What constitutes being the best player on a team? Is it being the most talented? The one who is the most critical to the success of the team? The one putting up the best numbers? The best pro prospect?
This has been a major topic of conversation already nationally, and one that’s been around for a few years. Is Duke’s best player Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett? Jalen Brunson was the National Player of the Year last year, but you could easily argue he was not the best player on his own team.
The debate is also happening in Lawrence through the first month and a half of the season. Who has been Kansas’ best player: Dedric Lawson or Lagerald Vick? How valuable have Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson been? Is Quentin Grimes still the best pro prospect on the team?
Due to this debate, and the fact that people love rankings, I’m starting the Hawks of the Year Standings, which will be a cumulative ranking of the top Jayhawks, updated on a weekly basis. And since there’s a discrepancy on what constitutes the “best” player on the team, I’m breaking the rankings into multiple categories. Plus, it gives you more opportunities to call me an idiot. You’re welcome.
Before we dive in, a quick explanation on the categories. This series will look at the top three candidates in each category every week—again based on the complete body of work of the season thus far—and incorporating new results as they come. The categories are:
Most Valuable Jayhawk: The players whose performance and presence, or lack thereof, most directly impacts Kansas’ ability to win.
Most Productive Jayhawk: The players filling up the stat sheet and performing at the highest level.
Bonus: Most Valuable Intangible of the Week: Unlike the top two, this one will be on a weekly recognition, instead of cumulative, of a player’s specific skill that benefited the team the most during that week.
Let’s get started.
Most Valuable Jayhawk
1 - Dedric Lawson
Lawson has been every bit as good as advertised. The numbers are great (we’ll get to those in a second), but his ability to score in crunch time (like score the last 14 points to beat New Mexico State) has been invaluable. And the Jayhawks have needed everything he’s provided in order to remain undefeated.
2 - Lagerald Vick
It’s not just that Vick has been red hot, it’s that he’s making incredible shots when it matters most. He hit bucket after bucket late against Villanova, and we all remember the Stanford shot and overtime performance. But the reason Lawson is at the top is Vick has had cold games where he’s not as productive and Kansas has still found ways to win. We haven’t seen that with Lawson outside of the Vermont game.
3 - Devon Dotson
I was considering putting Udoka here, as it’s been proven how much Udoka’s inside presence and rebounding on defense has been missed during his time away from the court. But Dotson continues to step up time and again as the point guard when it matters most. Not only is he putting up solid numbers, as I wrote about here, but he has hit clutch free throw after clutch free throw and has proven to be an important figure late in games to help seal the win.
Honorable Mention: Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett
Most Productive Jayhawk
1 - Dedric Lawson
I spent probably too many words at the beginning talking about the debate between most valuable and most productive. Right now, at least, Lawson is both. Despite not scoring in the Vermont game, he’s averaging 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game. He’s recorded a double-double in five of his last six games and is second in KenPom’s Player of the Year Standings.
2 - Lagerald Vick
We’ll see how long it can continue, but Vick is shooting 53 percent from 3-point range and 54 percent from two on his way to 17.7 points per game. While he’s mostly contributed by scoring, Vick is also averaging a respectable 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.3 steals per game.
3 - Udoka Azubuike
Before the injury, Udoka was picking back up where he left off last season being his productive self. Azubuike averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks while shooting an efficient 68 percent from the field. Dotson has been solid, but Dok is a statistical beast.
Honorable Mention: Devon Dotson, Marcus Garrett
Bonus: Most Valuable Intangible of the Week
1 - Marcus Garrett’s Defense
Garrett was a pest to every Villanova offensive player he went up against. Garrett was responsible for all four of Kansas’ steals, recorded a block, and in general made it difficult for Nova’s shooters to have any room to work.
2 - Dotson’s Free-Throw Shooting
Dotson went 4-4 from the line in the last 1:10 of the game, keeping Nova an arm’s length away. For a freshman nine games into his career, there doesn’t seem to be much that rattles him.
3 - K.J. Lawson’s Hustle and Vision
K.J. played 14 minutes with several players in foul trouble and the other Lawson brother made an impact in a short amount of time. K.J. grabbed two big offensive rebounds (three total), and dished out two assists, showing the chemistry he has with his brother.