Buddy Hield is the favorite to win the National Player of the Year award as of today, and anyone that would tell you otherwise is just making the argument for the sake of arguing.
Because there’s really no justification for anyone else being picked over him.
In bullet form:
- A recent “slump” (he’s 14-for-37 from three in the last four games) has dropped his season-long three-point shooting to 49.8 percent; he’ll get back above 50 percent if he hits his next three. For comparison’s sake, only two players have shot better than 50 percent from two, 50 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line for a full season: Matt Kennedy of Charleston Southern (’13-’14) and Salim Stoudamire of Arizona (’04-’05). Kennedy averaged 3.2 3PAs and 8.5 FGAs that year. Stoudamire averaged 6.6 3PAs and 11.6 FGAs. Hield? He’s taking 16.1 FGAs and 8.5 3PAs.
- Hield is averaging 4.21 threes made per game. Only three major conference players have bested that in the last 21 seasons: Michigan State’s Shawn Respert (’94-’95), Virginia’s Curtis Staples (’96-’97) and Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson (’13-’14). Respert shot 47.4 percent from three. Staples shot 39.0 percent. Henderson? 34.2 percent.
- He’s averaging 25.6 points this season, which is second nationally and the fifth-most of any major conference player since 1994-95, behind only J.J. Redick(’05-’06), Doug McDermott (’13-’14), Michael Beasley (’07-’08) and Kevin Durant (’06-’07).
- Hield’s also been at his best in the biggest moments. There was the 46 points in the No. 1 vs. No. 1 game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. There were the 21 second half points in the win at LSU. There was the comeback he led at Iowa State and against Kansas on Saturday (we’ll forget about that missed free throw for now). There was the late-game takeover and game-winning three against Texas last Monday. Big performances in big moments is the reason that the Sooners look to be headed for a No. 1 seed line on Selection Sunday.
So yes, Hield is the favorite for the award.
But I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that the race is over for two reasons:
1) Hield is the nation’s most ruthless spot-up shooter in the same way that Oklahoma has become the best three-point shooting team in the country. But jump shots can be fickle, and at the end of a long season, one where Hield is averaging 37.3 minutes in 13 games since the turn of the calendar, it’s not outlandish to think that could eventually catch up to him. It may not be a coincidence that he’s shooting “just” 37.8 percent from three the last four games, and that’s before you factor in that four of his last six games are on the road, including the long and tiring trip to Morgantown.
2) Denzel Valentine has been damn good this season as well, and if it wasn’t for an ill-timed surgical procedure on his knee, people may not have forgotten about that. Valentine missed four games with the injury, and those four games were bookended by the four or five worst — or least productive — games that Valentine has turned in this season. That’s nearly 30 percent of the regular season that was affected or wiped away by this knee procedure.
And if you want to use that as an excuse for why Valentine should be excluded from the Player of the Year race, then that’s your prerogative, even if it is somewhat silly. Because he’s still on pace to average 19.5 points, 7.7 boards and 7.1 assists, which is something that hasn’t been done since at least 1994-95. Hield’s not the only one that’s having a statistically historical season.
He’s played his best in Michigan State’s biggest games as well. Remember the 29 points, 12 boards and 12 assists he had against Kansas in the Champions Classic? I do. I also remember that he scored 21 of those 29 points in the second half and helped erase an 11 point deficit with less than 10 minutes left. Or what about when he led Michigan State back from down 13 points against Louisville, scoring 11 of his 25 points in the final 5:06 of a game the Spartans didn’t lead until their were less than seven minutes left.
That was in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which is kind of a big deal, no?
Just this past week, Valentine had 27 points, 10 assists and eight boards in a one-point overtime loss at Purdue. He had 15 of those points and seven of those assists in the second half as Sparty rallied back from an 18-point deficit. On Sunday, he went for 30 points and 13 assists in a win over Indiana that was a nationally televised game on CBS.
The point is this: in any other year, Denzel Valentine would be the favorite to win National Player of the Year, injury or no injury. He’s still got some ground to make up, but acting like he’s out of the race already is premature.
Anyway, here is the rest of the top ten: