Kentucky Basketball: Picking the MVP

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013-14 edition of the Wildcats featured several players who can lay claim to the title of "Most Valuable"

Picking an MVP is a fun exercise because everyone has their own idea of what that word "Valuable" means.  Is it the guy whose absence would hurt the team the most?  The guy who puts up the most dominant numbers?  How important is offense versus defense versus intangibles?  Sometimes the choice is obvious - like Anthony Davis in 2012.  Sometimes it can be a guy who didn't even play a third of the season - like Nerlens Noel last year.  Other times there are multiple players and the choice is as much personal preference as anything else - like John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins in 2010 or there aren't any clear-cut candidates but a lot of good ones to choose, as in 2011.

The 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats drew a lot of comparisons to the 2011 team during the season and like that earlier squad, they featured a number of really good players who compelling prime candidates for Team MVP.  We'll examine every player who averaged double figure minutes, breaking them down by offense, defense, and a variety of other measures and awards.

(WOWY numbers are from group-stats.  Awards lists come from Jon Scott and the SEC Website. All other stats are from college basketball reference.  Players are listed in order of minutes per game.)

Offense


MPG PPG ORtg OWS WOWY
Aaron Harrison 32.6 13.7 119.6 3.3 0.06
James Young 32.4 14.3 114.8 3.0 0.10
Andrew Harrison 31.7 10.9 105.9 1.8 0.00
Julius Randle 30.8 15.0 115.9 3.5 -0.07
Willie Cauley-Stein 23.8 6.8 122.8 1.9 0.01
Alex Poythress 18.4 5.9 113.6 1.3 0.06
Dakari Johnson 14.1 5.2 117.3 1.3 -0.04

  • MPG and PPG: minutes per game, points per game
  • ORtg: Offensive Rating. Player analog of team offensive efficiency.
  • OWS: Offensive Win Shares. Sum total of offensive contributions to each win.
  • WOWY: With Or Without You. The difference between team offensive efficiency with the player on the floor and efficiency with them on the bench.  Positive values indicate the team was more efficient with the player than without him.

There is a pretty clear separation between the group of Julius Randle / Aaron Harrison / James Young and everyone else.  Those three were the leading scorers, led the team in offensive win shares and were all very efficient.  Young's WOWY difference - the highest on the team - matches Glenn's observation that his movement off the ball was very important for this team and that the offense had a tendency to stand still when he was on the bench.  Likewise, Randle's negative WOWY value agrees with comments made by a variety of ASoB members throughout the season that the offense seemed to flow better when Randle was out of the game.

Offensive MVP:

  1. Julius Randle
  2. Aaron Harrison
  3. James Young

I think it's pretty clear that those three players, in some order, were the top 3 in offense over the course of the entire season.  It's hard to pick between them and even now I keep going back and forth as to who should be #1.  Seriously, this is like the 4th time I've written this paragraph because I keep changing my mind.  I'm going with Julius because of all the double and triple teams he faced and yet was still able to be efficient with the basketball.  Aaron is second because I like his efficiency a little bit more than James' off-the-ball impact, but again, it's really, really close.

Defense


DRb% Blk% Stl% DRtg DWS WOWY
Aaron Harrison 7.8 0.9 2.0 104.3 1.7 -0.06
James Young 11.0 0.6 1.4 104.3 1.7 0.05
Andrew Harrison 8.1 0.7 1.0 106.3 1.4 -0.05
Julius Randle 24.7 2.6 1.0 97.8 2.4 0.01
Willie Cauley-Stein 16.3 12.3 3.0 91.5 2.2 -0.09
Alex Poythress 16.3 4.0 1.0 100.6 1.2 0.04
Dakari Johnson 15.0 4.3 1.0 100.9 0.9 -0.01

  • DRb%, Blk%, Stl%: Defensive Rebound Rate, Block Rate, Steal Rate
  • DRtg: Defensive Rating. Player analog of team defensive efficiency.
  • DWS: Defensive Win Shares. Sum total of defensive contributions to each win.
  • WOWY: With or Without You. The difference between team defensive efficiency with the player on the floor and efficiency with them on the bench.  Negative values indicate the team was more efficient with the player than without him.

Sadly, defensive stats don't cover that side of the ball nearly as well as offensive stats do - there is a lot that gets left out.  Ideally I'd have a full season of DSS charting to use, but circumstances prevented me from continuing the project once conference season began.  That leaves us with a combination of boxscore-based numbers and lineup-based information to go with.  Fortunately, there is a clear choice for defensive MVP and you don't need numbers to know who it is - Willie Cauley-Stein.  His defensive greatness is so self-evident that it's not really necessary to go into it any deeper.  As for the rest of the team, the Harrisons join WCS in helping the team be better in the game than on the bench.  Randle was very good on the defensive glass as was Young when you consider his position.  It's worth noting that the team posted better defensive efficiency with Andrew Harrison on the floor than they did without him, despite his trouble with smaller, quicker guards.  Size really is a big benefit on the defensive end of the floor.

Defensive MVP:

  1. Willie Cauley-Stein
  2. Aaron Harrison
  3. Julius Randle

I went with Aaron over Julius for 2nd place because I thought his perimeter defense was pretty solid this year and it's a lot harder for perimeter guys to do well in the boxscore-based defensive metrics than it is for post players.  Also, there were a lot of questions about Julius' defense this year so while his rebounding helps make up for a lot of that, it's enough to knock him down to third on this list.

Other Stuff

Misc Game Balls PER WS WOWY SEC POW SEC FOW
Aaron Harrison 8.5 17.1 5.1 0.11
2
James Young 3.3 16.6 4.7 0.04
2
Andrew Harrison 3.2 12.5 3.2 0.05

Julius Randle 10.4 24.5 5.9 -0.09 2 1
Willie Cauley-Stein 7.2 23.6 4.1 0.09

Alex Poythress 6.4 16.5 2.5 0.02

Dakari Johnson 4.2 20.0 2.2 -0.02

  • Game Balls: Game balls awarded by Glenn.  The number after the decimal indicates any runner-up/honorable mention noted in the postmortem.  For example, Aaron Harrison received 8 game balls and was mentioned as a runner-up or honorable mention 5 times.
  • PER: John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating
  • WS: Win Shares. Sum of OWS and DWS
  • WOWY: With or Without You.  Total difference in offensive and defensive efficiency when a player is on the floor and when he is on the bench.  Positive number indicates the team had a better scoring margin with him on the floor than off it.
  • SEC POW, FOW: SEC Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week

Other Awards:

  • Aaron Harrison: All- NCAA Regional Team; All-SEC Tournament
  • Julius Randle: All-American [AP (3rd), NABC (3rd)]; All-NCAA Final Four Team; NCAA Regional Most Outstanding Player; All-SEC [First Team (AP & Coaches)]; All-SEC Tournament; SEC Freshman of the Year; All-SEC Freshman Team;
  • James Young: All-NCAA Final Four Team; All-SEC [Second Team (Coaches)]; All-SEC Freshman Team;
  • Willie Cauley-Stein: SEC All-Defensive Team

Julius and Aaron both topped out the game ball list, but WCS was not far behind.  Willie's PER was outstanding thanks to his efficient offense and excellent defensive numbers.  Julius needs a big trophy case and was the only UK player to win SEC Player of the Week.  Aaron posted the best overall With or Without You number on the team, closely followed by WCS.  Alex Poythress might not have had big numbers, but his game ball totals indicate that he played a significant role in a lot of games - third most if you add the two numbers together.


2013-14 Kentucky Team MVP:

  1. Aaron Harrison
  2. Julius Randle
  3. Willie Cauley-Stein

Even after the game, we just, we know what we can do and we know we're going to make a run to have a big, great story for everyone to talk about. -Aaron Harrison

Aaron Harrison had a fine season on both sides of the ball, combining efficient offense with solid defense while starring in quite a few games. He also hit numerous clutch shots - not just in the NCAA Tournament but over the course of the entire season.  Did you remember that he hit a big shot against Cleveland St. to hold off the Viking's upset bid?  I had forgotten about that until I re-read the postmortem.  He also had that bizarre-at-the-time-but-prescient-in-hindsight quotes after the horrific loss to South Carolina.  All of that pushes him ahead of Julius Randle for Team MVP to me.

Julius Randle is a veryclose second.  His numbers and awards speak for themselves and, as I've mentioned already, he had to constantly overcome multiple defenders nearly every time he touched the ball.  He also had to deal with a slate of officials who seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable for opposing teams to beat him with rubber hoses and poke him with pointy sticks.  He was an anchor for the team from Game 1 and his second half against Michigan State is still a thing of beauty.  He led the team in scoring, PER, Win Shares, Rebounding, and game balls.  The team will have a frontcourt that is deeper and more talented than some NBA teams next year, and yet his presence will still be missed.

Willie Cauley-Stein is third.  His overwhelming defensive value and With or Without You numbers are enough to push him ahead of James Young.  He had the third-most game balls awarded which gives an indication to the number of contests in which he starred.  WCS took a big leap forward this year and if he can just improve his game-to-game consistency he is going to be the rare player who contends for the SEC POY on the strength of his defense and all-around game instead of his scoring.

What do you think?

If there's anything more interesting than making an MVP choice, it's arguing about an MVP choice.  So have at it in the comments!  Who is your MVP and why?

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