There hasn’t been much talk about the player of the race yet. I know it’s the first week of December, so it’s highly premature to discuss such matters, but that’s never stopped anybody before. Last year at this time many people had already narrowed the race to Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine. The problem this season is that there weren’t any obvious pre-season candidates, and nobody has really emerged.
So with the kPOY as a guide, I offer some initial thoughts. Villanova’s Josh Hart is currently leading the kPOY race. He is averaging 17 points per game and is fresh off a triple-double against Saint Joseph’s. Villanova is going to be ranked at the top of the human polls today from what I understand, but I suspect it’s a hollow ranking.
If you polled 25 random national media guys on who they thought would win the national title, Villanova would get zero votes. But Villanova has been very good so far, and if the Wildcats are this good the rest of the season I suspect that Hart will get some consideration for the more traditional player of the year awards. But fair or not (and it’s not), Villanova is not a glamorous team, and fair or not (it’s not), I suspect that will hold Hart back to some extent.
Saint Mary’s Jock Landale is second on the kPOY ledger. The interesting thing about Landale is that he didn’t appear on any of the top 100 lists that the major web sites produce before the season. That is one of many reasons I don’t think Landale will get much consideration even if he continues his torrid pace. But you can’t deny that his production has been insanely fantastic so far. He has an offensive rating of 145 on 26% usage, to go with the nation’s 17th-best offensive rebounding percentage and impressive assist numbers for a post player.
Actually, if he continues that pace, he might win. But he plays for a small school in the Pacific time zone1 and for the second-slowest team in the land. History is not kind to players suffering from any of those issues, let alone all three.
Ethan Happ is third on the list and after an early clunker against Creighton, he’s strung together several solid performances against legitimate competition. Happ’s in the top 20 of offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, is assisting over 20% of his teammates shots and is in the top 50 in steal rate. Those are numbers that should earn some attention, but he plays for the fifth-slowest team and has to share some limelight with Nigel Hayes, so his candidacy also faces serious challenges.
Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson currently represent Duke on the list, but their counting stats figure to suffer once Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden get up to speed. Not to mention Grayson Allen is lurking out there as well. No matter how good Duke turns out to be, it’s tough to imagine a single Blue Devil galvanizing player-of-the-year support.
Kansas’s Frank Mason is sixth on the list and if he keeps making half of his three’s he’ll stick around. But for the human awards he’ll be fighting with Josh Jackson to get most of his team’s attention as the season continues.
The rest of the kPOY list is filled out by Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan (who’s like a mini Jock Landale), Cincinnati’s Kyle Washington, Providence’s Rodney Bullock, and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, the kPOY’s top-ranked freshman. Washington also failed to make a top 100 list, and Bullock only appeared on SBNation’s list (at #99). All of these guys are having fine starts to the season, but it’s a safe bet none will win player of the year.
The individual getting the most publicity so far this season has been UCLA’s Lonzo Ball but there has been very little discussion connecting him to the player-of-the-year race. However, I suspect he’d be on most observers’ short list at this point were such pieces being written. Maybe even at the top of those lists.
The thing about Ball is that among Steve Alford’s rotation players he takes the fewest shots per minute. Over at basketball-reference.com, T.J. Leaf actually has a higher box plus-minus than Ball and the kPOY feels the same way about the UCLA pecking order. So, fair warning: I doubt you will see Ball’s name in the kPOY top ten this season.
But people, be they writers or coaches, love high-assist low-usage guys. Playing the right way and all that. For a recent example, you need only look at UCLA’s 2013 team when Larry Drew II made the (10-man) all-Pac 12 team ahead of Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams despite taking a mere 12 percent of the Bruins’ shots, attempting just over one free throw per game, and committing a turnover on quarter of the possessions he used. Piling up assists covers a lot of statistical ills.
Ball’s numbers will be better than Drew’s all the way around and his team will be a lot better, too. Plus, his passing ability is unmatched in the college game. Given that there are no clear leaders in the race, Ball figures to be a strong candidate. But when it comes to the kPOY he’ll have to settle for all-Pac 12 honors.
|^1||The Gaels have just three games the rest of the way that will tip before 10pm on the east coast, and none of those will be on national TV.|