By now you know all about the raging debate for Player of the Year between Kansas’ Thomas Robinson and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. To many the heated battle for the coveted award was Robinson’s to lose for at least the first two months of the season with “T Rob” churning out double-doubles and leading the Jayhawks slow climb from the middle of the Top 25 national rankings to a position firmly within in the Top 10. Davis, however, spent the same first couple of months a little overshadowed by fellow teammate and freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who had huge performances against top rivals North Carolina and Louisville. Since conference play started in early January, however, Davis’ enormous potential has been harnessed slowly but surely, and the overwhelming favorite for National Defensive Player of the Year started becoming more assertive on offense, shifting from a catch-and-dunk alley-oop specialist to a legitimate threat from just about anywhere on the court.
In case you aren’t up to speed here are the key stats for each player (the basics, if you will):
Robinson: 18 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Davis: 14.4 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 4.7 bpg
The other categories are important, obviously, but at the end of the day no sane voter is going to base their final vote on turnovers per game. Or a difference in 0.4 steals per game. Or a difference in 0.9 assists per game. These just aren’t significant enough to be sway factors one way or the other.
What does matter is points, rebounds, blocks, winning, leadership and sportsmanship. If Robinson had these great numbers but had murdered someone he wouldn’t be in contention. Ditto Davis.
To help me decide who my player of the year is (and with only the above numbers plus the eye test, I am having a very hard time deciding) I wanted to dig deeper. What I did may or may not help you. And it is flawed. But it is yet another way to look at the numbers. I wanted to know the best defensive teams each player competed against this year and how they fared in those games. And I wanted to let the research do the talking. I used the interwebs to locate a team defensive field goal percentage ranking and from there I made a list of the ten toughest defensive teams each player played. Then I noted each player’s performances in the aforementioned categories (points, rebounds and blocks) and made comments about each performance based on the AP recaps written for those games on ESPN.com. Here is what I found, starting with Thomas Robinson:
(Opponent) (Opp FG% National Rank) / (Points), (Rebounds), (Blocks), (FG %), (Result), (Comments)
Kentucky (1) / 11, 12, 1, 42%, Loss, Fouled out with 3:31 remaining
Georgetown (11) / 20, 12, 2, 50%, Win, “Hoyas couldn’t keep Robinson from getting to the rim”
South Florida (24) / 14, 8, 2, 67%, Win, “opened up the 2nd half with a 7-0 run keyed by Robinson”
Kansas State (33) / 15, 14, 1, 64%, Win, “Robinson fueled 18-4 run with a putback and 2 mid-range jumpers”
Kansas State (33) / 10, 9, 43%, Win, “…an off game for Thomas Robinson”
Ohio State (47) / 21, 7, 78%, Win, Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger did not play
Texas A&M (48) / 18, 10, 40%, Win, A&M w/out starting forward (injury); “T Rob bailed out Jayhawks…”
Texas A&M (48) / 10, 13, 30%, Win
Texas (60) / 17, 9, 50%, Win, Key free throw with 8 seconds left to help secure win
Texas (60) / 25, 14, 53%, Win, UT post players injured during game, T Rob soared post-injuries
And now Davis:
Louisville (5) / 18, 10, 6, 75%, Win, All 18 points in the 2nd Half
Kansas (6) / 14, 6, 7, 75%, Win
North Carolina (12) / 7, 9, 2, 50%, Win, Game-clinching block on John Hensen
Alabama (13) / 11, 9, 4, Win, 20%, Win, Struggled against physical play; key block and 2 FT’s 4 secs left
Old Dominion (31) / 11, 9, 3, 67%, Win
Mississippi (44) / 10, 6, 4, 80%, Win, Foul trouble in first half
Auburn (54) / 14, 6, 4, 67%, Win
LSU (82) / 16, 10, 3, 100%, Win, Tackled from behind on breakaway dunk attempt
Tennessee (85) / 18, 8, 4, 70%, Win, UT big man Jarnell Stokes first game as a Vol
Tennessee (85) / 18, 8, 7, 86%, Win, UT head coach: “A guy like Davis comes around once in a lifetime”
Robinson averaged 16.1 pts, 10.8 rebounds, and shot on average 51.7% against the top 10 defensive teams he faced. This is ever so slightly under the season averages of 18, 11.9 and 53%, respectively.
Davis averaged 13.7 pts, 8.1 rebounds, 4.4 blocks, and shot 69.0% against the top 10 defensive teams he faced. Each average is slightly under the season averages except for field goal percentage, which is up from the 66%. His season averages in pts, rebs and blks are 14.1, 9.8, and 4.7 respectively.
Against these top defenses Robinson led the Jayhawks to a 9-1 record, while Davis helped lead Kentucky to a 10-0 record. It’s worth noting that Kansas’ loss here was against Kentucky on a neutral court.
In looking at Thomas Robinson’s results against the top 10 defensive opponents it was worth noting he faced three teams with significant injuries in the front court. Personally I can’t envision Robinson’s production dipping much at all–it may have even elevated–but I note it because you should not assume he scored 21 on Jared Sullinger, when fairness dictates that Sullinger wasn’t on the court! I did not notice any key front court absences by opponents playing Davis, but it was interesting to note that UT freshman (and star recruit) Jarnell Stokes joined Tennessee in time to compete against the Wildcats twice.
I was hoping that one of these guys would average better numbers against top defenses, thinking that could be the tie-breaker and lead me to an easier decision. However, this was not the case. In the end the only thing that really stands out from this exercise is the head-to-head matchup. You look at Robinson with 42% shooting, 11 points, and fouling out of the game and you see what kind of damage the Kentucky frontline can bring to the table. And obviously Davis anchors that line, so yeah, it’s hard to ignore that IN THIS EXERCISE. One head-to-head game is not everything, but it’s the one thing that particularly stood out to me here tonight.
Do you vote for the guy with better numbers, elevating his team from pre-season #13 to probably #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. One Thomas Robinson.
Or do you vote for the best player on the best team, whose natural shot-blocking terror and freakish offensive game helped propel Kentucky to a perfect 16-0 record in conference play? Mr. Anthony Davis.
One thing is certain. They are both deserving.