It's early, but patterns starting to form
It's been six days since the last edition of the Wooden Watch, which means two things:
1. We have more games of basketball on which to base our impressions of the national player of the year race, and/but ...
2. It's still too early to say much of anything.
Still, here we are, taking stock as we move along, and the mix after 10 days -- Frank Kaminsky dominating, Jahlil Okafor processing, West Virginia bounding, Montrezl Harrell blossoming and Kentucky just being plain unfair -- ranges from the predictable to the slightly less so.
In a month's time, we may look back at Week 2 and wonder what we were thinking. Until then ...
1. Frank Kaminsky, WisconsinPrevious ranking: 2
The lone negative thing you can say about Kaminsky's play to this point is that Wisconsin's opponents haven't been great. That's the best you can do -- and Boise State and (especially) Green Bay are totally solid teams, so even then it's a stretch. Otherwise, Kaminsky's play has been at the outer reaches of what a collegiate forward should be capable of.
Through four games, Kaminsky is taking more than 30 percent of his team's shots, and he's made 23 of 31 from 2 and 8 of 18 from 3. He's finding open teammates (assist rate: 20.7 percent) and rarely turning the ball over (TO rate: 8 percent) and grabbing more than one-quarter of his team's available defensive rebounds and blocking 9.1 percent of opponents' shots while he's on the floor. His offensive rating is 142.5. He's doing everything, and doing everything well.
Those numbers may creep downward in the coming weeks. They will be impossible to sustain through, say, January. But if you thought Kaminsky just got hot late last season and would regress early into this one, think again. He already looks better than ever.
2. Jahlil Okafor, DukePrevious ranking: 1
Okafor had his way with his first three collegiate opponents -- the latest of which, Nov. 18 at the Champions Classic, was an overwhelmed Michigan State -- to the tune of 25-of-30 shooting. The opposition would get tougher, but Okafor was nonetheless as advertised: a clinical and classically polished post scorer with every tool in the box.
The past two games have not been quite so kind. The Blue Devils cruised past Temple on Friday, but Okafor was a minor factor until after the game was decided; he finished with 16 points on a suddenly wasteful 7-of-20 shooting. On Tuesday, Stanford -- which played behind Okafor with powerful center Stefan Nastic, maybe the best positional defensive center in the country, and doubled hard -- Okafor finished with 10 points on 10 shots.
Those last two games look worse before you note that Okafor grabbed 12 rebounds in each of them, and that his passing out of double teams is as good as any big man in recent college hoops history, and often creates hockey-assist open shots that don't get tallied in Okafor's column. There are some flaws here, sure: The big guy is probably an average defender (and maybe defensive rebounder) at best. His rotations are still a little slow. He will get into foul trouble. But he is an undisputed monster on offense and the centerpiece of a legitimate national title contender all the same.
3. Ron Baker, Wichita StatePrevious ranking: 7
Last week, we noted that both Baker and teammate Fred VanVleet would hover near the Wooden Watch top 10 throughout the season, that it would take a while for either to establish himself as the obvious individual honoree. Let's put in an early notice for Darius Carter while we're at it. When Carter has been on the floor, particularly against Memphis, he's looked really solid ... and he's taking 42 percent of his team's shots thus far, which will come back to Earth but is nonetheless a good indication of his increased role.
Anyway, we're just over a week in -- it's hard to emphasize this enough -- but Baker has played the best of Wichita State's hoops so far. He's shooting it well, not committing turnovers and so on. But he's also drawn six fouls per 40 thus far, and been called for just 1.3. Take notes, Darius.
4. Montrezl Harrell, LouisvillePrevious ranking: 6
The one downside to the blossoming of Harrell's game is that he hasn't, at least through four games, rebounded on the offensive end at the same rate as he did last season. Fortunately, Chinanu Onuaku is hauling down 23 percent of available offensive rebounds, leaving Harrell free to explore his newfound passion for high-post pivots, 15-foot jumpers and tight-angled pick-and-rolls.
5. Juwan Staten, West VirginiaPrevious ranking: 5
In Week 1, after raving about Staten's obscene production in 2013-14 -- remember, he put up 18.1 points, 5.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals and shot 40 percent from 3 -- the Watch also noted the rather glaring "but" attached: His team wasn't very good. Staten may not have the same problem this season. Coming off this past weekend's win over UConn, his Mountaineers are unbeaten through five games and getting great supporting play from forwards Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton. When you have a lead guard as good as Staten, you just need to be decent elsewhere. The Mountaineers may be better than that.
ARM: Ryan Boatright, Fred VanVleet, Marcus Paige, Alan Williams, Dakari Johnson, Stanley Johnson, Angel Rodriguez, Jonathan Holmes, Sam Dekker, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Georges Niang, Tyus Jones, Perry Ellis, Malcolm Brogdon, Delon Wright, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Kevin Pangos, Willie Cauley-Stein
Return Of Frank Kaminsky
John R. Wooden Award
The John R. Wooden Award is presented annually to the most outstanding men's college basketball player.
Top 50 List
Here are the 50 names to make the cut on our Wooden Watch list. Fear not: If your favorite player isn't on this list, it does not make him ineligible for the award. After all, it is a long season.
• Cliff Alexander, Kansas
• Brandon Ashley, Arizona
• Ron Baker, Wichita State
• Ryan Boatright, UConn
• Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
• Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
• Branden Dawson, Michigan State
• Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
• Perry Ellis, Kansas
• Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
• Marcus Foster, Kansas State
• Michael Frazier II, Florida
• Treveon Graham, VCU
• Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
• Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
• Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
• Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
• Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
• Tyler Haws, BYU
• Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
• Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
• R.J. Hunter, Georgia State
• Stanley Johnson, Arizona
• Tyus Jones, Duke
• Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
• Caris LeVert, Michigan
• Jordan Mickey, LSU
• Nic Moore, SMU
• Georges Niang, Iowa State
• Jahlil Okafor, Duke
• Kelly Oubre Jr., Kansas
• Marcus Paige, North Carolina
• Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
• Terran Petteway, Nebraska
• Bobby Portis, Arkansas
• Chasson Randle, Stanford
• Terry Rozier, Louisville
• Wesley Saunders, Harvard
• Josh Scott, Colorado
• Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas
• D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
• Juwan Staten, West Virginia
• Keifer Sykes, Green Bay
• Isaiah Taylor, Texas
• Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
• Myles Turner, Texas
• Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
• Dez Wells, Maryland
• Delon Wright, Utah
• Joseph Young, Oregon
All Eyes On Jahlil Okafor