After taking a one week break for the holidays, the Player of the Year Power Rankings are back in full effect this week.
The top spot hasn’t changed, but there has been some movement in the top ten after a handful of impressive performances over the course of the last fortnight.
Here are the official power rankings.
1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
Duke has not taken the court in nearly two weeks. The last time we saw them play, Williamson put up 17 points and 13 boards in 25 foul-plagued minutes against Texas Tech in Madison Square Garden. Personally, I don’t think there really is a debate at this point. Zion is the front-runner.
2. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
We all love Dedric Lawson because he’s a double-double machine as a small-ball four whose perimeter ability and passing skill allows Udoka Azubuike to thrive in the post, and he’s doing all of that for a top five team in the country.
Well, Grant Williams is averaging 20.1 points, 8.3 boards and 4.1 assists (more than double Lawson’s output) this year. He’s a better defender than Lawson. He’s shooting the ball better from the floor and from three. He’s a more efficient player. He has a better offensive rating on KenPom. And he’s doing all of this for a team that is ranked higher in the AP Poll than Kansas is.
If you love Lawson as a Player of the Year candidate, you are mandated by law to love Williams more.
Anyway, here is a quick breakdown of his ability to pass the ball and what it does for Tennessee’s offense:
3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
I am not the biggest R.J. Barrett fan in the world. I think he’s a little bit overrated as an NBA prospect, I get frustrated watching him dribble into three defenders in the lane when he has teammates on the perimeter waiting for a kick-out and I know he is the second-best player on his team.
He’s also averaging 23.8 points, 6.8 boards and 3.8 assists for the team that I think is going too win the national title. I’m not going to overthink this one.
4. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech
As of today, Culver is my pick for Big 12 Player of the Year over Lawson. His raw numbers make it very easy to put him on the list of all-americans this season: 19.6 points, 5.6 boards, 4.3 assists and shooting splits of 60.6/69.7/45.2 on a team that ranks in the top 15 nationally. That is all really quite impressive.
For me, however, the difference comes in the advanced numbers. Culver is the nation’s third-most efficient high-usage player, according to KenPom, finishing right behind Zion and Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman. His offensive rating of 124.8 on a usage rate of 30.0% is all the more impressive when put into this context: In 2014, Doug McDermott had an offensive rating of 24.4 on 32.9% usage. Those numbers will eventually come down once league play kicks off, but it shouldn’t diminish what Culver has done already this season.
What makes it all the more impressive — and the real reason I have him this high on the list — is that he is really the only threat Texas Tech has offensively. Matt Mooney is a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer at this level. Tariq Owens is not really a threat offensively beyond catching and dunking. Brandone Francis, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew — they’re fine, but they’re not something opposing coaches are going to lose sleep over. Put another way, the only reason that this Texas Tech team is not thought of as, say, Syracuse is that Culver is much, much better than Tyus Battle. The same can be said re: Kansas State and Barry Brown, Cincinnati and Jarron Cumberland and Texas and Kerwin Roach.
Carrying a bad offense is not an easy thing to do, and Culver might just carry this bad offense to a Big 12 title.
5. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas
Lawson is averaging 19.6 points, 10.8 boards and 2.5 assists for a top five team. That is the stuff that first-team all-americans are made out of. If there is something standing between him and a spot on the first team, it’s Lagerald Vick. Vick has been super inconsistent, but there is an argument that he deserves the award over Lawson given just how incredible he’s been on the nights when he gets it going and saves Kansas. We’ll see if that continues throughout the season.
6. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
Howard ran into a buzzsaw in his first Big East game of the season, shooting 2-for-15 from the floor and finishing with just eight points in 26 foul-plagued minutes against a good St. John’s team in Carnesecca Arena. That’s not good, particularly when his biggest competition for Big East Player of the Year — Shamorie Ponds — went bonkers.
That said, it was the first time in nearly a month that Howard scored less than 26 points and the first time since Nov. 27th that he failed to crack 20. Prior to Tuesday night, Howard has averaged 31.8 points in his previous six games, including 45 point outbursts against Buffalo and Wisconsin, Marquette’s two biggest wins of the season. I don’t think it’s wrong to have Ponds ahead of Howard at this point, but for my money, Howard has had the better season.
And while we’re here, let’s just appreciate the incredible second half performance he had against Buffalo. 40 points in 20 minutes of basketball is unheard of:
7. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
I still love Happ and the way that he plays, but I’m less convinced that Wisconsin is one of the elite teams in the country than I was two weeks ago — they got beat pretty solidly by Western Kentucky on the road on Saturday — which limits where he can be on this list. League commences in full for the Big Ten this week, so we shall see.
8. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia
Hunter is a tough one to place on this list because it’s difficult to parse through the three best players on Virginia. Kyle Guy is leading the team in scoring. Ty Jerome might actually be the best player on the team. For my money, Hunter is the game-changing talent on the roster and the guy that allows them to play different ways.
9. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga
Personally, I’m in a wait-and-see mode with Rui in terms of his Player of the Year chances. I love the player, I love the kid and I love the story, but for a team whose weakness in their issues on the defensive end of the floor, it’s hard for me to reward the guy that is as guilty as anyone on the roster.
We discussed Rui’s defensive issues last week.
10. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech still hasn’t really been pushed since the Charleston Classic. Alexander-Walker has been good against the good teams they have played — he averaged 20.5 points, 3.5 boards, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists against Washington and Notre Dame, shooting 16-for-22 from the field — but we’ll have a better feel for where he belongs on this list as ACC play gets into full swing.
IN THE MIX: Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Ja Morant (Murray State), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)