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Summer Dreaming: Who will be named Kia Sixth Man in 2017-18?

Fran Blinebury

As the dog days of August continue, we’ll leap ahead once more in our summer fantasy with my five picks for the 2017-18 Kia Sixth Man of Year, who’ll provide a double scoop of energy and keep their teams from melting.

Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

If the Warriors continue to pile up 60-win seasons and championships, it would only be an embarrassment to the voters if one of the most critical parts of the machine isn’t recognized individually for his invaluable work. Because Iguodala does it so efficiently and consistently at both ends of the court, he gets overlooked while someone else is singled out each year and he finishes as runner-up. It’s like the injustice of Phil Jackson with 11 championship rings earning Coach of the Year recognition just once (1996). After 13 seasons, the versatile swingman can still come off the bench to provide a punch. And each season, as the Warriors have to trim bodies to make the salary structure work, his efforts become more needed.

Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

If you think his production last season (16.2 points per game, 37.2 percent on 3-pointers) was impressive, just wait to see what Gordon can do when he’s got Chris Paul and James Harden setting him up for wide open shots. He’s adapted to coming off the bench found a comfort zone in coach Mike D’Antoni’s let-‘em-fly offense. For the first time in his career, he really feels like a meaningful and trusted contributor on a team that has the potential to go places. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that good mental health led to good physical health. Last season was the first since his rookie year (2008-09) when he didn’t miss at least 18 games due to injury. If he can have another pain-free season, the Rockets will score enough points and win enough games to keep Gordon in the race to go back-to-back, which has only been done by Kevin McHale and Detlef Schrempf.

Jamal Crawford, Minnesota Timberwolves

What does the only three-time winner of the award in history need to add another trophy to his collection? Maybe just a new team and new challenge as the stick of dynamite off the bench in Minnesota. It won’t hurt rising young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to have the presence of the amazing 37-year-old in their locker room to learn about professionalism and getting prepared to play every night. He’s got the joyful enthusiasm of a teenager. After a dip in production last season and a shake-up of the roster with the Clippers, he was looking for different atmosphere. Crawford could have joined one of the contenders as a designated shooter off the bench, but instead chose the building Timberwolves. It’s the kind of outlook that keeps him young and in the race for the award.

Lou Williams, LA Clippers

The winner of the award in 2014-15 with the Raptors and third-place finisher last season, “Sweet Lou” is moving right into a situation that should put him back in the race. J.J. Redick and Crawford both left over the summer and that means coach Doc Rivers will have a definite need for a firecracker off the bench as the Clippers move ahead in the post-Chris Paul era. His shooting touch dropped last season as he bounced between the Lakers and Rockets. But at 31, there’s still plenty of life in those legs and pop in that shot to make things happen when necessary. As long as the name of the game is finding a way to put the ball into the hoop, Williams will be a threat.

Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers

While everybody was getting caught up in the excitement that Joel Embiid brought to the Sixers, if only for 31 games, the hard-charging small forward was carving out a permanent place on the young roster that is finally moving out of the rut of intentional failure. He averaged 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds as a starter last year, but now will move to the bench with the arrival of Ben Simmons. That’s the perfect place for this guy that can score from outside, attack the boards and also be a top-flight defender. The award usually goes to a key contributor on a winning team and the Sixers aren’t there yet. But he could votes this season if Philly is at long last on the rise and is a candidate to watch in the future.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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