Sizing Up The Pac-10 Player Of The Year Race

This weekend in the Pacific Northwest presents a unique opportunity for fans: The chance to see one of the top players in the conference -- Arizona's Derrick Williams -- square off against the other two top players in the conference, Washington's Isaiah Thomas and WSU's Klay Thompson, creating an early player of the year round robin of sorts that will be completed when the Huskies and Cougs square off next week.

I'm not going to try and predict how this thing is eventually going to turn out, since we know how it's going to turn out: It will almost certainly go to the best player on the best team, as it did last year with Jerome Randle. But we can take a look at it from our unique statistical perspective and weigh in on who we think should get it.

At this point, it's clearly a three-horse race. Some might have said two-horse race even as recently as a few weeks ago, but Thomas has come on strong since Washington lost starting point guard Abdul Gaddy for the season. Here's how the three stack up in terms of the tempo-neutral stats that we find much more relevant than the archaic counting stats the coaches will inevitably rely on when casting their vote. (National ranking in parentheses. Scroll down to "Player Section" at this site if you have no idea what these stats are.) 

Derrick Williams Klay Thompson Isaiah Thomas
Min% 71.2 83.2 (147) 73.6
ORtg 131.5 (17) 115.3 (243) 118.3 (138)
Poss% 28.0 (108) 32.2 (12) 26.7 (181)
Shot% 23.0 33.1 (30) 23.8
eFG% 71.3 (2) 57.3 (176) 53.0 (417)
OR% 13.1 (93) 2.4 2.8
DR% 18.4 (307) 14.4 10.2
AssistRate 8.4 26.2 (197) 29.2 (115)
TORate 17.7 16.7 17.3
Block% 2.8 (446) 3.5 (336) 0.2
Steal% 2.2 3.0 (281) 2.5
FD/40 9.2 (2) 5.8 (163) 6.2 (107)
FTR 112.3 (2) 35.0 48.2 (329)

I'm not sure people around the country appreciate how good these three are. In fact, I'm sure they don't, and it's not a stretch to say there might not be a better trio of college players in any normal-sized conference in the country. All three are excelling in different ways. Here are the strongest arguments I see for each:

 

  • Williams' ORtg and eFG% are absurd, as are his FD/40 and FTR -- the latter two being the reason his Shot% isn't higher. You also can't really count that Poss% against him either, because it's hard for a big man who doesn't have the ball in his hands all the time to have a very high number. Put simply, he's unbelievably efficient when he tries to score. He also contributes tremendous offensive rebounding and serviceable defensive rebounding.
  • Thompson is producing the kind of all-around season that the conference hasn't seen since James Harden left ASU after his junior year. (Seriously -- check out the similarities.) Yes, his ORtg trails both Williams and Thomas, but he's playing more minutes than both and taking more shots than both when he's on the floor. The offense is running through him in a way that the other two simply don't have to deal with. And that doesn't even take defense into account, where he's blocking more shots than Williams -- the guy with the 7-foot wingspan.
  • Thomas has transformed himself from marginally efficient scorer (107.7 ORtg last year) to highly efficient scorer and passer this year. He's stepped up in a huge way since Gaddy went down, taking on the primary ball-handling duties and exhibiting a maturity in floor leadership that quite frankly I wasn't sure he possessed.

 

It's hard for me to distinguish between the three right now. All are very good in their own way, but if you put a gun to my head, I'd have to give the nod to Williams right now with Thompson an extremely close second and Thomas not far behind that. However, it's going to be fun to see how these players perform against each other, and perhaps that will give some insight. 

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