Five Arguments for the Pac-12 Player of the YearPosted by Andrew Murawa, Connor Pelton & Adam Butler on February 27th, 2014
We’ve still got two weeks of conference play remaining, but the Pac-12 Player of the Year has really crystallized into a two-man race between UCLA’s Kyle Anderson and Arizona’s Nick Johnson. Still, there are a handful of other players for whom arguments deserve to be made. Below, our RTC Microsite staff plus frequent guest Adam Butler of Pachoops.com break down what they consider to be the top five candidates for this award, presented below in alphabetical order.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA (argued by Andrew Murawa)
If he’s not the clear-cut favorite to win the conference Player of the Year, he’s likely one of just two players realistically in the conversation. Why is Slo-Mo so deserving of such recognition? Well, quite simply, he does just about everything related to the game of basketball very well and he’s also one of the most versatile players ever to grace a college basketball court. He’s a 6’9” dynamo who is not only the best point guard in the conference, but he’s also arguably the best power forward in the conference. Compared to players nationally, his KenPom profile is littered with all sorts of little red numbers highlighted in yellow, indicating that he’s very effective across the board. He leads his team in rebounds, blocks and assists; he’s second in points and steals. But most importantly, he leads. A floor general in the purest sense of the term, he knows where all of his teammates are at all times, and just as importantly, he knows where they should be – and isn’t afraid to tell them. Off the court he’s taken on the mantle of the team’s spokesman at times. And when the game seems to be moving too fast for others, Anderson is sure to keep it cool, proving once and for all that Slo-Mo is not meant to be a pejorative.
Justin Cobbs, California (AM)
Senior point guard. Is there a more comforting phrase in all of college athletics? The very thought brings up the image of guys like Peyton Siva and Jon Scheyer and A.J. Price and Gerry McNamara, elevating their games to new heights. Cobbs may not wind up having the type of team success that those guys had, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Minus his running mate from his last two seasons in Berkeley, Allen Crabbe, Cobbs has gone out of his way this season to try to get teammates like senior forward Richard Solomon, sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace and mercurial freshman Jabari Bird involved in the offense. Despite the loss of the Pac-12 Player of the Year and the elevated roles of young and unproven scorers, the Golden Bears are light years better this season offensively than they were last year, scoring almost seven more points per 100 possessions. Cobbs has been the biggest reason why. The percentage of shots he is taking this season has remained steady, but his assists have skyrocketed, making the transition for those aforementioned teammates into larger roles that much smoother. When it has come time late in tight games for the Golden Bears to rely on their senior leader to score big buckets, he’s repeatedly come up big. His ridiculous late-game performance against #1 Arizona earned the most national attention, but astute Pac-12 hoops fans have seen those deadly step-back daggers on more than a handful of occasions this year.
Nick Johnson, Arizona (Adam Butler)
Bill Walton’s argument is that the award goes to Johnson because he’s the best player on the best team. Now I’ll explain why he’s the best player. The guards of the Pac-12, a conference chock full of elite backcourt talent, has an average shooting percentage of 33 percent against Johnson. Sure, this is an arbitrary number full of inaccuracies and innuendo. But run through box scores of Arizona games and pick out the best guard on the opposition. Go ahead. UCLA? Jordan Adams was 4-of-15. Chasson Randle? 3-of-15. Askia Booker is a collective 8-of-27 when facing Arizona’s #13. Johnson is the best defensive player on the best defensive team in the country. Oh, and he’s sixth in offensive rating among players with greater than 24 percent usage in the conference. Basically he’s heavily relied upon and he’s coming through. If you need the MVP argument, note that in Arizona’s only two losses, Johnson has shot a collective 6-of-34. They need him and he’s delivering. He’s the best player on the best team.
Roberto Nelson, Oregon State (C0nnor Pelton)
If points win you basketball games, then shouldn’t the conference’s leading scorer be its player of the year? You’re damn right, he should. What’s that about defense? Overrated. Oregon State would be even lower in the Pac-12 standings without Nelson’s scoring ability, as proven by the team’s offensive lapses when he’s on the bench. His craftiness makes the shooting guard a threat anywhere on the court, and he is often seen Euro-stepping his way through traffic in order to convert a wild layup. The senior of course accumulates the majority of his points from three-point land and has more range than any other competitor in the West. Nelson dropped a couple of triples in the Beavers’ upset of UCLA that were from so deep that the television cameras didn’t pick up the full flight of the ball since so much arc was needed. Finally, Nelson stepped up early in the season when the team desperately needed a leader. And, oh yeah, he’s probably the top basketball coach in the nation who is also starting for a Division I team.
Delon Wright, Utah (AB)
The POY award is often a tricky one because it’s really tough to define “of the year.” Did they play a valuable role or were they just really good? In the case of Delon Wright, we could argue it both ways. First, I’d challenge you to tell me something he doesn’t do? He spearheads Utah’s defense and collects points (eighth in the conference), rebounds (14th), assists (fourth), and steals (second). Even blocks (sixth)! A while back — and I haven’t had the chance to further expand on this — but I ran a bunch of numbers to find that Wright — a guard — turns 61 percent of his possessions into a score (assisted or made by him). He has more made baskets at the rim than Aaron Gordon (114 vs. 87). Those are the easiest shots to make and Wright does among the best jobs of creating those shots. The Utes have the ninth best field goal percentage on two-point shots in the country. Maybe the Utes aren’t the best team in the conference, but they just might have the most valuable player on their squad.