Recently there was a small discussion around here as to whether Marcus Smart was a lock to win for a second consecutive year. My initial thought was that the award is Smart's to lose, but I wanted to take a closer look. I've compiled a list of six top contenders for the award. The extent to which these six are all serious contenders can be debated, as can whether I left anyone off. But hey, that's what the comments section is for.
Before I get into breaking down the contenders and each player's case for the award, I'll throw all the data out there for you to digest. I've included a lot of tempo free stats, but also the standard per game ones, because we all know those are the ones that get the most publicity. To add a little more interest to the numerical data, I'm not going to give you the names of the players until after the table. Because I didn't want to break this down into two posts, you can find out who each player is just below (but don't look until after you've seen the numbers, because you're not that type of person).
I also had a request to include the numbers using conference stats only (sample size warning). Here you go
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||Player 4||Player 5||Player 6|
You haven't looked yet, right? Do you think you know who the players are? Have you picked the best profile yet? You looked, didn't you? Well, for those who stayed true to the exercise, below are the identities of the players, with my thoughts on their candidacy.
Player 1 - Marcus Smart (Sophomore, Oklahoma State)
Smart won the award last year, and I still believe he has to be looked at as the preemptive favorite this season. The main complaint many had about him last year is still there; namely, that he isn't a good shooter, yet he's still taken more shots than anyone else on this list. He's a volume scorer that relies heavily on crashing into the lane and drawing fouls (or creating the illusion that they occurred) and scoring from the free throw line (more attempts and makes than anyone else on this list). Still, he finds a way to put points on the board, while still touting a very nice assist %. Something that doesn't get mentioned as much is that his turnovers have improved drastically, dropping from 21.1% last year to 16% this year. Considering the ball goes through him on basically every Okie State possession, that's a big plus. His knack for steals is undeniable (18th in the country in %) and he's a respectable rebounder for a guard. We all have our complaints about the way he plays the game, he's an undeniable talent and at this point, he has the resume to repeat for the award.
Player 2 - DeAndre Kane (Senior, Iowa State)
Kane is a newcomer to the conference this year, transferring in from Marshall. While we don't have any previous stats against Big 12 level competition to compare him to, the impact he's had on his team and the league has been impressive. He scores within a point per game of Marcus Smart, with an even better assist % and A:T ratio. His steal numbers aren't as gaudy as Smart's, but they are good for second best on this list of players, and he's an even better rebounder from the point guard position. I think if you compare his profile with Smart's, his looks slightly better. But since he didn't have the accolades Smart did entering the season, I feel like he has to do more than slightly better to take the award.
Player 3 - Andrew Wiggins (Freshman, Kansas)
Wiggins' preaseason hype probably works to both his advantage and disadvantage here. He's on the radar for the award no matter what because of who he is, but he's also working against two standards, in that he's being compared to both the other contenders for the award, and to what he was expected to be before he ever played a game. It will be hard for him to win POY if his season is any less impressive than people thought it would be, because they will ultimately view his season with some degree of disappointment. Putting that aside, I don't know that he has the resume to win anyway. Yet. When you consider that Wiggins has way more talent around him competing for numbers than candidates on other teams, and the fact that he seems to be hitting his stride after a stretch that could potential be considered a "freshman wall," I do think that Wiggins is very much in the hunt for POY. The main thing he has to watch out for is his scoring consistency. Too many single-digit scoring games down the stretch will keep those early-season doubts at the forefront of a lot of minds.
Player 4 - Joel Embiid (Freshman, Kansas)
Embiid has drawn big praise from most coaches he's faced, and is now widely considered the first overall pick in next year's draft. Because he didn't really hit his stride until fairly recently, his overall resume doesn't impress, but a lot of people (and coaches) base their opinions on the eye test, and there's no question Embiid passes it. That said, it's not like his numbers are bad, either. He's averaging 11.3 PPG and 7.6 RPG overall, and 12.3 PPG and 8 RPG in conference. His block % is 2nd in the country at 12.2%. He's 2nd in the Big 12 in offensive rebounding % and sixth in defensive rebounding, and first in both FG% and eFG%. Some conference rankings that might surprise you are his assist % (35th) and steal % (19th). Not elite, but better than you might think. The kid is somehow good at basically every part of basketball. It's possible he's an even likelier candidate than Wiggins.
Player 5 - Naadir Tharpe (Junior, Kansas)
I probably wouldn't have included him Fetch hadn't suggested him as a candidate recently, but his profile is actually quite impressive. Of the players on the list, he has the best Ortg, 3 point %, and assist:TO ratio, plus the second best eFG% and assist %. On another team he might score enough to compete with Smart and Kane for this award, and if we're just looking for the best pure point guard in the conference, I think he might be it. But in the POY race, the things he does aren't high-profile enough to win.
Player 6 - Melvin Ejim (Senior, Iowa State)
It was originally going to be a five player list, but I decided I shouldn't leave off the player leading the conference in scoring. On top of his scoring ability, Ejim is also a solid rebounder, respectable 3 point shooter, and gets over a steal per game. While he isn't a ballhandler, I'd also note that he has the lowest TO% on this list while maintaining solid assist numbers. He's not an NBA type of player, but his impact at Iowa State at the college level the past couple of years is undeniable, and after seeing his complete profile, he's probably a better candidate than I would have guessed.
Prediction as of today: Marcus Smart
The Kansas and Iowa State players might split some votes amongst those who quibble as to who is actually the best player on their respective teams, and just like in politics, incumbency is difficult thing to overcome. Unless Smart's antics get worse (which for what it's worth, it seems like they are), or his numbers suddenly drop off, I think Smart has the best odds. I will say that after looking through the numbers, I'm less sure of this than I was going in.
What do you think? Did I leave someone off (cue Fetch mentioning Markel Brown in 3...2...1)? Am I underrating or overrating anyone? Who gets your vote?
As a side note, I'd like to announce I'm finally putting an e-mail address on the site. If you have any questions, comments, ideas for articles, or would just like to send me some good old fashioned hate mail, hit me up at PenHawkRCT@gmail.com. I've also joined the Twitter ranks @kspen124 (that's a brand new account as of this morning, so it's not too impressive right now)