Naismith Player of the Year 2014: Breakdown and Predictions for Award Finalists
On Sunday, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Nick Johnson, Doug McDermott, Jabari Parker and Russ Smith as its four finalists for the 2014 Naismith Men's College Player of the Year award.
“This year’s talented finalists have entertained us this entire season and will continue to showcase their leadership and abilities during the tournament,” said Jamie Kerr, director, AT&T Corporate Sponsorships, in the press release.
(Well, at least three of the four will continue to impress us in the tournament. Sorry, Duke.)
Awarded annually to the best player in the game, this will be the 46th installment of the Naismith Award. These four star athletes are looking to be added to a list that contains such legendary names as Lew Alcindor, Pete Maravich, Bill Walton, Larry Bird, Ralph Sampson, Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan.
Recent winners of the Naismith Award include Trey Burke, Anthony Davis, Jimmer Fredette, Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough and Evan Turner.
Truly, the winner will be joining some elite company.
The finalists will convene with a whole host of writers and photographers in Atlanta on April 6 to learn who has won this year's award. It will also serve as a harbinger for the following week's presentation of the Wooden Award, as those two awards have gone to the same player in each of the past 18 seasons.
On the following slides, we've ranked the finalists in ascending order of their likelihood of winning the 2014 Naismith Award.
4. Nick Johnson, Arizona
Season stats: 16.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 115.0 offensive rating
Team success: Arizona spent nearly half the regular season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll and entered the NCAA tournament with a 30-4 record, earning a No. 1 seed.
Memorable moments: On Jan. 29 with Arizona still clinging to an undefeated season, Nick Johnson scored the Wildcats' final seven points in a 60-57 win at Stanford. In perhaps his best game of the season, Johnson led Arizona to a 28-point revenge victory over California, tallying 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists and no turnovers.
Case for Naismith Award
Johnson is the classic "All he does is win" candidate crossed with the "Best player on the best team" candidate. If Ohio State had had a better season, this spot would have been a toss-up between Johnson and Aaron Craft.
Whenever the Wildcats need a bucket, they know who to turn to. Johnson scored at least 10 points in all but three games this season. In two of the games, the Wildcats' defense simply broke the will of the opposition, and they didn't need him to carry the scoring load. In the other one, they suffered their first loss of the season.
Arizona was able to bounce back from losing Brandon Ashley for the season, and that's largely because of the leadership of Johnson. If Johnson had been the one to suffer a broken foot, Arizona probably never would have recovered.
3. Russ Smith, Louisville
Season stats: 18.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.0 SPG, 114.5 offensive rating
Team success: The defending champion Louisville Cardinals entered the NCAA tournament with a 29-5 record, becoming the most misplaced No. 4 seed in selection committee history.
Memorable moments: The Cardinals didn't play in many close games this season, but Smith was the savior in the singular game that they won by one possession. He hit the game-winning jumper with three seconds remaining in a 58-57 win at Cincinnati. Smith also went nuts for 42 points in the AAC semifinals against Houston.
Case for Naismith Award
Shabazz Napier was named the AAC player of the year, but Smith somehow made it onto the list ahead of Napier. As such, this one was a bit of a surprise, but that doesn't make Smith any less worthy.
Frankly, the biggest surprise is that Smith even graced us his with presence for another season after last year's success. We've grown accustomed to seeing players win national championships and then depart for the NBA. But Smith heard what the critics were saying about him and decided to come back to hone his craft for one more year.
Russ-diculous still makes an occasional appearance, but this is no longer the Smith who would force five shots per game while looking off wide-open teammates. In his first three years at Louisville, he only recorded six or more assists in a game four times.
Granted, the Cardinals had Peyton Siva to handle the assist load back then, but Smith had six or more assists 10 times this season, and the Cardinals went 10-0 in those games.
Save for two games that Louisville won by more than 30 points, he still scored at least 10 points in every game this season. But he became a much better team player this year and ended up becoming a much more efficient scorer in the process.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Season stats: 19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 111.7 offensive rating
Team success: Duke entered the NCAA tournament with a 26-8 record but was immediately eliminated by No. 14 seed Mercer. Despite being ranked in the top five in adjusted offensive efficiency for the entire season, Duke failed to win the ACC regular-season or conference tournament title for a third straight year.
Memorable moments: Jabari Parker opened the season by scoring 21 or more points in seven consecutive games. He finished the regular season with six straight double-doubles and a season-ending, career-high 30 points against North Carolina.
Case for Naismith Award
Aside from Howard's James Daniel—jot that name down as a mid-major player to watch over the next few years—Jabari Parker led all freshmen in percentage of possessions used (subscription required) at 31.8 percent. Parker was the only freshman to rank in the top 60 in offensive rating (subscription required), checking in at 29th nationally among players used on at least 28 percent of possessions.
Perhaps most impressive about Parker's accolades, though, is that he accomplished them while playing out of position.
Both Parker and Andrew Wiggins will likely serve as small forwards in the NBA. But Wiggins had the luxury of spending a year in that role with Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis, Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor to play the 4 and 5 for Kansas.
For most of the season, Parker was Duke's de facto center. His jump shot came and went throughout the year, but that's somewhat to be expected since he spent most defensive possessions guarding and rebounding against the opposing team's power forwards and centers.
If he comes back for another season with Jahlil Okafor around to handle all of the heavy lifting in the paint, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him win the 2015 Naismith Award by putting up the type of numbers that Kevin Durant did in his one year at Texas—25.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 47.4 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from three-point range.
And speaking of Durant, his 2007 Naismith Award represents the only time in the past 13 years that the winner's team didn't at least advance to the Sweet 16. Not since David Robinson won the 1987 Naismith Award has the winner played for a team that failed to win a single tournament game.
Duke's loss to Mercer won't be the only reason Parker fails to win the award, but it certainly didn't help matters, either.
1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
Season stats: 27.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 125.0 offensive rating
Team success: Creighton entered the NCAA tournament with a 26-7 record and has been ranked No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency for virtually the entire season.
Memorable moments: Doug McDermott has topped 30 points in a game 13 times (so far) and scored 45 points on senior night. He hit the game-winning shot with five seconds remaining against Saint Joseph's and the game-winning three-pointer with two seconds remaining in a tie game against St. John's.
Case for Naismith Award
Let's be honest: At this point, the voting is just a formality. We pretty much unanimously agreed months ago that McDermott will win every "Player of the Year" award known to man.
Whether you like per game or per possession metrics, Dougie McBuckets ruled the world. McDermott led the nation in both points per game and offensive rating among players used on at least 28 percent of possessions—meaning he was most efficient among players most frequently asked to do the scoring.
McDermott ranked second in the nation (subscription required) in percentage of the team's field-goal attempts taken when he was on the court. Despite taking 38.8 percent of the shots when he was out there—and despite everyone on the other team knowing darn well that Creighton wanted to get him the ball—McDermott still shot an unreal 52.7 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range.
His shooting percentages were better in each of the previous two years, but he has taken about 100 more shots this year—and did so against much stiffer competition in Creighton's first year in the Big East.
The four-year college basketball juggernaut is going the way of the VCR, but this senior will be taking home all of the hardware in a year in which freshmen dominated most of the headlines.