"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jae Crowder is NOT the 2nd best college basketball player

Today Jae Crowder has moved into Ken Pomeroy’s top 10 players of the year, an incredible accomplishment.

NBC Sports (read here) was kind enough to pick up on my Value Add rankings last week that indicated that Jae Crowder was the 2nd most valuable player in college basketball to date behind Anthony Davis of Kentucky. I will tell you it was nicer to have my name next to a photo of Jae Crowder instead of next to a photo of Jordan Taylor when Sports Illustrated did their piece on Value Add last year.

However, in all honesty, I cringed when I ran the program and Jae showed up as No. 2. I am glad the formula was published last year (when it showed Jae as the 48th best returning player for this year), but as a stat nut I want people to understand I am following an exact formula, and I am sure there were some people with North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State that gave a “yeah right,” when they saw that Crowder showed up as No. 2.

The fact that I am a stat nut and a huge Jae Crowder fan is a chicken or the egg question – I am a huge Crowder fan because as a number-cruncher I saw early the incredible value he was bringing to Marquette, and then he just happened to take it to an even higher level. However, that being said, I need to write the most negative thing I’ve probably written about Jae Crowder in two years:

Jae Crowder is NOT the 2nd best player in college basketball.

Right now, I do believe Jae is one of the best several players in college basketball, and he may be the 2nd most valuable player in college basketball, but

I need to make a distinction between best and “most valuable.”

For me, value is simply the percent of points a player adds to his team’s total and take’s away from his team’s total. Usually this is pretty close to “best,” but there are two exceptions.

Generally a player who is a one-man star on a bad team is about as valuable as a similar player on a team with one or two other great players. The guy on the bad team gets more defensive attention, but he is free to attempt to do more things, and vice versa. So if you play on one of 343 Division I schools with between zero and three elite players, I would say Value Add treats you pretty fairly.
The only players who get “cheated” by value add are players with four or more potential NBA-level players, and this year that means anyone who plays for UNC or Kentucky.

The fact is that part of Jae Crowder’s incredible value this year is that in addition to everything else he does so well, he is often going up and taking rebounds away from a bigger center and forward at the same time. Even with Jae being among Pomeroy’s leaders in defensive rebounds, Marquette is the 303rd best defensive rebounding team in the country. I seriously believe that Marquette would finish 8-10 in the Big East if Crowder wasn’t on the team, and that makes him more valuable than anyone on Kentucky or UNC. But understand that Jae would not be as valuable if he was playing for UNC or Kentucky because he wouldn’t need to grab all those rebounds, among other things.

Kentucky and UNC are alone with 6 players among the top 85 NBA college prospects. That means that some combination of Michael Gilchrist (61st in Value Add, 3rd best NBA prospect), Terrence Jones (54th-11th), Doron Lamb (52nd-39th), Harrison Barnes (90th-4th), John Henson (55th-8th), Tyler Zeller (23rd-9th) and Kendall Marshall (97th-19th) could be BETTER players than Jae, but none are as valuable.

You lose any one of those players, and Kentucky or UNC still start a line-up of five players who could be in the NBA in the next two years. Losing one of them could be the difference between winning the title or not, but it probably only cost them a couple of wins while if Jae wasn’t at Marquette this year then MU is hoping for a home game in the NIT instead of being a #2 or #3 seed.

The other guy who could be better than Jae is Draymond Green of Michigan State, because I am still finalizing the adjustment for point guards and perimeter defenders, which cannot be accounted for on stats alone. I just hit the tip of the iceberg by getting a handful of the top point guards extra credit for bringing the ball up, and the top perimeter defenders for guarding away from the rim without a stat for “stops.” I am finalizing the adjustment for all teams.

The tricky part with Green is figuring out whether the new “Magic Johnson” deserves the point guard credit for Michigan State or if it should be divided with Keith Appling. And I don’t feel as good when there is something like this that requires observation, because it gets away from my forte of objective number crunching.

So I believe there are up to 7 players (Green plus the above-mentioned seven from UNC and Kentucky) who Bobby Knight or some other true student of the game might well say are “better” than Jae, but I believe so far that only Davis and possibly Green have been more valuable than Jae.

That would still make Jae Big East Player of the Year after out-dueling the great Kevin Jones, who really has noone else to go to outside of an occasional burst by Truck Bryant, on his home court. When it comes to All-American, I believe if you are picking the five most valuable players in the country then Jae is a 1st team All-American; if you are picking the best college players in American than Jae is a 2nd team All-American, and if you are picking the guys most likely to dominate at the next level then Jae isn’t on the 1st or 2nd team.

Now you can’t say I’ve never written anything negative about Jae!

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