Naismith Award Watch 2013-14: Ranking the Top 10 Candidates in Week 2
The Atlanta Tip-off club released its 50-player watch list for the Naismith Award on Thursday. This time of year would typically be way too early to get any sort of idea of who is and who will be deserving of the National Player of the Year award.
Even the voters will probably be forced to make edits to initial list. (Writers Note: These rankings were made before Thursday's watch list was revealed.) You'll see two guys in my top 10 and another five on the 10 to watch below who didn't make the cut.
It is easier this season to identify the real contenders.
Expect Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott near the top of the watch list all year.
Louisville's Russ Smith should probably be a mainstay as well once we get into the heart of the season, but Smith is on the outside of the top 10 looking in after the first few weeks. Not because he hasn't been good—he has—but others have been better and have been so against better competition.
So apologies to Russdiculous, who at least made the watch list below. Now let's get to ranking the Player of the Year candidates from a way-too-small-sample size of 12 days of basketball.
10 to Watch: Rodney Hood, Duke; Russ Smith, Louisville; Adreian Payne, Michigan State; Gary Harris, Michigan State; Andre Hollins, Minnesota; Anthony Drmic, Boise State; Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico; Nik Stauskas, Michigan; Aaron Gordon, Arizona; Nick Johnson, Arizona.
All advanced stats, unless otherwise noted, come from KenPom.com (subscription needed).
10. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Stats (4 games): 13.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 7.8 APG, 1.5 STL
Shabazz Napier has already had a triple-double (14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against Yale), and he's averaging nearly a triple-double on the season.
Napier has made six of his seven three-point attempts, and what's even more impressive about that is only two of those shots have been assisted, according to Hoop-Math.com.
In fact, Napier has created his own shot on 14 of his 16 baskets thus far, and he's assisted on 36.3 percent of his teammates' baskets. He's making the game easier for the other Huskies, and he's always been a guy who can go get his own when he wants to.
9. Keith Appling, Michigan State
Stats (4 games): 15.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.3 STL
Michigan State is the only team in the country that has three legitimate Naismith candidates, and Keith Appling gets the nod here because he's been the team's most valuable player thus far.
Appling was brilliant against Kentucky, controlling every aspect of the game and showing he can create for his teammates, which is a part of his game that had been questioned throughout his first three years at Michigan State.
Appling has 25 assists through four games, and he had just 17 assists over his final 10 games last year. So far, he's taken the lowest percentage of Michigan State's shots since his freshman year while still managing to put up solid scoring numbers.
8. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Stats: (3 games): 17.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.7 STL
The early results from Andrew Wiggins suggest that he lets the game come to him against lesser competition and rises to the occasion in bigger games, becoming more aggressive when necessary.
Wiggins showed what all the hype was about in the second half against Duke when he scored 16 of his 22 points and decided on his own to guard Jabari Parker.
His numbers might not be as impressive as those of fellow freshmen Parker and Julius Randle, but it's the subtleties in Wiggins' game that coaches would appreciate, especially on the defensive end. He cuts off passing lanes and creates turnovers with his quickness and length, and the distance he can cover on a closeout makes life really tough on shooters.
Bill Self has talked about how he wants Wiggins to be a guy who influences every aspect of the game, and you'll see what he's talking about the more you watch the freshman.
7. Perry Ellis, Kansas
Stats (3 games): 19.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 STL
Yes, someone other than Andrew Wiggins has been KU's best player so far.
Perry Ellis has made the Kansas leap from role player to star as did Thomas Robinson, Marcus Morris, Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins before him.
Ellis, as I wrote last week, will have a hard time getting the recognition because all eyes are on Wiggins. But Ellis has been a machine so far, and considering Bill Self's history, this is not an aberration.
He's shooting 72.4 percent from the field, including 18-of-24 in his last two games. He put up 24 points against Duke and kept KU in the game when Wiggins was on the bench with foul trouble.
Ellis is the early favorite for most improved player in the country, and at this rate, he deserves to be on the Naismith watch list as well.
6. Joseph Young, Oregon
Stats (3 games): 26.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.0 STL
While at the University of Houston, Joseph Young was like the guy putting up big numbers on a terrible NBA team who would just love to blurt out "It's not me; it's them!"
Young transferred to Oregon, and now that he's finally surrounded by good talent, he's putting up great numbers on a successful team and has to be one of the happiest guys in college basketball.
Young's fast start has some credibility because he opened with an impressive 24 points in a win against Georgetown. The one noticeable difference in his individual game from his time at Houston is that he's getting to the line more often. He's an impressive 30-of-31 at the charity stripe.
5. Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Stats (4 games): 24.0 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.0 STL
The one point guard in the country who should benefit from the rule changes more than any other is Jahii Carson. Carson is almost impossible to stay in front of, and you would think that means he'll get to the line a ton this year.
Well, he's actually getting to the line less often this year, but that hasn't stopped him from putting up ridiculous numbers. Carson dropped 40 points and seven dimes in a win at UNLV on Tuesday night.
Just like Marcus Smart, Carson is planning on leaving early after this year, and the one area of his game he needed to improve was his outside shot. So far, so good. Carson is 8-of-14 from distance after shooting just 32 percent last year.
4. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Stats (5 games): 20.8 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 BLK
Since the 1997-98 season, only nine players have averaged better than 20 points and 12 rebounds, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Blake Griffin in his sophomore season and Michael Beasley as a freshman are the only players from major-conference schools to accomplish the feat during that time span. Griffin won the Naismith Award in 2009 and Beasley was one of four finalists in 2008.
Randle is only five games in on his way to joining that elite club, but if the Michigan State game (27 points and 13 rebounds) is any indicator, he's going to continue to put up big numbers no matter the competition.
3. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Stats (3 games): 25.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG
Someone in Doug McDermott's spot would usually get slighted because of the lack of competition Creighton has faced thus far, but McDermott gets a pass.
Unlike some of the ridiculous numbers guys are putting up that you know cannot continue, McDermott—using last year's overall production as a baseline—most certainly could maintain his early-season numbers.
He already has one 37-point performance, and he'll contend again for the NCAA scoring title. McDermott is the surest bet of all the preseason All-Americans to be a mainstay on this list.
2. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Stats (4 games): 20.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 4.3 STL, 0.8 BLK
In the Oklahoma State's first nationally televised game this season, Marcus Smart embarrassed a really good backcourt from Memphis on Tuesday, scoring a career-high 39 points. He added five steals. It was the most noteworthy performance of this young season.
Smart is the best defensive player in the country—apologies to Aaron Craft—and if the Memphis game was any sort of sign, he's going to lead Oklahoma State to a really special season.
The only thing that could hold Smart back when it comes to getting national awards is his scoring. Yes, he put up 39 against Memphis, but he came in averaging only 13.7 and the jury is still out on whether he can consistently make outside shots—though he did hit 5-of-10 threes against Memphis.
Still, he's going to put up solid numbers across the board, and he's going to have plenty of opportunities to get noticed. The new rules against hand-checking should also help his scoring numbers because of his driving ability. He's drawing 9.2 fouls per 40 minutes, and he shot 16 free throws against Memphis.
1. Jabari Parker, Duke
Stats (5 games): 22.4 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.4 APG, 10 blocks, 1.2 STL
Jabari Parker is appointment television.
You could put together a highlight reel of his first five games, and it would be better than a season's worth of 99.9 percent of the players in college basketball. Duke lost to Kansas, and Parker was still the story because of not just how much scored, but how he scored.
Parker is going to score, and he's going to keep scoring no matter the competition. He's dropped 20-plus points in every game, and in two of those games he played only 19 and 23 minutes. Throw in his excellent rebounding ability, and Parker's close to averaging a double-double.
(A ridiculous stat that just cannot continue: Parker and Rodney Hood are both shooting better from distance than inside the arc.)
Parker will probably put up Doug McDermott-like efficiency numbers. But what could separate him from McDermott is that he's a factor on the defensive end as well, posting six blocks against East Carolina.