Yeah, sure, individual award races do not mean a whole lot. They are more statements about what voters value that specific year in basketball.
Do you give it to the post player who is the bedrock of a strong, highly ranked team? Do you go with the high-scoring guard from the mid-major school? How about the freakish athlete or the NBA dream prospect?
There are obviously a lot of those every year. One usually rises to the top. But that is not happening so far. It is already February, and it does not seem like a player has separated himself from the pack. That goes for the Player of the Year as much for the top pick in the NBA Draft (regardless of who stays or goes).
ESPN.com ran a poll of its writers trying to determine the front-runner for Player of the Year. The analysts at the “Worldwide Leader” have junior forward Thomas Robinson of Kansas as the early favorite. Creighton’s scoring machine, Doug McDermott, follows close behind. Preseason favorite Jared Sullinger of Ohio State is third followed by freshman sensation Anthony Davis of Kentucky.
Those seem to be the players that are in the conversation, almost to the exclusion of others.
Robinson has been a bit of a surprise though, making a sizeable improvement off of last year. McDermott is your small-college scoring savant. Davis was the preseason favorite to be the top pick in the NBA Draft and the latest wunderkind for John Calipari. Sullinger was the preseason favorite for what he added to a strong Ohio State team last year.
Robinson? He averaged only 7.6 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game in 14.6 minutes per game last year behind the Morris twins (now in the NBA). The extra minutes have led to an absolute transformation in his game. He is dominating for the RPI No. 5 Jayhawks, averaging 17.6 points per game and 12.0 rebounds per game in 31.0 minutes per game.
Robinson has not lost any of his production with the increased minutes. Last year he scored 21 points per 40 minutes compared to this year’s 23 points per 40 minutes. His rebounds per 40 minutes have seen only a slight decrease — from 18 to 15.
That is certainly enough to get him into the Player of the Year conversation. But which of these types of candidates should really get the nod for favorite at the mid-point of the conference season?
The exercise of picking a Player of the Year, much like the player you pick, is an exercise of picking which attribute you value most. Is it a pure ability to put the ball in the basket? Or do you take it as a measure of value and importance to the team? The player that means the most to his squad.
There is a helpful statistic that might shed some light on this. It is called wins produced. As The Wages of Wins Journal describes it, wins produced is “a model for estimating individual player contribution to winning.” Like PER, another statistic used to evaluate a player’s efficiency and overall contributions, wins produced does a good job summing up a player’s contributions to his team in one number.
More specifically, win shares takes a look at how much a player contributes to the wins his team has.
Below is a comparison of the top three candidates for Player of the Year so far:
|Thomas Robinson, Kansas||18.0||54.8||5.2||28.9|
|Doug McDermott, Creighton||23.4||62.4||5.8||27.6|
|Anthony Davis, Kentucky||13.9||66.3||8.0||34.8|
As you can see, all three are having fantastic seasons. McDermott has been a scoring machine and his 62.4 percent field goal shooting does not relate how efficient he has been scoring. Likewise, Robinson has made a huge impact for the Jayhawks this season.
But it is the player with the most modest stats making the biggest impact on his team. Likely it is because he has turned himself into a defensive ace for a top-ranked team.
Anthony Davis is posting only 13.9 points per game, but adds 10.1 rebounds per game and 4.8 blocks per game. Davis has NBA scouts drooling for his athleticism and potential. His defense is still much farther along than his offense. He also has a much better supporting cast than McDermott or Robinson plus the expectation of being the presumptive top pick in next year’s draft.
There is still a lot Davis does for his team that is not showing up on his simple stat line. That is why Davis’ win share number is so high. The Wildcats have plenty of offensive impact players, but Davis really impacts the defensive end of the floor in a much more substantial way than his other two competitors.
Is that enough to get the attention of voters? That is yet to be seen.
McDermott continues to put up unreal offensive numbers for Creighton and that field goal percentage for a wing player is hard to ignore.
Similarly, Robinson is doing a vast amount for his team, leading his team in points and doing a lot of work on the glass. His individual impact is not as much compared to his teammates however. Not like Davis.
Still, it feels like Robinson has all those intangibles voters like when picking a college player of the year. He has built himself up from very little, improved greatly, plays on a great team and takes over when necessary.
Although, if Davis and McDermott keep putting up big numbers and highlight reel plays, this race could get very very close.
At A Glance
Record: 23-1, 9-0 SEC