— Who’s your Player of the Year? It seems like the only names I hear when talking heads broach the subject are Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, and Jared Sullinger. Sure, JaJuan Johnson gets some short-term love in the aftermath of a game in which he personally drags Purdue to victory. And the always-correct Ken Pomeroy maintains that Terrence Jones and Nolan Smith should be in the discussion.
But are they?
Let’s let Google answer that question for us. I compiled a list of a couple dozen top players and searched for each of them in conjunction with the phrase “national player of the year,” limiting results to the month of January. I recorded the number of results returned for each player, and then used Wordle to make what I like to call a hype cloud: a word cloud where the size of each player’s name corresponds to the number of times he’s mentioned online.
Here’s the result:
Yep, looks like a three-horse race to me. But it obviously hasn’t always been that way. I thought it would be interesting to see how the hype has shifted throughout the season. To do that, I used the same process as above, but looked at different time periods.
Here is the preseason POY hype cloud:
Sullinger and Kyle Singler were slight favorites, but a good 15 to 20 players were getting significant mentions, including Harrison Barnes. Kemba Walker and the Jimmer were among those that were in the running, but clearly a tier below.
Now here’s the cloud for the month of December:
Poor Kyrie Irving. His toe is all that’s (not) standing in the way of a crazy four-man PoY race, which was starting to round into shape last month.
Let’s take a closer look at the remaining big three, and try to figure out if their hype is in proportion to their production. To make team hype clouds, I used the same process as above, except my internet search was for a player’s name in conjunction with his team (for example: “Jared Sullinger + “Ohio State”). I did this for all the players on BYU, Ohio State, and Connecticut.
Here’s the team hype cloud for the Cougars:
This is telling us that — surprise! — Fredette gets mentioned far more times than any other BYU player.
But that’s probably appropriate. Players get talked about when they’ve done something above average or contributed more than their fair share. So, I tried to simulate what the hype cloud would look like if the reporting was completely fair, and mentioned each player in proportion to how much value they’ve produced.
To do that, I need a single number that sums up a player’s total contribution to the team. Unfortunately, defense isn’t very well quantified in basketball, so I settled for one number that represents just a player’s offensive production. That should work well enough, since most PoY voting tends to focus on offense, anyway.
I used the raw individual offensive efficiency ratings (ORtg) listed on kenpom.com, adjusted them for opponent strength (using Pomeroy’s defensive SOS values), subtracted the value of an average player (100.8), and finally multiplied that number by the player’s percentage of minutes played (%Min) and percentage of possessions used (%Poss). This should give a rough estimate of how much additional offensive production a player has given his team, compared to an NCAA-average player. I used these production-over-average values the same way I used the Google search result count before, and created what I’ll call production clouds.
This doesn’t differ too much from the hype cloud, which tells us that coverage has been reasonably fair. Fredette’s main sidekicks — Davies, Hartsock, and Emery — probably deserve a bit more praise, but the fawning over the Jimmer is justified.
Now let’s take a look at Ohio State.
First, the team hype cloud:
Sullinger’s is the biggest name here, but the spotlight is shared to a much greater extent than it is with BYU. Is this free love justified, or is Sullinger really carrying his team? Here’s the production cloud, so we can check:
The difference between this production cloud and the one for BYU is striking. Sullinger has boatloads more help, plus doesn’t dominate to the extent that Fredette does, which explains why he’s solidly in third place in the POY race. The coverage here looks fair, at least for Sullinger himself. Jon Diebler has some justified gripes, though, as he’s played a big role in their offensive success, without garnering a ton of praise.
I hope Connecticut’s clouds show a difference between hype and production, or I’m going to have to come up with a different hook for this article.
Here’s the hype cloud for the Huskies:
Kemba Walker is the sun, teammates orbiting dutifully, depending on him for heat, energy, and life itself. Or, it seems that way, as only 4 other players with names big enough to read. Really? That can’t be a true reflection of the team, can it?
Here’s the production cloud, to give us our answer:
That looks more reasonable. Suddenly we find out there are a couple guys named Donnell Beverly and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel making not-insignificant contributions, and that this Roscoe Smith fellow ought not be so overlooked. Yes, Walker still looms large, but this looks a bit more like ‘Kemba and team’ as opposed to ‘Kemba is team.’
So, we’ve learned that Kemba Walker gets a bit more dap than he deserves, and that Jared Sullinger has more help than Walker or Jimmer Fredette. If this award were all about offense, those facts would lead me to support Fredette. Unfortunately for him, defense matters, and the consensus seems to be that his isn’t on par with Walker’s. I guess that black mark means they’ve all got their blemishes, so how about we let them play for two more months, and then decide.