Evaluating the Three Current Favorites for ACC Player of the YearPosted by EMann on December 31st, 2012
Ethan Mann is a writer for the ACC microsite. He is a senior at Duke University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unless something really drastic happens during conference play, the ACC Player of the Year will likely come from this pool of three players: Duke senior forward/center Mason Plumlee, Virginia Tech senior guard Erick Green, and Maryland sophomore forward/center Alex Len. Let’s take a look at each of the three player’s profiles thus far, a week removed from the start of the conference season.
Before this season, Mason Plumlee had never quite lived up to the extremely high expectations that had surrounded him during his first three years in Durham. While Plumlee had not been a poor player, most people had not expected Plumlee to ever become a four-year player in Durham — he seemingly oozed potential based on his elite athleticism. While Plumlee had made incremental improvements each season — in his junior year averaging 11.1 points and 9.2 rebounds a game — few observers (including his high school coach, who suggested that Plumlee not return to Duke for his senior season) expected the breakout performance that his senior year has yielded so far.
Plumlee is probably the frontrunner for National Player of the Year at this point, and conference player of the year as such. He is shooting 63.8% from the field while averaging 19.5 points (second in the league), 11.6 rebounds (first), and 1.6 blocks per game (sixth) for the nation’s top-ranked team. Much of his improvement has come as a result of major improvements at the free throw line. Plumlee, who shot 52.8% from the stripe his junior season and has hovered at around 50% for his entire career, is currently shooting 69.2% from the line and is going to the line at a much higher rate this season. Plumlee has only had one game where he has shot under 50% from the field, and he has had a double-double in eight of Duke’s 12 games, all of which are staggering statistics. He also has Duke’s highest usage rate and offensive rating. The big question mark for Plumlee will be at the free throw line, though. While he has improved dramatically this year, he has also struggled over his last five games, reverting back to numbers closer to his career norms (27-of-47, or 57.4%). This is just nitpicking on a truly phenomenal season thus far for Plumlee, though, who should be considered the clear front-runner at this point, especially if Duke wins the ACC.
Green, in a vacuum, would be the favorite for the award. The guard had considering leaving the Virginia Tech program after Seth Greenberg was fired, but after James Johnson was named the new coach — someone who had been heavily involved in his recruitment — he decided to stay for his senior season. Green is currently the depend-all for a Hokies team with only seven scholarship players, as he has played in 85.7% of their available minutes this season, has taken over 30% of the team’s shots on the floor, and doing all of this in an efficient manner. He is currently averaging 24.4 points per game, second in the nation and first in the ACC. Green has scored over 20 points in all but one of the Hokies’ games this season. He is shooting 49.3% from the field, including well over 50% on two-pointers (he has struggled a bit from the arc, however, shooting only 32.2% from distance). Green is also incredibly adept at getting to the free throw line and hitting those attempts — he is shooting just over 85% from the line in 110 attempts this season, leading the conference in both free throws made and attempted. Green is also fourth in the conference in assists, averaging 4.6 per game, and is sixth in the league in steals per game. In other words, he’s crushing the stat sheet night in and night out.
Green’s numbers are very, very good, and it is clear that Virginia Tech would be nowhere near its overall 9-4 record without him. However, the Hokies have hit a rough patch lately after a surprisingly good start, having dropped their last two games by an average margin of 31 points. If Virginia Tech finishes in the bottom half of the conference standings, voters may have a hard time voting for Green over Mason Plumlee or someone else even if he continues to be very close to the nation’s leaders in scoring average.
Len, a 7’1” Ukrainian sophomore, has also had a great season in College Park thus far, his first full season with the program (due to eligibility issues, Len only appeared in 22 games last year). Len’s numbers are not nearly as gaudy as Plumlee’s, though most observers consider him more likely to be a higher NBA Draft pick if both were to exit this year. With Maryland’s 10-1 start largely flying under the radar nationally, Len’s play has been as overlooked as his team’s success. Len is averaging 13.7 points (12th in the league), 8.3 rebounds (sixth), and 2.3 blocks per game (second) this season, while shooting 58.0% from the field and 68.0% from the line. He has a slightly higher offensive rating than Plumlee due to the fact that he plays fewer minutes (62.7%) than Plumlee (82.5%), but their overall usage rates are fairly similar. Len’s star power game, ironically, was in Maryland’s season-opening loss to Kentucky, where he clearly outplayed the Wildcats’ much-hyped Nerlens Noel, scoring 23 points and 12 rebounds in the defeat. Regardless, if Maryland finishes in the top three in the conference and Len can boost his numbers a notch further, he could be a darkhorse candidate for the ACC POY honor.