By Josh Stonberg
What do Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan and Larry Bird all have in common? During their collegiate careers each of them received the highest honor in college basketball: The John R. Wooden award. The prize is given out annually to the most outstanding player in college basketball. Based off of their play throughout the first half of this season, I have power ranked the ten most likely selections for the prestigious award.
1. Jahlil Okafor
What is there to say about the 6-11 freshman that has not already been said? Averaging 18.9 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game, 1.6 block per game, Okafor may be the best freshman big man of the 21st century. He sits atop the majority of NBA mock drafts for a reason. Simply put, the college level is not much of a challenge for him. Compared to his peers, Okafor is far and away the best. He has the second highest field goal percentage in division one, an absurd 67.5%, and sports the second highest PER (player efficiency rating) at 34.3. He is a beast on the glass as well, pulling down more offensive rebounds so far this season than all but ten players. I would be shocked if Okafor did not win the Wooden award at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 season, and there is little doubt he will be one of the first players selected in the upcoming NBA draft. Hopefully he’ll be rocking the blue and orange come next fall.
2. Frank Kaminsky
Frank Kaminsky is a unique player. He is a lanky, uncoordinated looking white guy, and he is dominating college basketball. Unlike many of his caucasian peers, Kaminsky does not sit behind the three point line where the “more athletic” players struggle to reach him. This world-class white boy is not afraid to bang it out down low against his brothers of another color. Kaminsky makes it all the way to number two on this list by simply doing everything exceptionally well. Defensively he is sound; his defensive rating ranks 11th in the country, and his defensive win shares are ninth in the country. Offensively he is no slouch either, his offensive win shares rank 17th in the country. His proficiencies on both ends of the court give him the highest PER in division one, at 35. His win shares per 40 minutes sits at number two. On top of all the basketball related things he excels at, his dance moves are crazy good, too. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pcCs_3Hyxk) The reason Kaminsky sits behind Jahlil Okafor is that he is not asked to carry his team as much as Okafor is. With Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes and Traevon Jackson pitching in, Kaminsky is able to let the game come to him. Okafor, on the other hand, plays alongside two other extremely talented freshman in Tyus Jones and Justice Winslow, but their streaky play puts more pressure on him to play like a star. If Okafor has a midseason slump, and Wisconsin runs the table or comes close in conference play, Kaminsky will be strongly considered for this award.
3. Willie-Cauley Stein
What is the saying echoed by every third grade basketball parent coach who doesn’t really know what he is doing? Defense wins championships. Though this hypothetical father, in his jeans and NFL T-shirt, may not know much about basketball, he is speaking some truth. In an age of advanced offensive metrics that allow any average Joe to formulate an effective argument on who the best player in basketball is, we tend to overlook the importance of the other half of basketball. Willie-Cauley Stein is reminding us how much a defensive menace can change the game. When not sporting outfits that make every watcher jealous of his undeniable swag, (http://images.complex.com/complex/image/upload/t_article_image/ouk7l25zxezf7lioiykz.jpg), he is making offenses look absolutely futile. His defensive rating of 69.8 is the best in the country, and no one else comes close. Second on the list is his teammate Trey Lyles at 77.0. The improvement he has made from last season is near unbelievable. In his first two seasons in Lexington, his defensive rating topped 91. Sadly, Cauley-Stein is unlikely to be seriously looked at for the Wooden award because we value offense so much more than defense. He may not care too much though, as undefeated Kentucky is currently the favorite for the national championship. The thought of an Okafor vs Cauley Stein matchup in March Madness gives me a sizeable basketball boner.
4. Jerian Grant
Jerian Grant an offensive phenom. The senior has the third most offensive win shares in the country, due to his 16.7 points per game and 6.4 assists per game. This, however, should surprise no one. Where Grant has really progressed is on the defensive side of the ball. His defensive rating, though not excellent, is the lowest of his career, and enough to give him the most overall win shares in the country. Notre Dame currently sits at number twelve in the AP rankings, and since an early season loss in November to Providence, they have only been beaten by #3 Virginia. Grant has a legitimate chance of catching Okafor, as they face off twice in the next month. The fighting Irish will go as far as Grant will take them, and with a hard ACC schedule on tap for the rest of the season, Grant is going to have to continue his stellar play to keep Notre Dame in the conversation for a high seed.
5. Delon Wright
There is a lot to like about Delon Wright’s senior season so far. After playing at junior college City College of San Francisco for two years, Wright transferred to Utah and has never looked back. This year, under his leadership, the Utes sit at #8 in the AP poll. He is the only player in the country currently in the top 20 for defensive rating and offensive rating. His excellence on both sides of the ball has led to him having the most win shares per 40 minutes in the NCAA. Why is he only ranked fifth? In four games against top 25 teams, the Utes are 1-3 with their only win coming by one point in overtime. In their first loss, Wright shot 2-13 and turned the ball over three times. As a result, no Ute scored double digit points and they were held to only 49 points against #16 San Diego State. In their most recent loss, to #10 Arizona, Wright finished with only 10 points, and though he had seven assists he also turned the ball over four times. On top of this, his three point shooting game is abysmal. Still, the good far outweighs the bad for Wright and if he can elevate his performances in big games Utah will be a strong team come March.
6. Kevin Pangos
PANGOS!!! I love this dude. Anyone who read last week’s article already knows this. His luscious 3 point shooting stroke is a thing of absolute beauty. His pocket passes get me real rowdy. And then there’s the hair. The beautiful, magnificent, absolutely stunning hair. Here’s a one minute segment devoted to the hair https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dg45bzeD9dw. The way it flicks as he runs down the court following a made three pointer can make me feel woozy. PANGOS FOR PRESIDENT (If you want real stats check out last week’s article all about Gonzaga).
7. Justin Anderson
Justin Anderson apparently saved up all his VC points for this summer (Its an NBA 2k reference for those of you who are productive with your free time). A 29.4% three point shooter a season ago, making less than one per game, Anderson is now shooting an absurd 52.7% percent from deep and making over two per game. The Junior ranks 15th in the country in offensive rating, and twelfth in win shares per 40 minutes. Undefeated Virginia currently sits at #2 in the AP poll, and has even began to garner some first place votes. A three game stretch against #4 Duke, #15 UNC and #6 Louisville will show if this team really is championship quality, and if Anderson plays strongly he could be considered for the Wooden award.
8. Montrezl Harrell
Before I get to discussing Montrezl Harrell’s on court dominance, I must give a shoutout to his parents, Samuel and Selena Harrell. Hats off to them. The creativity shown in naming their three sons Montrezl, Cadarius and Quatauis is outstanding. Back to their oldest son, Montrezl, and his physical prowess. He is not a dude anyone wants to see when they are driving down the lane. His defensive rating currently ranks 20th in the country, and his defensive win shares are ninth. He is also a beast down low, shooting 64.1% from two point land and scoring 14.9 points per game. The one major criticism I have of his game is that he has tried to become a three point threat this season. He has attempted 29 trey balls so far this year, and converted only 7 of them. Stick to dunks big guy. If you are in the mood for some manly dunks, check out his highlights https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7q7V-toASN4. Just so you are not confused, this is before he grew out the short yet undeniably gorgeous dreadlocks he has been rocking this year.
9. Bobby Portis
Apparently there is more to Arkansas than racism and incest. The Razorbacks are currently ranked 19th in the AP poll, and much of this can be attributed to the play of big man Bobby Portis. He currently ranks 15th in the country in PER. The sophomore is averaging 18.3 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game and has even added the three point shot to his repertoire this season. So far he has only attempted 16 shots from beyond the arc, but he has drained 9 of them. Why is he ranked below eight other players? Arkansas is on a two game losing streak, and is likely to move out of the top 25 in the AP poll. With games against Kentucky and LSU at the end of the season, Portis’ performances against defensive studs Willie-Cauley Stein and Jordan Mickey will show if has what it takes to lead Arkansas into late March.
10. Taylor Haws
Cue up memories of Jimmer Fredette. BYU’s new superstar, Taylor Haws, is pacing the NCAA in points scored with 473, and is third in points per game averaging 22.3. His offensive win shares rank second in division one, overall he is fifth. His points produced per game rank fifth in the country, and his points produced so far are number one. Offensively, Haws is as good as they come. Just watch him destroy Virginia Tech as a sophomore if stats are not enough for you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JR3QrVAmRqw. As good as he has been, BYU already has six losses and if they do not win out or come close their season finale against #3 Gonzaga could be the deciding factor in whether Haws gets a chance to impress a national audience in the tourney.
Just missing out from the top 10:
11. Kyle Wiltjer
12. Melo Trimble
13. Terry Rozier
14. Georges Niang
15. Ron Baker
16. D’angelo Russell
17. Buddy Hield
18. Jordan Mickey
19. Juwan Staten
20. D’angelo Harrison
21. Chasson Randle
22. Tyus Jones
23. Stanley Johnson
24. Yogi Ferrell
25. Ryan Boatright
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