Well, when I originally put these posts together, I promised to take the winners and pull names out of a pot to create different matchups. The only problem is that there was no way for me to create different matchups because all of the players from the Roy Williams era won, and therefore no new matchups could be formed. Sure I could’ve gone with Raef v Paul and Kirk v Nick, but if previous voting was taken into account, the chances of seeing another Raef v Kirk final were pretty high. Instead, I’ve decided to draw a few conclusions as to why these players have been voted as the better players.
Here are the final poll numbers:
Kirk 82%, Withey 18%
Collison 69%, Robinson 31%
Pierce 67%, Mario 33%
Raef 64%, Rush 36%
As you can see, the players of the Roy era all won pretty handily. I think there are a few factors that are fairly evident and one that flies in the face of how we typically view sports in 2015.
Comparing the Coaches
In 15 years at KU, Roy Williams had a 418 and 101 record (80.5%). He won 30+ games five times while at KU. He won eight conference titles, and went to the Final Four four times, reaching the championship game twice but losing both times.
In 12 seasons at Kansas Bill Self is 352 and 78 (81.9%). He has won 30+ games six times already, and everyone knows that the Jayhawks have won eleven straight conference championships under Self. He has reached the Final Four twice in his tenure at Kansas, winning the NCAA title in 2008.
At first blush and certainly the reputations of each coach back the assertion up that Roy’s teams score more and Bill’s teams defend and don’t score at such a clip, but the numbers don’t necessarily defend either assertion. While it is true that Roy Williams’ coached teams averaged 83.1 points in his 15 years at KU, Self is only six points behind on average with 76.9 PPG. Defensively, Self’s teams have allowed 64.1 points per game over 12 years, while Roy’s only let in 69.8, not a huge difference. So, if the assertions are that Roy’s players are winning these “internet matchups” because the teams they played for were scoring more or that Self’s players were asserting significantly more effort defensively and scoring less, they are probably false.
As humans, we have a natural tendency to look into the past and remember the bright spots. It explains why we look back so fondly at players like LaFrentz, Pierce, Hinrich, and Collison. We remember the LaFrentz dunks, the way Pierce drove the baseline, Hinrich’s three pointers, and Collison’s nifty footwork and soft touch around the basket.
But, we also recall Mario’s Miracle, Rush’s smoothness, T-Rob’s block against Missouri, and Withey’s lane dominance. Two of those guys guided KU to its first title in 20 years, and those players still lost in landslides in this competition. Could it be that we are actually very statistics driven and analytical or it is something else?
Nostalgia can work in the opposite way too, where we remember all the bad stuff, but for this argument, we’re pushing that aside. I just don’t think that thought process figures into this at all.
Playing Four Years/Getting Minutes from the Start
The biggest factor has to be the amount of time a player has at Kansas, and the amount of minutes that player gets from the start. Three of Roy’s guys played all four years at KU (Pierce was the exception) and each of those guys got significant playing time from the start. Those players averaged 23.3 minutes per game in their freshman campaigns with Hinrich’s 21.4 MPG the lowest.
Contrast that to the fact that none of the Self guys completing four years at Kansas (Withey was the closest with three and a half). The average for these four players was 17 minutes per game in their freshman seasons. Withey really brings down the average with his 3.0 MPG and Rush really brings it up with his 31.7. There is nowhere near the consistency here. The Self guys just don’t play as long or as many minutes as the highest profile Williams players did.
Of course, this can easily be explained by the more recent trend of high profile recruits leaving after a short time in school or after a breakout season. Players like Andrew Wiggins and Ben McLemore would no doubt be on this list if they had decided to play at Kansas longer. The game has changed, and because of the NBA rules regarding one year having to expire post high school graduation, it may be hard for any Bill Self recruited player to be looked at in the same way that we look at players from 15 to 20 years ago.
So what would it take for a one or two-year player to even crack the top-8 in a listing like this? National Player of the Year? Texas fans would no doubt put Kevin Durant on the top of a list like this for the Longhorns. A dominant season and run to the title? I bet Carmelo Anthony is pretty highly regarded in Syracuse country. I hope we get to find out soon.
Then there’s the outlying factor that I can’t really put my finger on. Usually, recency dominates. People think of an event that just happened as some sort of epic event that has never been topped in the history of time. There are already people out there ready to declare Jordan Spieth better than Tiger Woods. Hold on there for a few years, cowboy. But, when Tiger was on his run, people were quick to make the assertion of his greatness over Jack Nicklaus’. It’s been like that for years.
But basketball for some reason operates like this less frequently. Sure, there were people out there that spoke of 2014-15 Kentucky with “all-time greatness” on the tip of their tongues, but is there a single person who reads this site regularly (or any rational thinking basketball analyst) that doesn’t believe that the 2007-08 KU title team would wipe out last year’s Wildcats? For that matter, the 1996-97 Kansas team would thrash most teams of the past 25 years.
This topic is probably intertwined with the nostalgia idea in a strange way where twitter is telling us that we are seeing something amazing, but our actual memories are telling us that we’ve seen greatness before, maybe even better greatness. It’s a strange dynamic, but one that’s been around for a long time. The internet did not invent the idea that greatness is greater in the here and now.
As a sports loving society, we have long tried to compare guys from different eras, and the beauty of it is that you can’t definitively do it. People will always argue between Jordan and LeBron, between Montana and Brady, between Messi and Pele. The great part about it is that you can never prove any of it. The people who voted for Thomas Robinson over Nick Collison probably have great reasons for their votes as do the folks who voted Withey over Hinrich. It’s just one of the reasons that we love sports and one of the reasons that no matter who ever plays for KU, Paul Pierce will be the greatest player I have ever seen wearing a Kansas jersey.