We’re trying to determine the best KU player in the last 20 years. Here’s a brief recap of how we’re doing it.
We are taking the Final Four from each of the recent brackets on this site (Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey, Brandon Rush, and Mario Chalmers from the Self bracket and Paul Pierce, Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, and Raef LaFrentz from the Roy bracket) and pitting these goliaths of Kansas basketball against each other to determine the best player of the last 20 years.
The four players from each era were put into a random generator (random.org) and came out listed as numbers one through four. The ones were pitted against each other, the twos will square off, and so on. For the semi-finals, the four winners will be again put into the random generator (in order of highest percentage of votes) and the two semi-final matchups will be set.
The computer saved the most intriguing matchup for the end of round one: Mario Chalmers against Paul Pierce. Chalmers won the Self-era bracket while Pierce was eliminated in the semi-finals of the Roy bracket.
Everyone knows why Mario Chalmers is one this list, but let’s go over it anyway. Mario was remarkably consistent in his three years at KU. From a scoring perspective, his scoring went from 11.5 points per game in 2005-06 to 12.2 his sophomore year, to 12.8 in his final season. Assists were similar (3.8/3.3/4.3), as were steals (2.7/2.6/2.5). Over forty minutes, the numbers look like this: 17.1 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 steals. Mario shot 42% over his KU career from three-point land, including 48% in that magical 2008 season.
Defensively, Chalmers was a force. He led the Big 12 in steals in each of his three years at Kansas (he had 89, 97, 97) and in turn also led in steals per game (stats above). He is the all-time conference leader in steals with 283 and he was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive team in each of his three seasons. He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2006-07.
Mario was named to the honorable mention All-Big 12 team his freshman year, the third team in his sophomore year, and the second team in his junior season. He was the 2008 NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player. It’s debatable whether he’d be on this list if he hadn’t made that shot against Memphis, but who cares. He made it, Kansas won, and Chalmers’ name has gone down in history.
Paul Pierce has obviously made a name for himself at the NBA level, but his numbers at Kansas were pretty spectacular as well. He came to Lawrence in 1995-96 and immediately started to put up numbers. That freshman season, Pierce averaged 11.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in 25 minutes of action on average.
His numbers increased in his sophomore season to 16.3 and 6.8. His minutes also increased to 28 per game. His junior season is where he really shined. He scored at a 20.4 points per game pace and his rebounding remained steady at 6.7 per contest. He was the leading scorer in the Big 12 in his junior season, and his numbers get ridiculous when spread out over the course of 40 minutes. Pierce averages 37.7 points and 14.4 rebounds using that metric.
Pierce finished his KU career after three seasons as the fifth leading scorer (he has since dropped to eighth) in the history of the school with 1,768 points. If he had stayed for his senior season, and done anything near to what he did in his junior campaign, he’d be sitting comfortably in second place on the all time charts. Pierce is the second highest scorer in KU history (behind only Clyde Lovellette) to have played less than four years.
As for individual accolades, Pierce was a first team All-Big 12 performer in 1997-98 and also was a consensus first team All-American that year.
So, who will it be? Chalmers or Pierce? The Hero or The Truth? The poll below will be open until Friday at midnight KU time.