Before the season started, I ranked the 12 rotation players (or semi rotation players, as Hunter Mickelson hasn't gotten a lot of playing time). While some of the rankings look good (Perry 2nd, Oubre 3rd), some do not (the Frank Mason at 8 fiasco. I am an idiot).
One thing about this team that is unlike any since the 2008 team is that this team doesn't really have a go to guy. Perry Ellis has taken the most shots on the team (272) but Frank Mason has taken 239, and Wayne Selden has taken 224. (also Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander are at 171 and 124 despite not playing much either early or recently).
Compare that to last season, when Andrew Wiggins took nearly 100 shots more than Perry Ellis, 2013 when Ben McLemore took 70 shots more than Elijah Johnson, and 2012 when Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor took a combined 943 shots, while the rest of the team took 1,111.
That, coupled with no elite rim protector and no elite perimeter defender (and several above average ones) makes it extremely difficult to pick a best player on this year's team.
I do think, however, that there is a pretty clear top 6 consisting, in some order, of:
One (underrated, I think) way to determine who the best player is is to compare a team's offensive rating for a game and a player's offensive rating for a game. Generally, a player whose performance matches his team's performance will be the driving force behind the offense, and thus the team's best player.
This graph is going to get a bit messy, but fortunately if you hover over the lines with your mouse you can see the values:
And for the correlations:
Mason's does seem low, although he has had a couple rough games in wins, so that makes a bit of sense. Perry's makes the most sense to me, as the Jayhawks offense started taking off right when his did.
Next, a four quadrant graph plotting everyone's offensive rating and usage:
And the same for conference play:
The numbers here are a bit surprising to me. I think it is entirely possible to argue that Kelly Oubre has been Kansas's best player in conference play, especially when considering he leads the team in defensive rebounding and ranks 5th in the Big 12 in steal rate.
Lastly, we'll take a quick look at BPM before our final ranking:
1. Kelly Oubre: 9.7
2. Frank Mason: 9.2
3. Cliff Alexander: 8.6
4. Brannen Greene: 8.4
5. Perry Ellis 7.1
6. Wayne Selden: 5.9
Notice that we haven't discussed defense much, and that is because advanced stats are not very good at covering defense other than block% and steal%. I think they will get there with how far things like synergy and SportVU have come, but as far as easily available numbers, we're kind of stuck at the moment. Secondly, while I think advanced stats tell us far more than per game stats and more than the eye test (see the @rockchalktalk twitter bio for more), they need to be contextualized. So, the top 5 players on the team this year are:
1. Frank Mason
Mason makes everything go for the Jayhawks. He is fifth in the league in minutes played, 6th in assist rate, and has a really good turnover rate, especially for someone who has to do so much all the time. He's also turned himself into a very good defender up top.
2. Perry Ellis
Ellis barely edges out the #3 guy on the list by being the go to guy down low. Ellis has gotten his 2 point percentage up to 47% after a rough start to conference play, draws a lot of fouls, doesn't turn it over, and has gotten a lot better defensively. Part of Kansas's improved defense this season is how much better Ellis has been both inside and on the perimeter. He doesn't block a lot of shots, but is positionally very good and has guarded really well outside the paint.
3. Kelly Oubre
Oubre looked lost at the beginning of the year, and by a couple of measures could be the best player on the team. He's become efficient inside, shooting 52.6 percent from two in league play, and he leads the team in defensive rebounding, ranks 2nd in the league in turnover rate, and ranks 5th in the league in steal rate. He gets beat and has to recover a bit too often defensively, and I don't think his true talent is as a 39.7 percent 3-point shooter, but I don't think there is any separation between he and the top 2 guys on the list.
4. Cliff Alexander
Cliff has played just 44.6 percent of the team's minutes in league play, but is shooting 64.4 percent from two, ranks 3rd in the league in offensive rebounding, 9th in defensive rebounding, and 6th in offensive rating. He's better than you think offensively in that his game is already more advanced than Cole Aldrich as a Freshman and Thomas Robinson's was even as a Sophomore. Alexander shoots 37.2 percent on 2 point jumpers, which is better than both Ellis and Selden and in the neighborhood of everyone else on the team other than Brannen Greene at 50%. Defensively he needs a bit of work, as his court awareness and foot speed are a bit behind where they should be, but he's still been good defending post ups and his foot speed issues can possibly be explained by nagging injury problems.
5. Wayne Selden
Selden has improved his 3-point percentage to 41.9 percent this year, which makes it easier to live with him shooting just 34.5 percent from two and 43.4 percent at the rim. He's improved both of those marks as of late, and has also improved as a defender, both on and off ball. He usually guards the other team's best perimeter defender and has done a pretty good job of that. He could improve as a rebounder, with a total rebounding percentage under 10%, and he also has a too high 20% turnover rate.
6. Brannen Greene
Greene is shooting 49.3 percent from three (55.3 percent in league play) but that is kind of the beginning and end of his contribution. His spacing is really important and helps Ellis down low, helps Mason and Selden get more open threes, etc. but he turns it over a lot, doesn't rebound on the offensive end (though worth noting he is fourth on the team in defensive rebounding) and, while improved, he's still the team's worst perimeter defender.
The great thing about this year's team is that if you wanted to rank Greene 5th, or Oubre 1st, or Alexander 2nd, or any number of permutations, I wouldn't put up much of an argument. And couldn't you see either Selden or Greene, the 5th and 6th place players on this list I might add, going 6-7 from three in an NCAA tournament game and single handedly winning it? Me too. By the time the tournament rolls around this list could be jumbled up yet again, but for now this is the order and I'm sticking to it.