give it away already, Williams is Player A in both situations. He's been an elite scorer no matter which arena he's called home -- he's shooting 38.5% from three and 43.8% from the floor this season, which are narrowly superior to Gordon's marks of 38.0% and 41.2% in those same fields.

Yet, there is still much more to it than production and shooting percentages.


What do the advanced metrics say about each player's overall value?

Advanced nERD PER RPM Win Shares Per 48
Player A 5.2 22.6 2.16 .160
Player B -0.7 13.7 1.39 .089

Our very own nERD metric tells us Player A would add an estimated 5.2 wins above .500 to a league-average team as of their starters, while Player A would take away just short of a game from that same team. Simultaneously, player efficiency rating suggests Player A has returned a far better per-minute rating than Player B has for the sum of his own positive and negative accomplishments while on the floor.

As for ESPN's Real Plus-Minus, it informs us Player A's estimated on-court impact -- measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions -- is more impressive than Player B's, even when taking into account teammates, opponents and other factors.

And, finally, Player A's edge in win shares per 48 minutes says he has, on average, contributed more wins than Player B has in the time of a regulation game. With .100 as the league average, that makes Player A an above-average contributor and Player B a below-average contributor.

In all advanced analytics, Player A -- Lou Williams -- is the preferred player.

Houston, We Have Your Nominee

Eric Gordon has had a very successful season and he'll still receive Sixth Man of the Year consideration. In a vacuum, though, Williams is everything Gordon is, but better.

Williams' scoring ability is better, his overall production is greater, and his efficiency is higher. Most of all, he's more valuable than Gordon. What more is there to say? Sweet Lou is the better Sixth Man.