Jonathan Safir: 2007 Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant may have been just a deep NCAA tournament run away from being in the conversation for best individual year in the history of college basketball. The freshman averaged a ridiculous 25.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, and shot 47% from 2 point territory, 40% from 3, and 82% from the charity stripe. While neither his eFG% or TS% are considered spectacular, one must factor in him shooting in 34% of the possessions for which he was on the floor.
Durant also boasted a 116.5 Ortg which is terrific considering he was used in nearly 32% of possessions and played an astounding 36 minutes a game! Durant also had a tendency to draw fouls, drawing over 6 per 40 minutes, putting him 65th in the nation during his only season in Austin. Durant scored 30 or more 11 times during the season, 10 of which occurred during Big 12 play, and the other one was in their round of 32 loss vs USC. Believe it or not, in 2007 Durant swept all of the player of the year honors.
KD for 3
Ricky Winkeller: 2008 Michael Beasley
First off, I would like to reflect on how the three of us all selected one-and-done freshman as the best player of the KenPom era. In a time in which coaches receive criticism for recruiting on-and-done type players, and players themselves consistently fail to recognize their deficiencies in order to receive a quick paycheck, it almost seems ironic that the best of the best (by our accounts) would be these very one-and-done players. There were other, very viable, choices who were not one-and-done players (Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, and even J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison). Good cases can be made for all of these players, but, as my colleague Jonathan Safir points out, the criteria we used included the stipulation the player be a “complete” player in some respect. It can be noted that all three of our players AVERAGED double-doubles, showing they can be effective as scorers and rebounders. All three of our players also show that they are capable of stretching the floor in that none of them had a three-point percentage lower than 35%. You will probably notice that, of the “not” one-and-done players listed above, Blake Griffin (in his sophomore year) technically fit all of these criteria; however, his sample size on 3’s was so small (3 for 8) that it can be inferred that he really wasn’t a threat from downtown.
My own personal criteria that led to my choice of Michael Beasley included the notion that I’m picking the best player, not a very good player who happens to be on a very good team. One player doesn’t win a championship, or even a significant number of games for that matter, without a supporting cast around him (e.g. Durant, Griffin, Morrison, Curry in ’09, Jimmer, etc.) .With that in mind, it is notable that he took a team that hadn’t be to the NCAA tournament in 12 years and won a game against a team with the third pick in that year’s draft (O.J. Mayo). From a statistical perspective, not a whole lot separates Love, Durant, and Beasley. The biggest thing that stands out is that Durant and Beasley scored significantly more than Love (25.8 and 26.2, respectively, to Love’s 17.5). The two of them also had higher three point percentages than Love, with Beasley at 38%, Durant at 40% and Love at 35%. From a rebounding perspective, Beasley beats the other two somewhat handily. Their averages were: 12.4 (15.7 per 40 min.) for Beasley, 11.1 (12.4 per 40 min.) for Durant, and 10.6 (14.3 per 40 min.) for Love. Kevin Love, from the statistics given so far, doesn’t exactly compare to Beasley or Durant. Many will point out that Love was a significantly better passer than the other two–however, his stats say otherwise. All three of these players averaged between 1 and 2 assists per game (lower than Blake Griffin, who got 2.3 per game). Their blocks, free throw percentages and field goal percentages were all extremely similar (though it can be noted that Durant was the only one to have a field goal percentage below 50 (at 47.3%)
From the eye test (oh, that infamous eye test), these three players were very different from each other. Kevin Love was a well-defined 4-5 with 3-point range. Durant was a well-defined 3 (who rebounded very well for his position I might add). Beasley, however, was different. He could post up anybody in the game and finish with both hands very proficiently. Additionally, he could score from literally any place he caught the ball on the floor, whether it be several feet behind the three point line, or in the post against virtually any defender. He handled like a 3, had the fluidity of a 3, posted up like a 5, and shot like a 2; who else from the KenPom era can say that with the stats to back it up?
Jordan Sperber: 2008 Kevin Love
Kevin Love's UCLA career was highlighted by the Final Four, outlet passes, and full court shots. Years later, we now think of the NBA All Star Kevin Love. However, if you go back to 2008 you will see one of the best seasons by any player in recent memory.
It's difficult to get a complete feel for a player's individual defensive impact. However, on a team level Love's UCLA team was excellent. Both Love and the Bruins in general did a great job of rebounding opponent's misses and keeping teams off of the foul line. Love was no Anthony Davis in terms of shot blocking, but the Bruins ranked 3rd in defensive efficiency nationally. Compared to Beasley's Kansas State team (23rd) and Durant's Texas team (62), Love contributed more completely on both ends of the floor.
Known for his rebounding now with the Timberwolves, Love had this trait back in 2008 too. He rebounded 15.4% of Bruin misses, good for 12th in the country. The table below compares the three players offensive rebounding abilities. The bottom row ('xOR') is the expected offensive rebounds the player would get for UCLA in 08. All I did for those numbers was multiply OR% by the average number of UCLA missed field goals per game (29).
Kevin Love wasn't quite the 2008 version of this year's Ricardo Ratliffe, but what did inside the arc in college was phenomenal. We would expect three point shooters to also take some long two's. Love, however, shot 61% from two. Beasley came in at 56% and Durant 40%. I would imagine Love's two point percentage was nearly unprecedented for someone who also took 82 threes. Look for this to be researched in a later post on Hoop Vision.
NEXT UP: The biggest tourney snub in the KenPom era