Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pre-Season MVP

Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to clarify one thing - there is a difference between Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player. The POY is, well, the best player during a given season. The MVP is the guy who had the biggest effect on his team's success during that year. Take last season as an example. Tyler Hansbrough won the Wooden Award as college basketball's best player, as well as numerous other player of the year honors. But I would argue that there were quite a few players more valuable than Hansbrough - Stephen Curry, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, DJ Augustin, and maybe even guys like Roy Hibbert or James Harden. Those guys weren't necessarily better players and they didn't necessarily have better years, but given the system that their teams ran and/or the amount of talent surrounding them, there is an argument to be made for each player I mentioned as more valuable than Psycho T.

How valuable a player is, valuability if you will, might be the most subjective topic in sports. As far as I can tell, there are two basic schools of thought when it comes to MVP voting. The first is strictly talent based - the best player is the most valuable. This is why, no matter the season or how their team's performed, Kobe and Lebron will always be in the discussion when it comes to MVP. The second is when a team runs a specific system that is very successful, and there is one player that is essential for the team to be able to play that style. Call it the Steve Nash MVP Theory (patent pending).

Personally, I tend to lean towards the second theory when it comes to MVP selection, which is why I believe UConn's Hasheem Thabeet is college basketball's MVP heading into the season. Is he the best player in the country? Please. He might not even be one of the best two players on his own team. But there is no player more important to their team than Thabeet.

I know what you're thinking: how can a guy whose offensive repertoire consists of being 7'3" and dunking when someone passes the ball to him near the basket be an MVP?

Its simple: UConn is not going to be a team that will beat you with their offense. Sure, they have some talented players - AJ Price, Jerome Dyson, Kemba Walker, Jeff Adrien - but year-in and year-out, what the Huskies hang their hat on is their defense. And Thabeet is the most intimidating defense presence in the country.

For the last seven years, UConn has led the country in blocked shots, and that's not a coincidence. You see, Jim Calhoun focuses on bringing in big, long, and athletic big men because the defensive system he runs is so dependent on having a shot blocker at the rim.

What the Huskies do is play tough, pressure, man-to-man defense in the half court. They over play passing lanes, they get up in the jock of who ever has the ball, and they force you to penetrate because the guards and the wings know that if they do happen to get beat to the rim, there is a 7'3" human eraser waiting to clean up their mess.

Never has one guy been more important to the Huskies defense than Thabeet will be this year. Only once in UConn's seven year run has a player had a higher percentage of the team's total blocks than Thabeet did last year (Emeka Okafor in '02-'03). That number will most likely go up this year as Stanley Robinson (the team's second leading shot blocker) and Ater Majok (this year's big, long, and athletic recruit) will not be eligible until at least December, if at all. Jeff Adrien is a great player, but he is "listed" at 6'7" and probably closer to 6'5". Gavin Edwards is not a shot blocker. Jonathon Mandeldove is lucky to even be allowed to see the court. For now, that's it, as far as big men go.

How far the Huskies go this year is going to depend on their defense, and how good their defense will be is going to be a result of how good Thabeet is on that end of the floor. UConn is ranked number two in both polls, so a Final Four trip is a very real possibility. There is a lot that can happen in a season, so at this point it is all speculation, but is there another team that is a legitimate Final Four threat that will be depending on a player as much as the Huskies will be depending on Thabeet? I don't think there is.


Kyle said...

You're such a UConn homer, if you want to use the Steve Nash theory then the obvious choice is Curry... that team would go NOWHERE without him.

Rob Dauster said...

How would the obvious choice be Curry using the Nash Theory? Davidson doesn't run a system because of Curry, Curry IS Davidson, especially with out Jason Richards.

My point was that neither Steve Nash or Hasheem Thabeet are usually in the discussion when you talk about the "best" - no one is going to put Nash in the same level as Kobe or Lebron or Dwight Howard just like no one should be putting Thabeet in the same sentence as Hansbrough or Curry - but that they both have a specific talent and a specific ability that no one else on the team or in the league can do as effectively. And because of that one skill, the team is able to run a successful system that they otherwise would not be able to run.

Let's look at it like this: how far does UConn drop off if you give them the second best center in the country in AJ Ogilvy from Vanderbilt? Now how far does Davidson drop off if you give them the second best shooting guard (Curry is not a point guard, in his last scrimmage he scored 41 points on 15-19 shooting, 6-9 from 3, and had 8 turnovers) in the country in James Harden? Is there anyone else in the country that would have a higher drop off (than Thabeet) if you substituted the next best player at that position?

Call me a UConn homer if you want, but no where in this article do I say Thabeet is anything more than he actually is - a dominating defensive presence that cannot do much offensively. But it is because of his, and ONLY his because UConn does not have a ton of depth up front, shot blocking presence that UConn can run their defensive system.