While the Freshman Focus has been on four players this season (Duke's Jabari Parker, Kentucky's Julius Randle, Arizona's Aaron Gordon and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins), there is another first-year star who belongs in that group. And this player -- Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis -- has a strong argument to be considered the most valuable freshman in Division I basketball this season.
Win Shares is an all-encompassing statistic that estimates the number of wins contributed by a player from his offense and defense, based on his points produced and points allowed when on the court.
Most Win Shares
Division I Freshmen This Season
According to this measure, Ennis has contributed more wins to his team than any freshman in Division I this season (3.2).
Ennis is basically irreplaceable as Syracuse’s point guard. He has accounted for 43 percent of his team’s assists and 29 percent of steals, both of which are the highest rates among major-conference freshmen this season.
Replacing a star
One of the biggest questions for the Orange heading into this season was how they would replace their backcourt leader from last year's Final Four team, Michael Carter-Williams, who was selected 11th overall by the 76ers.
Point Guard Comparison
M. Carter-Williams vs. T. Ennis
Consider that question answered with Ennis, who has left no doubt that he is more than capable of directing the Syracuse offense this season.
In comparing Ennis' play this season to MCW's last season, Ennis is the more efficient shooter and ball handler, but Carter-Williams has the advantage in his ability to distribute the ball.
Leading the Orange
Ennis is a freshman, but he plays with the poise of a four-year starter. It was 16 games before he committed more than two turnovers, and for the season he turns the ball over only 1.4 times per game.
Though Ennis is not a prolific scorer, he has excelled in scoring off ball screens. He is averaging nearly one point per play as the pick-and-roll ball handler and has scored at least one point on 45 percent of those plays, the fourth-highest rate in the ACC (min. 25 plays).
He is aggressive in these situations, dribbling off the pick more than 80 percent of the time and then typically driving to the basket, where he has scored 23 points on 15 shot attempts.
Ennis' impact on the Orange is felt not only on the offensive end but also as a key part of Syracuse's patented 2-3 zone. He averages an ACC-best 2.8 steals per game and has defended the ball screen well. Opposing pick-and-roll ball handlers have made zero of their 12 shot attempts against Ennis, who has forced four turnovers on 19 such plays.
He may not have received the preseason hype that the four freshmen mentioned above got, but Ennis has clearly proved his worth to the No. 2 team in the country on both offense and defense and deserves to be recognized as one of the best freshmen in the country this season.