Because football season figures to be actually worth watching this year, we are doing our annual basketball list a bit early. This year’s theme is the top 30 seasons under Bill Self, and as always there are some rules to go over.
First, this list will, as usual, lean relatively heavily on advanced stats. Points per game and rebounds per game are interesting to point out, but depending on them heavily leads to things like Andrew Wiggins not winning Big 12 Player of the Year in 2014.
Secondly, defense is important. This seems incredibly obvious when you state it like that, but a lot of All American voting, conference player of the year voting, etc. doesn’t take that into account (just look at how voters treated Brandon Clarke vs. Rui Hachimura this year).
Lastly, while this is an individual “award” there will be some extra credit given if you’re the lead guy on a really good team (think what Thomas Robinson did in 2012, or Devonte Graham in 2018), or put the team on your back in March. For clerical sake, the year listed is the year the listed season ended (so Devonte Graham 2018 is his senior year).
Before we start the list in earnest, let’s talk about some of the guys I had to (reluctantly) cut. We’ll start posting the top 30 on Monday.
HM: Sviatoslav Mykailiuk 2018
Svi was a 20 year old senior, and finally became a high(ish) usage player in his final season in Lawrence, and finally was unleashed from behind the arc, taking 259 threes, just 50 fewer than his first three seasons combined. He made 115 of them, and shot higher from three (44 percent) than two (42 percent).
He didn’t quite crack the list because while he took the most shots on the team (on a percentage basis), Svi’s were mostly set up by Devonte Graham, and he didn’t offer much other than outside shooting, with rebound rates under 10 percent and a nonexistent steal rate. Still, he did a masterful job defensively on Marvin Bagley in the Elite 8, and hit the biggest three of the year.
HM: Julian Wright 2007
The 2007 and 2008 teams were so hard to pull seasons from because everyone chipped in almost equally, and made it tough for any one player to stand out. But both teams were so good it was obviously necessary to capture as many of those seasons as you could. Wright shot 56 percent from two, was a very good rebounder, and the only player of the Bill Self era that I could find with a block rate over 5 percent and a steal rate over 3 percent. He missed the list because of his high turnover rate and relatively low amount of minutes (although the latter is excusable given how deep the team was).
HM: Devon Dotson 2019
I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were to redo this list next year, Dotson would make the cut. As it is, his 2019 was a strong debut as he played in 80 percent of the team’s minutes, shot 53 percent from two, 36 percent from three, and had a turnover rate under 20 percent, which is exceptionally strong for a freshman point guard in Bill Self’s offense given all the pressure he puts on point guards. He was also an effective on ball defender. A lack of assists were the main culprit in keeping him off this list, although you could (and maybe should) blame a lack of spacing more than Dotson.
HM: Landen Lucas 2017
Lucas didn’t really come close to cracking the list given his paltry usage rate (16 percent) and relatively low amount of minutes played, but I needed someway to commemorate maybe the most underrated player of the Bill Self era. Lucas was a dominant defensive force inside, and one of the best rebounders of the Bill Self era. He also led the Big 12 in 2-point shooting as a senior. Most of those twos were obviously set up by Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, and Josh Jackson, but his great 2017 was a fitting reward for a guy who was originally an afterthought in his recruiting class, then a redshirt, and eventually a key cog in a #1 seed and one of the best big men in the Big 12.
HM: Aaron Miles 2005
In another timeline, Miles could have rocketed up this list. He shot 50 percent from three as a senior, but on only 80 attempts, and ranked 13th in the country in assist rate. Still he had a turnover rate near 30 percent, and didn’t offer much as a scorer. In 2019, maybe he takes 200 threes and shoots 40 percent and then is able to shoot a higher percentage from two and get to the line more due to how spaced out the offenses get, but then again maybe he doesn’t have the same accuracy with the longer 3-point arc. In the end, I think making him an honorable mention is appropriate.