Monday, March 14, 2011

The Great Debate: Jimmer Fredette vs. Kemba Walker for Player of the Year

With one of the fiercest Player of the Year battles in recent history raging on, The Saratogian's Michael Kelly and Matthew Donato pick a side and fight it out like real men ... with numbers.

Matthew Donato: for Kemba Walker
So, unfortunately, this argument may be over before we even begin. Five games in five days, four of which were against ranked opponents in the toughest conference in the country ... Kemba Walker has to be the choice for Player of the Year.

He has single-handedly carried an overachieving UConn team who I predicted on Extra Points at the beginning of the season to be merely a sneaky opponent who will play giant-killer to a few Big East teams, but not contend.

Instead, the Huskies upset Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas and Tennessee early in the season and made it as high as the No. 4 ranking before the tough Big East schedule got their hits in.

Would BYU have been as good without Jimmer? No chance. But UConn would have floundered in the Big East with their young, leaderless team if Kemba were not in command.

Michael Kelly: For Jimmer Fredette
Whoa, whoa, whoa ... "over before we even begin?" Simmer down, Donato, we have a ways to go.

Jimmer Fredette led the nation in scoring at 28.5 points per game, went for 30 or more points on 13 different occasions, and was the only reason why people even knew about the BYU Cougars this season.

You want to talk quality wins? The Cougars beat the Pac-10 regular-season champion (Arizona), the West Coast Conference regular-season champion (St. Mary's) and took down conference-rival San Diego State twice this season.

Finally, before turning this back to you, UConn was young, but filled with talent; freshmen like Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith were all top-100 recruits out of high school and were not exactly scrubs. While I won't discredit what Walker did in leading a young group of guys through the country's best league, let's also acknowledge that what those guys lacked in experience, they made up for in talent.

In short, if we were to draft up 5-on-5 teams out of these two teams, Jimmer and Kemba excluded, we're each taking UConn guys with our first three or picks before we even get to a Cougar.

Granted, Lamb and Shabazz may go ahead of a Noah Hartsock, but how much did BYU suffer after Davies was out?

The team was blown out in their second loss to New Mexico, squeaked by TCU in the first round, and needed Jimmer's 52 point explosion to get by New Mexico into the MWC finals, which they lost handily.

Davies was a key presence down low with his .525 shooting percentage, and he and Hartsock provided the majority of the rebounds and blocks for the team. Losing him proved how much the rest of the team helped enable Jimmer to be the scoring machine he is.

Walker has been key in the clutch. Before the Big East semifinals, ESPN showed a montage of the game winners he has sunk this season. The man has enough for a montage! That hop-back jumper that he used to beat Pitt made more than one appearance. That move is automatic.

Anyway, if you take away those game-winners and tie-ers (is that a writable word?), how many more games does UConn lose? Even someone of his talent, without that ability to step up in the clutch, would have kept UConn out of contention.

Walker was key in the clutch in several situation from this past week, but he did not bring it on a game-to-game basis like "The Jimmer."

Though this could be twisted into a support of Walker, Kemba only shot 35 percent in his team's losses this season (he shot 43 percent for the season).

Meanwhile, Fredette averaged 30 points per game and shot 44 percent (46 percent on the year) in his team's four losses, so none of his team's losses were on him.

Kemba's worst game this season: Eight points (in 38 minutes!) in a 66-58 home loss to Syracuse.

Jimmer's worst game this season: 13 points ... in a 12-point win at Creighton.

If you want to make a "See? Walker is more valuable to his team!" argument based off this, be my guest.

But shouldn't Fredette be rewarded for always showing up?


Kemba did cool off for a few games after his hot start, but with the exception of Lamb, the whole team was off that game. I would chalk that one up to a good game plan on Syracuse's end.

For a team that I expected to have a season much like what Marquette had this year, I can understand one team really shutting down Walker and Co., especially when Connecticut faced the caliber of opponents it did this season.

According to, UConn's strength of schedule (where zero is the average team's schedule) was 10.26, the highest for the team since it began keeping track of the stat in the 1979-1980 season. BYU's was 5.66. Since zero is the average, that put's UConn's opponents at about 25% tougher than BYU. Did Walker have a 25% better supporting cast to perhaps equal that out? Frankly, I don't know how to quantify that, but my gut says no.


There's no point in even debating who played a tougher schedule -- UConn plays in the Big East and BYU plays in the Mountain West, so I'll concede any SOS-related argument you throw at me.

However, allow me just a quick second to point out that BYU and UConn both finished with 3-seeds in the Big Dance and that the Cougars finished the regular season No. 5 in the RPI, while Walker's UConn finished in 14th. Anyway, I think you will instantly regret bringing basketball-reference into this because it allows me to expose Walker as a gunner and Jimmer as smooth a shooter as Jimmy Chitwood.

Let's look at "True Shooting Percentage," which is a gauge which takes into account all the shots a player takes (2's, 3's and FTs). Fredette finished the regular season with a TSP of .598; Walker was at .543.

Now, let's look at "Win Shares," which involves a mathematical formula that determines how many wins a player helps contribute to his team's bottom line. Fredette finishes with 7.8 win shares; Walker finished with 6.4.

More important than any numbers, though, is that, in college basketball, this was the year of Jimmer. When we are looking back on this season five, 10 years from now, we will remember this season as the one where the kid with the funny name scored all those points.

Walker had a fantastic week at the Big East Tournament and a great season, but what Fredette did was transcendent. Think about it: The Glens Falls-native had people trying to figure out if they had "Versus" and random CBS sports channels so they could watch (freaking) Mountain West basketball games to get a glimpse of him.

Jimmers win shares also come almost completely from the offensive side. 5.1 vs 1.9, whereas Walker is more balanced at 3.5 vs 2.9. That makes Jimmer much more of a defensive liability. Do they give MVPs to DHs in baseball? No. Hell, even Steph Curry, whom everyone called out for his defense, had a defensive win share of 3.5.

Also, in the five games for BYU since the Davies popped the honor code, (Can we keep that in there? Probably not.), Fredette has played an average of 38.2 minutes per game, (let's call it 19% of the total time a position is filled on the court in a game), yet has only 12% of the team's rebounds, 21% of their steals, and for a point guard, has only 28% of the team's assists. I know he is usually the one who is scoring and therefore his assists would be down, but outside of scoring, he isn't bringing much else to the table.

Kemba, during that same stretch, has averaged 38 minutes per game, the same 19%, yet claims 23% of the team's rebounds, (with the Big East's second leading rebounder Alex Oriakhi banging the glass too), 25% of the team's steals, and 40% of the team's assists.

Kemba is multi-dimentional, and has more of a positive effect on more areas of the team.

Also, going back to Steph Curry. He is for what I remember 2008. He played for a mid-major in a smaller conference and carried a Davidson team with his incredible offensive display night after night. 2008 was the year of Steph Curry, yet he did not win Player of the Year. Tyler Hansbrough did.


Hold up -- Steph Curry was a fine college player and had a magical tournament run in 2008, but he was not the type of force that Mr. Fredette has been this season. Curry scored a lot of points on a team that earned a 10-seed in the tournament; Fredette did everything Curry did while also leading BYU to a top-10 ranking for most of the season.

(Sidenote: Tyler Hansbrough's little brother -- you know, Ben Hansbrough, the guy who beat Walker out for the Big East Player of the Year? -- may have an issue with this whole Jimmer vs. Kemba debate.)

I don't think it's really prudent to argue against Walker as the better all-around player of the two -- since, Kemba is the better all-around player -- but Fredette's singular skill to score the basketball is unmatched by any current player in college basketball, and perhaps any college player since "Pistol" Pete Maravich.

Your argument for Walker as the player of the year is sound and, in a normal year, I would likely give him the nod and agree with you. But what Fredette has done -- scored so many points that BYU basketball matters on a national stage and is a legitimate Final Four contender -- transcends normalcy, and thus the statistics are only part of his case. Fredette is the player of the year in the most literal sense of the phrase -- he is the player everyone will remember from this year as college basketball's singular greatest story.

I suppose we can leave it to the good, rational people of the comments section to decide whether Jimmer or Kemba is the Player of the Year.

I think the real winners here are the basketball fans of New York. For all the similarities we have pointed out, the one non-basketball sameness is their home state. Jimmer, as we in the capital region are all familiar with, is from Glens Falls, and Kemba is from the Bronx. While both left town for their collegiate careers, New York can still lay claim to the two best college basketball players of 2011.


Blogger Raimundo said...

Great job done here...both men made fine arguments. Unfortunately, Donato, I've got to go with Jimmer here. Kemba will have his revenge as the superior NBA player, but for now Fredette should get the glory.

March 14, 2011 at 9:48 PM 
Blogger Zachary said...

Yeah. Jimmer rhymes with shimmer.

March 15, 2011 at 6:14 PM 

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