When the Wooden Award Top 25 Watch List was unveiled in the middle of January, the race for the top player in college basketball was wide open.
Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Virginia’s Justin Anderson and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein headlined the midseason list, but others such as Utah’s Delon Wright, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant were also in the conversation.
One month later, when the list was narrowed to 20, it seemed to be a two-man race between Kaminsky and Okafor.
When comparing these players’ base-level stats, the competition for the top player in college basketball appears to be a dead heat; both players are averaging at least 17 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, playing for one of the nation’s top teams against similarly rated schedules.
Who is Player of the Year?
When digging deeper into advanced metrics, however, Kaminsky has the edge because of his versatility on offense, above-average defense and overall contributions to his team’s record.
There is no denying that Okafor is one of the most efficient 2-point scorers in the nation (he ranks sixth in field goal percentage), but Kaminsky adds the ability to spread the floor and make free throws. Accounting for these factors, Kaminsky and Okafor have comparable true shooting percentages, with Okafor having a slight edge as a scorer.
Comparing Offensive Efficiency,
What sets Kaminsky apart on the offensive end, however, are his contributions beyond scoring. He has almost twice the assist rate and half the turnover percentage as Okafor, using a similar number of possessions.
Because of his all-around offensive contributions, Kaminsky is averaging more points per play and has a higher offensive rating than Okafor (via College Basketball Reference)
Although many of the advanced offensive metrics favor Kaminsky, both players are having extremely efficient seasons on that end of the court. They are major reasons why Wisconsin and Duke are two of the most efficient offenses in the nation.
The one major difference when comparing the two players, though, is their contributions on defense. Despite his size, Okafor is 14th in the ACC in defensive rebound percentage and has struggled to keep opponents out of the paint (Duke allowed 62 paint point Wednesday against UNC). Kaminsky leads the Big Ten in defensive rebound percentage and is rebounding almost 27 percent of his opponents’ missed shots.
Basketball Reference’s defensive rating is an estimate of the points a player allows per 100 possessions that he faces while on the court. It is based on his rebounds, blocks, steals, turnovers and forced misses. Based on this all-encompassing measure, Kaminsky is a top-35 defender and Okafor ranks outside of the top 300 (minimum of 20 minutes per game and 20 games played).
There are many ways to measure a player’s overall impact on the game, but no matter which metric you chose, Kaminsky comes out on top.
Player efficiency rating (PER) is a catch-all metric that adjusts for the pace of the game. It measures the per-minute productivity of a player while he is on the court. Kaminsky leads the nation in PER, and Okafor ranks third.
Wins shares is a similar metric, designed to measure how many wins a player produces for his team. Kaminsky has produced a Division I-high 6.4 wins for Wisconsin, compared with 4.8 win shares for Okafor.
Most Win Shares, 2014-15 Season
To see Kaminsky’s value to his team, look no further than Wisconsin’s 67-62 loss to Rutgers. Kaminsky missed that game with a concussion, and Wisconsin posted its worst game of the season, as measured by Game BPI. With Kaminsky, Wisconsin is 24-1 and has the second-best BPI rating in the country, behind Kentucky.
Although Duke beat Wisconsin in a head-to-head matchup of these players, no player has contributed more to his team’s success than Kaminsky, making him, by most advanced metrics, the favorite to win the 2015 Wooden Award.