Wednesday, March 9, 2011

6 comments The Naismith College Player of the Year Run Down

I generally hate awards. Whether it be in entertainment, sports, or any other field I don't get all excited about the prospect of awards being handed out...though I get excited enough to complain about them. Today, I felt like breaking down the Naismith award and comparing the probable top four finalists for the Naismith award with other players who aren't in the discussion. What is the Naismith award anyway? Really, the award is supposed to go to the "top" college basketball player of the year. Whatever that means.

I know there are a ton of variables that go into any award selection, but in college sports with the difference in talent between teams, I think a really in-depth analysis of all worthy player is nearly impossible. Some players are held back by bad teams and other players have better numbers because they are on a bad team. Some players look good on a good team, while some players have their numbers tempered due to being on a good team. So generally the best players on the best teams are the ones who are finalists for the award.

Considering there are nearly 350 Division-I men's basketball teams it is hard to say really which player is the "top" basketball player of the year. Not to argue semantics, but is this the most valuable or the best college basketball player? I would say the best college basketball player and I think since the word "valuable" isn't anywhere in the description of the Naismith award I am correct. Then this becomes even more complicated because there are players who are on crappy teams who could be good players on a bad team so he has great numbers, or there could be players who are on great teams so the player doesn't have a chance to really shine and show he was the best player on that team. If you put Jimmer Fredette on a more talented team is he Jon Diebler (good player) or JJ Redick (Naismith candidate)?

(Yes, I know I just compared a white to two other white guys)

Mostly, the Naismith award goes to a player from one of the best teams in the country. If a great player is on a great team, then he is a candidate for the Naismith. At this point, the race has been narrowed down by the media to essentially Jimmer Fredette and Nolan Smith. I am guessing the four finalists will end up being Jared Sullinger, Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, and Nolan Smith. I will look at each of these guys and attempt to poke holes in each player's candidacy, while comparing them to other players to just show how hard it is to pick the REAL "top" player in the country ...because I am an asshole like that. I will use broad statistics to compare the players, because we all know these are the same statistics used by voters (along with hype) to determine the Naismith award winner.

1. Jared Sullinger- He plays for the best team in the country and he is the best player on that team. Naturally he will make the final list of four players because the voters tend to love this combination. I'm not knocking his candidacy, just saying the fact Sullinger is in the discussion while JuJuan Johnson (20.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) isn't shows how a team's success has a lot to do with that player being in the Naismith award discussion.

Sullinger is averaging 17.3 points, 1.2 assists, 9.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game. Mostly, what he has going against him is that he is a freshman (who generally have to play heads-and-shoulders better than other players to win the Naismith award...see Durant, Kevin), he probably doesn't score enough points (sadly), and he doesn't have the backing of the national media. The national media loves Jimmer Fredette for a variety of reasons I will get into in a second. Sullinger is the top player on the Ohio State team and the team is built perfectly for his skill set.

I think Jared Sullinger is great, but part of what makes nearly ANY player's candidacy for national player of the year so hard for me is there are so many teams and players that could have really similar numbers. Then if you factor in the type of talent around each player it makes me realize why mostly the best players on the best teams tend to get chosen for quite often for the Naismith award. It's just easier.

Let's compare Sullinger to Jordan Williams of Maryland. His numbers look like this:

16.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 0.5 assists, and 1.3 blocks.

Other than being 0.4 behind Sullinger in points, Williams actually has better or very similar numbers to Sullinger. He's a sophomore while Sullinger is a freshman. So why isn't Jordan Williams in the talk for the Naismith award? He is the best player on his team, he has less talent around him than Sullinger does (maybe if a Maryland player could hit a three-point shot Williams would have more assists), and he has only taken 25 more shots than Sullinger on the year so it is not like Williams touches the ball way more often or has an advantage that makes his statistics skewed to look better. I would do a more in-depth analysis, but those voting for the Naismith award most likely don't do this and I am trying to use their methods.

So part of what makes the Naismith award difficult to award is because the talent level on some Division-I teams is so different. If Jordan Williams was on a better team, like say San Diego State would have be more average or more in the discussion for the Naismith award? If he were a dominant player on a better team would we know his name better? It's impossible to answer, but it gets to the bottom of the many variables that have to go into the selection and why to simplify the process the best players on the best teams (or most recognizable teams at least) are generally chosen as finalists.

2. Kemba Walker- Walker has had a wonderful year and the only reason he doesn't have a realistic shot at winning the Naismith award is there is a perception he takes too many shots and that's why his numbers are so high. This perception is stupid because UConn has talent on that roster. Walker does shoot a lot, but he isn't a one man team. He does only shoot 42.9% from the field. He is a good player and has hit some clutch shots this year, which has helped him stand out more.

Walker averages 23.2 points, 4.3 assists, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. He shoots 35.2% from three-point range. He has attempted 560 shots this year.

Let's compare Walker to Marshon Brooks, who plays for Providence.

Brooks averages 24.6 points, 2.5 assists, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. He shoots 34.0% from three-point range and 48.3% from the field overall. He has attempted 571 shots this year.

Again, I will ask the same question. How do we know Walker is one of the top players in the country and Marshon Brooks isn't? Obviously both players are getting some publicity, but Walker is in talks to have an outside chance at winning the Naismith award, while Brooks is on the fringe of that discussion and won't be seriously considered. Brooks plays for a bad team in the Big East, while Walker plays for a good team in the Big East that is nationally ranked. They aren't terribly different players and the talent level they go against is nearly the same since they play in the same conference. So on a broad statistical level they aren't greatly different players, but Walker gets in the discussion for top college basketball player while Brooks is generally left out.

3. Nolan Smith- Smith has the advantage of being hyped because he plays for Duke, his games are on national television, and he plays for Duke...for Coach Duke. This automatically puts him in the race, not that he doesn't deserve to be in the race. Smith has improved dramatically over his four year career and he is a guy who plays well on both ends of the court.

Smith has averaged 21.6 points, 5.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. He shoots 47.0% from the field and 36.2% from three-point range. He is also playing out of position at point guard, which is irrelevant but brought up continuously by some people as a way to make his candidacy more impressive, as if Kemba Walker is a natural point guard or something.

Let's look at Smith's ACC doppleganger, Reggie Jackson for Boston College. Jackson averages 18.3 points, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. He shoots 49.7% from the field and 42.7% from three-point range.

Clearly, from these broad statistics, Smith is a slightly better player. This can be explained though. Smith has taken 489 shots this year and Jackson has taken 388 shots. That can explain the difference in points per game. Throw in Duke's offense and the variety of three-point shooters waiting to hit shots that are on Smith's team (and the lack of that talent on Boston College) and you can see why Smith's assists are higher than Jackson's.

So, back to the point again, Smith has better players around him and that affects what his numbers look like during the season. Duke is a nationally ranked team and Boston College isn't. So while it is somewhat impossible to know what would happen if these two players switched teams or how the quality of the team around them affects their play, it is easy to see there isn't a huge difference in these two players on a macro-level. One part in this brief analysis I do not take into account is defense. Smith is often given the responsibility of guarding the best wing-player on the other team, while Jackson doesn't seem to draw that assignment for Boston College. That would potentially favor Nolan Smith.

4. Jimmer Fredette- (holds breath while national college basketball writers start screaming in unison) Fredette is going to win the Naismith award. He is more than just a basketball player, he is a movement. He isn't a shooter, he is someone who you can tell your children about and they can look up to. He doesn't shoot the basketball, he gently guides the willing basketball through the hoop. I would call Jimmer a one-man hype machine but that would be overlooking the job the national media has done on the whole of hyping Jimmer up. They deserve some credit too.

Fredette averages 27.9 points, 4.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. He shoots 40.4% from three-point range and 45.5% from the field overall. There is no comparison to Jimmer Fredette and I would never dare to compare him to another player currently playing basketball...whether it be in the NBA or overseas. He's in a league of his own...just ask any college basketball sportswriter, wait 30 seconds for him/her to stop gushing, and then they will tell you.

Fredette leads the nation in scoring, which is good to know for a guy who has taken 605 shots this year. He has attempted more shots than any other player in the nation. That means he is a good player, but it also means he better damn be good at scoring since he is taking so many shots. Fredette's numbers are pretty impressive other than his scoring, which is why I think he will win the Naismith award. He is the highest scoring player in the nation and his other numbers are good enough to where he isn't seen as one-dimensional.

What is interesting is Fredette averaged 22.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.2 steals last year. He shot 45.8% from the field and 44.0% from three-point range. So other than averaging 5 less points per game (and taking a hell of a lot less shots), Fredette played pretty much as well this year as he did last year. You didn't hear his name in the voting for the Naismith award when it came time to announce the four finalists last year though. He was on the Top 30 Watch List, so he wasn't overlooked, but I think this helps to show how his team's ranking and hype has helped Fredette this year. He plays on a highly ranked team, so he is highly thought of this year compared to last year.

So my point is Jimmer Fredette will win the Naismith award, but given the four finalists I think if you look at each player's all-around game Nolan Smith should probably win the award for his all-around game. I would put Sullinger up there with Fredette almost. Sullinger's passing ability fits perfectly into the skill set of the other Ohio State players. Double him and he will find the open man.

I do think Jimmer will win. I wish a little more attention was paid to defense. BYU tends to play a lot of zone, but there is also a reason they play zone sometimes, and that is because they don't always excel at playing man-to-man defense. BYU does play man-to-man defense, but this isn't the strength of the Jimmer. Anyone who complains defense isn't taken into account for the Naismith award should look at the list of winners and see when defense has ever been taken into account equally with offense. The Jimmer will win and I won't be angry over it.

I think at the end of the day it is very difficult to pick out the "top" player in college basketball and the reason certain external factors that could impact whether a player looks like a "top" player (his teammate's ability, if that player scores a lot out of necessity or he is that good...I will call it the "Bosh Effect" after Bosh looking like a stud with the Raptors and struggling to find his place on the Heat) are ignored is for simplicity sake. Basically, it is easier to look at the best player on the best teams and say those are the "top" players in the country. Pretty much the same thing happens in the Heisman Trophy race. I don't think I have a huge problem with it either, mostly because I don't care too much about awards.


brent daniels said...

I think the media gush over any good white player in college basketball is my least favorite part of college basketball. I know college basketball has an older mostly white fanbase(which I assume through my life not any actual data, sorry) that love a scrappy white guy who shoots 3's. I personally get annoyed with the lovefest guys like Hansborough, Morrison, and Fredette get. I love basketball, and anybody who truly does just wants to watch the best players and games possible. Just cause a team has a good "scrappy" player doesn't make me like them more. I have several friends who just like Duke because they play a lot of white guys.I also don't mind if Jimmer gets the Naismith, but only if he is truly the best player and not just the best Story.

Bengoodfella said...

Brent, the media does tend to do some gushing over white college players. I get tired of the love-fest they all receive. I would throw Redick in there as well. He's one Duke player I was never all about. I thought he did one thing well at the detriment of the offense as a whole, which is a whole other story.

I like watching good basketball too and the scrappy players tend to annoy me, but that's because I am biased against most teams but one.

I wish Duke would stop recruiting white guys as much. It sounds funny to say, but I love that there are good Duke players who aren't white. I feel like if you are a small forward and white, you go to Duke. Obviously they still get good players and as long as they get good players I don't care what shape or form they are, but I am excited to see Nolan Smith excel. He almost transferred and he is a testament to what hard work can get you.

I don't care if Jimmer gets it. Mostly because I know he will so I just have to accept it at this point. I think he may be the best player this year, though I would question the all-around aspect of it. I may put Sullinger or Smith ahead of him on defense.

Anonymous said...

The reason for the lovefest is because 80% of our country is white. Draw any conclusions that you want but white people are intrigued with successful white basketball players.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I agree with your basic point, though I would hope it isn't that simplistic. I don't know if I can agree with you, but as I discussed briefly in the Buzz Bissinger post I find it hard to believe the country is thirsting for a successful white basketball player that badly. Maybe I am wrong.

I think Jimmer got an idea of what the NBA will be like when he got three shots blocked in the first half of the UF-BYU game. Not sure how successful his skill set driving to the basket translates to the NBA.

Anonymous said...

kemba should win the award. hes taken his team further than anybody else in the discussion. smith, sullinger, and jimmer only got as far the sweet 16. kemba truly showed his ability to win by being undefeated in all tournament games this season. he is also the most likely to have success in the nba

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I don't know if we can just base the entire award around which team got the furthest in the NCAA Tournament. I think we could base that maybe as part of the discussion to separate them from each other though.

If that were the case then John Wall should have won over Evan Turner last year since his team got the furthest. I still think Jimmer should probably win, but I would agree Kemba Walker has done a lot for himself. Still, he isn't undefeated in tournament play, his team is...and he does seem to have a decent team around him.