Later today the John R. Wooden Award will be presented to the most outstanding player in college basketball. The clear frontrunners for the men’s award are two seniors: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. There are a multitude of reasons why these two standout in particular. Whether it’s being stellar seniors in a sea of one-and-dones, leading their teams to a #1 ranking at some point in the season, or putting up ridiculous individual statistics, it’s easy to see why they were often known on a first name basis this year in college basketball.
So far Denzel has won the AP player of the year award while Buddy recently picked up the Naismith and the Oscar Robertson Trophy. But who will win the Wooden?
Among certain groups it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Buddy will win the Wooden based on his stellar performance in the NCAA tournament. I found some compelling season statistics that may convince you otherwise. Without further ado, I present:
Reasons why Denzel Valentine Should Win the Wooden Award
Denzel Valentine and Michigan State had a season to remember (besides that small loss to Middle Tennessee State) winning 29 games and a Big Ten tournament championship. No player played a larger role in the Spartans’ success than Denzel Valentine. In fact, when we analyze the box plus/minus (BPM) metric, no other player in the entire country did better than Denzel this season.
You may have guessed that Denzel would score higher than Buddy on the defensive BPM measure but here you can see that he scored higher on the offensive end as well.
Now let’s look at win shares, an estimate of how many wins a player contributed to his team in a given season. Like box plus/minus, win shares can be divided up into offensive and defensive win shares. In the graph above it’s clear that both Denzel and Buddy are among the nation’s leaders in win shares with Buddy excelling on the offensive end and Denzel doing better on the defensive end.
Finally let’s merge these two metrics together. As we might expect given the previous two graphs, both Buddy and Denzel stick out from the crowded glob of average college basketball players. Although having slightly fewer win shares than Buddy, Denzel is all alone at the top in BPM. Scoring well in both these measures tells me that Denzel was by far the most valuable win share winner in the country. Is that alone deserving of the Wooden Award?
Reasons why Buddy Hield will (probably) Win the Wooden Award
As much as I think Denzel Valentine deserves the Wooden Award, I think the nature of college basketball lends itself more towards Buddy Hield’s style of play. Basketball nowadays is a shooter’s game. Buddy Hield is an elite shooter. In general, Buddy’s prolific offensive outputs draw more attention (and admiration) than Denzel Valentine’s overall solid statistical performances.
When we take a look at points produced and true shooting percentage, it’s clear that Buddy is quite far ahead of Denzel in both metrics. (by the way, the player at the very top with 900+ points produced is Oakland’s Kahlil Felder).
Finally, everyone knows this year in the NBA has been all about the 3 point shooting phenomenon that is Steph Curry. If the NCAA fanbase mirrors the NBA in any way then it would stand to reason that consumers of college basketball would be more enamored with the best three point shooter in the game than the best all around grinder. And that’s not to say that Valentine is a bad three point shooter – in fact he was among the best in the country this year. But no-Buddy was close to Hield at shooting 3s. Buddy finished with the most thee point field goals made (147) and sixth in three point field goal percentage this season at 45.7%. Simply unreal numbers.
Only time will tell us who will end up winning this year’s Wooden Award. Fortunately there’s not a lot of time left!