Monday, February 20, 2012

Naismith College Player of the Year Talk

First of all, I would like to thank Bill for inviting me in as the guest blogger this week. We have attended and watched countless sporting events together, and it is nice to see your opinions documented on this blog. There is less than three weeks until one of the greatest sporting days in the year, Selection Sunday, when Santa “Greg Gumbel” Claus and his loyal elves (the selection committee) unveil the 68 team bracket.  As the season runs down, on candidates for the National Player of the Year for the 2011-2012 basketball season.

1)      Thomas Robinson, Kansas (17.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg)
After being buried behind Markieff and Marcus Morris on the Jayhawks’ depth chart his first two seasons, Robinson has finally been provided with an opportunity to be the anchor of the offense. The 6-10 237 pound power forward has seen his playing time increase from 14.6 mpg as a sophomore to his current level of 31.1 mpg. A force on the low block, Robinson also has soft touch on his 10-12 foot jump shots, a key attribute needed to play the 4 in a Bill Self high-low offense. In addition to his ability to draw and exploit double teams, Robinson’s other valuable asset is his defensive rebounding, where he rebounds 32% of opponents’ misses, which ranks best in the country. After a 2010-11 campaign in which he lost his grandmother, grandfather and mother, it is great to see Robinson handling adversity in a positive manner.
2)      Doug McDermott, Creighton (23.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 61.7% FG%)
If Doug, who plays for his father Greg McDermott, had a novelty name like Jimmer Fredette, or unique appearance like Adam Morrison, he would be getting more national attention. However, the sophomore has been flying under the national radar while putting up staggering numbers for Creighton. His effective field goal percentage, which factors in and awards players for taking and making three point shots, is 67.1% (4th best in the country).  As a comparison, Fredette’s eFG% was 53.3% as a senior, and Morrison came in at 55.6% in his final collegiate season.  McDermott’s suburb shooting includes a 3 pt percentage of 48.9%, which makes him a tough cover at 6-7. Even more impressive is that McDermott attempts 34.3% of Creighton’s field goals while he is on the floor, and still manages to shoot such a high percentage.  Much like Fredette from a year ago, defense is not a strength for McDermott, as the Bluejays allow 1.1011 points per possession, which ranks 171st in the country. However, the team’s efficient shooting will make Creighton a tough matchup in March.

3)      Draymond Green, Michigan State (15.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.7 apg)
Green’s biggest asset is his versatility, as he is on pace to become the first player from a BCS school to average 15/10/3 since Tim Duncan at Wake Forest in 1996-97. In addition, Draymond has had 5 games of 20+ pts, 10+ reb and 5+ assists; no other player has more than two.  Michigan State was unranked at the start of the year, and Green is the number one reason the team is in position for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. His versatility has been on display lately, as he has handled the ball in the backcourt more often with backup point guard Travis Trice missing games due to injury.  Draymond also possesses the important intangible of leadership, as coach Tom Izzo has compared his leadership to former Spartan greats Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves, two national champions. Scary thought: Green had originally committed to Kentucky; if he had signed with the Wildcats, everyone else would be playing for second place.  Granted, his numbers and playing time would be down, but Green thrived as a role player on the Spartans’ 2009 and 2010 Final Four teams. 

4)      Jared Sullinger, Ohio State (17.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg)
Sullinger would be higher on this list if the Buckeyes had a formidable center. Sullinger is a natural power forward forced to play center, and would benefit from a center to take pressure off his double teams. This is where Jeff Withey (Thomas Robinson) and Derrick Nix/Adreian Payne (Draymond Green) help other power forwards ranked above him on this list. Nonetheless, when Sullinger catches the ball deep in the paint, he is going to score or be fouled. He draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes, and shoots 76.9% from the line, so it is pick your poison if Sullinger gets isolated in the post.

5)      Isaiah Canaan, Murray State (19.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.8 apg)
Finally a guard! This has been a weak season for point guards, as Jordan Taylor, Tu Holloway, and Kendall Marshall have all had their share of struggles. I know Canaan’s level of competition has not been elite, but without him Murray State probably is not an NCAA tournament lock. Much like McDermott, Canaan is an efficient shooter, as his effective FG% of 61.6% ranks him 38th in America. Isaiah has had some monster individual performances, and at this point should be a first-team All-American.

On the cusp: Marcus Denmon (Missouri), Tyler Zeller (North Carolina), Mike Scott (Virginia)
Someone missing?

A lot of experts have been penciling in Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis as the Player of the Year, and I am extremely disappointed by these individuals.  Let me preface by saying Davis is a tremendous defensive talent;  15.1% of the two point field goal attempts made by Kentucky opponents are blocked by Davis, the most by a BCS player since Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado in 2008-09. In addition, his instincts on help side defense are incredible, allowing Kentucky’s long perimeter defenders (Lamb, Kidd-Gilchrist, Miller) to play very aggressive and disrupt passing lanes. With that being said, there is a Defensive Player of the Year award, which Davis will win. The National Player of the Year award puts a bigger emphasis on offense, where Davis is extremely raw. Davis is a prime example of why you should not necessarily get caught up in numbers; very few of his 13.9 points/game is due to his offensive game.  Next time you watch a Kentucky game, observe Davis’ positioning on offense. He is almost always located on the opposite block, as the other four players on the Wildcats execute John Calipari’s dribble-drive offense. If a talented offensive player such as Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Terrance Jones drive past their defender, the opposing center is forced to leave Davis to stop penetration, leaving easy dump-offs and alley-oops for Davis to finish.  Davis’ possession usage is indicative of this style of play; he is used in only 18.5% of Wildcat possessions when on the court, which is defined as “Role Player” status in statistician Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. For the sake of comparison, here is a breakdown of my top 5 POY candidates in terms of possession usage:
-Robinson: 28.6%
-McDermott: 28.4%
-Green: 26.7%
-Sullinger:  26.7%
-Canaan: 26.3%

Note: %Possession assigns credit or blame to a player when his actions end a possession, either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover.

The gap between Davis and his competition is as laughable as his unibrow. So while Davis is the clear-cut defensive player of the year, that is where his accolades should stop.  He will have highlight reel dunks that look attractive on Sportscenter, but other than free throws and close baskets, Davis is extremely limited offensively at this juncture in his career.

Unrelated to NPOY, but the Final Four is 6 weeks away, and here are four teams that I can see ending up in New Orleans: Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, Florida.
Thank you Bill for having me contribute as a guest blogger. Go Blue Demons!

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