Detroit's Tobias Harris inches his way into contention for Stein's Sixth Man Award vote

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The NBA's eventual Sixth Man Award winner for the 2016-17 season is very likely coming from the Houston Rockets.

Eric Gordon and new teammate Lou Williams have unquestionably been the most impactful sixth men in the league from opening night into March. And now they're on the same team.

Seeing them on the same roster, however, is bound to complicate things for some voters. Judging by Williams' first four games in a Rockets uniform, in which he averaged 19.3 points in 25.3 minutes per game, it would be unwise to assume that Gordon will continue to generate the gaudiest numbers off of Houston's bench.

Gordon cemented himself as a key figure in Houston long before winning the 3-point contest at All-Star Weekend, thanks largely to those 13 successive games from Nov. 25 through Dec. 17 in which he found a Steph Curry-esque groove and drained at least three 3s per game. He's still a heady No. 3 in the league in 3-point makes for the season (202) despite some recent ups and downs, trailing only Curry (235) and teammate James Harden (203) entering Sunday's play.

Yet if Williams continues to average 18-plus points in fewer than 25 minutes per game for the season, he'll join the San Diego Clippers' Freeman Williams (19.3 PPG in 24.1 MPG in 1980-81) as the only players in league history to do so.

What we're trying to say is that we could really use more time -- as well as the forthcoming 20-ish games' worth of data -- to untangle the Gordon/Lou Will conundrum. Their production was very similar during the second trimester (as the accompanying chart shows), which only makes these two harder to separate.

So ...

Allow us to train our lens on Motown, where Tobias Harris has quietly emerged as perhaps the most credible threat to the Houston duo's presumed duopoly in the Sixth Man race.

Harris was moved into a reserve role by Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy right around the start of the second trimester and, after a brief return to the starting lineup, returned to the bench for good Jan. 23. In the 17 games since he became a full-time sixth man, Detroit has gone 9-8 to cling to the No. 8 seed in the East, with Harris shooting nearly 52 percent from the floor and averaging 16.7 points per game as a sub.

Which leaves Harris trailing only Williams (18.7 PPG) and Gordon (17.2 PPG) in terms of bench scorers this season.

The rub, of course, is that Harris can qualify for official Sixth Man Award consideration only if he has fewer starts than nonstarts by season's end. Assuming he plays in all 19 of the Pistons' remaining regular-season games, that means Harris must appear as a reserve in at least 18 of them.

But when we laser in specifically on trimester 2, during which he was largely deployed as a sixth man, Harris has a sneaky-good case. In those last 17 games, for example, Detroit has been better on both ends of the court with Harris on the floor, posting a net efficiency of plus-4.5 points per 100 possessions when he plays compared to minus-4.9 points per 100 possessions when he doesn't.

Memphis' Zach Randolph, Miami's James Johnson, Denver's Wilson Chandler, San Antonio's Patty Mills and Milwaukee's Greg Monroe have also all had their moments as game-changers off the bench. (Editor's note: Enes Kanter removed himself from the conversation despite his usual top-shelf offensive production and board work in limited minutes -- at least for this trimester -- when he punched that chair.)

Yet it looks as though Harris, based on what he just did during the season's middle third, is the only real threat to prevent Gordon or the newly acquired Williams from bringing home the first Sixth Man trophy to Houston in franchise history.