If you have been following the preseason hype machine, you’ve noticed that Kyle Wiltjer’s name appears on many a prognosticator’s list of candidates to win the National Player of the Year award. The recognition is well-deserved, but no one hangs preseason awards on their mantle (well they might at St. Mary’s if they ever got preseason love down there). How can Kyle actually win the NPOY award this season? Let’s take a look.
I have identified four key areas of consideration: (1) individual production; (2) team success; (3) national exposure; and (4) the rest of the competition. I'll explore the first area in this piece and the other areas in a subsequent article. Keep in mind these are not official criteria, but the factors I perceive as the most important in determining a candidate’s ability to win the award. In order to figure out what it would take for Kyle to take home such a prestigious award, I looked back at the last 10 winners of the award in an effort to pierce the veil of what sways the voters in their decision making.
The last 10 NPOY winners are as follows: (2015) Frank Kaminsky, F/C, Senior, Wisconsin; (2014) Doug McDermott, F, Senior, Creighton; (2013) Trey Burke, PG, Sophomore, Michigan; (2012) Anthony Davis, F/C, Freshman, Kentucky; (2011) Jimmer Fredette, SG, Senior, BYU; (2010) Evan Turner, G/F, Junior, Ohio State; (2009) Blake Griffin, F, Sophomore, Oklahoma; (2008) Tyler Hansbrough, F/C, Junior, North Carolina; (2007) Kevin Durant, F, Freshman, Texas; (2006) JJ Redick, SG, Senior, Duke.
I wanted to find out what kind of numbers Kyle would need to produce, so I averaged the stats of the last 10 winners to create the "average national player of the year" (ANPOY)—and yes, I recognize the irony of that title.
The ANPOY has a stat line of 22.6 PPG, 7.9 REB, 2.9 AST, 40.3% 3PT%, 51.5% FG%, 78% FT%, 34.9 MPG, 2.5 turnovers, 1.2 BPG (with Anthony Davis’ season)/0.7 BPG (without Davis’ season) in 34.9 minutes per game and 36.6 games played. The ANPOY comprises 30.6% of his team’s shots taken with 551.8 field goal attempts and an offensive rating of 120.7.
As a redshirt junior, Kyle averaged 16.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.2 turnovers while shooting 46.6% from the three-point line, 54% from the field, and 78.9% at the free throw line. Kyle took 31.4% of the Zags’ shots last season and had an offensive rating of 128.2, which is well above the ANPOYs. Kyle’s shooting percentages are all above the rate of the ANPOY, so he doesn’t need to worry about improving an already great shooting stroke.
But, Kyle only had 440 field goal attempts (a team high) in 27.6 minutes per game, which are both well below the ANPOY. A massive increase in minutes may not be in the cards if the Big 3 are regularly rotated; but if Mark Few is committed to fielding a jumbo lineup, Kyle should exceed 30 minutes per game. Kyle’s usage rate, but low FGA, suggests that his candidacy would be best served if the Zags started playing with a faster pace. Fortunately, the increased pace should happen without a major adjustment to the Zags offense as the NCAA finally reduced the men’s shot clock down to 30 seconds, which will add more possessions per game. Kyle should have more scoring opportunities by virtue of that rule change alone (and we should be treated to more free flowing games across college basketball). However, the biggest area where Kyle can increase his scoring output is the free throw line. Last year he went 84-107 from the charity stripe. While the 78.9% free throw percentage is good, only Trey Burke (166) and Evan Turner (182) won the NPOY award attempting fewer than 200 free throws. In fact, the ANPOY has 245.2 free throw attempts. Kyle wields an extremely balanced offensive arsenal and is comfortable with the ball anywhere on the floor, so if he can find a way to draw two to three more trips to the free throw line each game, he should see his scoring average rise while maintaining his current levels of efficiency.
Additionally, Kyle will need to snag about two extra rebounds and another assist every night to bring his numbers into line with the ANPOY. Those numbers are reachable with increased minutes, but Kyle will have to share rebounds with his front court mates so there are no guarantees. Blocks are a difficult stat to predict/control, but he has shown he’ll get his fair share, and he just needs to replicate last season’s efforts.
Finally, all of the above is predicated on Kyle staying healthy, which to this point in his career he has been able to do. The ANPOY's average of 36.6 games played indicates the importance of a healthy season and playing on a successful team, as the average D1 college basketball team only plays 30 games each season. Part II will examine the other three areas I identified as key considerations in winning the NPOY Award: team success, national exposure, and the rest of the competition.