WALTHAM — The Celtics are not shy about campaigning for their own to win honors and awards. Last season they vouched for Isaiah Thomas’s Sixth Man of the Year candidacy, and this winter there was a groundswell of support for Thomas to make the All-Star team and for Kelly Olynyk to be selected for the 3-point contest.
On Wednesday night, after guard Evan Turner tallied 16 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds in Boston’s 116-96 win over the Grizzlies, forward Jared Sullinger started a new initiative by posting on Twitter that Turner should be named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year.
For those who have not followed the Celtics closely this season, that might seem like a far-fetched suggestion. But Turner has been the heartbeat of the Celtics’ thriving second unit. He is averaging 10.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, helping the Celtics surge into third place in the Eastern Conference.
On Thursday, as Turner sat in a folding chair and scanned the practice court in front of him, he shook his head when he thought about being considered for the Sixth Man honor.
“I try my best to be efficient and play the right way,” he said. “Do as coach asks and just play hard. I think the sixth man award is for high-scoring guys off the bench. The league is filled with scorers, guys who can do one trick. To a certain extent, people really don’t comprehend what assists, rebounds mean over a period of time or anything like that.”
Turner referenced last year’s winner, his close friend Lou Williams, who averaged 15.5 points, 2.1 assists and 1.9 rebounds per game. The scoring was what set him apart, because scoring is what people notice.
“I don’t think people really comprehend what all the all-around stuff really means,” Turner said. “They just take it with a grain of salt. So, I mean, I’m more worried about the unit and the team.”
So if Turner does not win the award, who will? Well, the field is deep but not especially inspiring.
Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, a two-time winner, fits in the Lou Williams mold, averaging 13.9 points, 2.1 assists and 1.8 rebounds. Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (16.1 points, 6 assists, 2.9 rebounds) and Nuggets forward Will Barton (15 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists) have strong résumés. But both play for losing teams, and this award generally does not go to players on losing teams.
And then there is Andre Iguodala, who averages 7.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists — numbers inferior to Turner’s — but he plays on a team that might end this season with the best record ever, the Golden State Warriors.
There are obviously several roadblocks in Turner’s way, and he thinks perception might be the biggest one of all.
“Some people might say, ‘Hey, he struggles with this.’ I’m like, ‘I’m close to a triple-double every night,’ ” Turner said. “At the end of the day you can’t argue with people that don’t know. The fact that it’s March and we’re talking about sixth man, I’m probably two months too late. So in general it really doesn’t mean much to me, because I’m going to try to play the right way.”
There is no doubting Turner’s value to the Celtics. Of the team’s five-man lineups that have played at least 20 minutes together this season, nine have net ratings above 15, and Turner is a part of six of them.
Since last season he has raised his field goal percentage from 42.9 to a career-best 45.2, and increased his free throw percentage from 75.2 to 81.7. Turner said he lost some weight since last season, allowing him to be a more agile defender and to play with better pace. He is pleased with his play this year, but he is mostly happy that it has coincided with the Celtics’ success.
“If it happens and I win the award, I’d definitely be honored,” Turner said. “But even to be in the conversation is cool, because things could have been way worse.”
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Former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was a Celtics assistant from 2007-10, attended the Celtics’ practice on Thursday. He is in town for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
“Certainly Tom brings a great deal of expertise and knowledge and things we can ask him in those two days watching our team,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “So it’s really good to have him around.”
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.