Friday, March 2, 2012

All-ACC: Sorting Out the Top 20

We've gone through the All-Defensive team and the All-Freshman team, now its time for the All-ACC teams.

Remember this - we are picking the best five player, then the next best five, then the next best five. This is, essentially, a draft of college players

Earlier this week I narrowed the candidate list down to 20 players, and the events of the week haven't led me to change that top 20. Now comes the really tough part, sorting those players into four teams - 1st team, 2nd team, 3rd team and the 'last five out' so to speak.

I'm using a heavy, heavy lean towards conference play and if you read this you know I'm a big believer in advanced, tempo-free stats. I'm using my own self-made cheat sheet to help in that regard. This really becomes an exercise in splitting hairs, where someone else could make reasonable arguments for everyone on this list to be a team higher or a team lower. The one thing I tried to stress this year was caring about defense - it's half the game and it should be more than just a passing thought when filling out the ballot.

We'll work backwards, discussing the reasons why each player ends up where they do.

The Last Five Out (4th Team)
Mason Plumlee - Had a great out of conference season but really fell off, especially towards the end of the season including getting replaced in the starting line-up by elder brother Miles. Love the rebounding, and I like that he improved his free-throw shooting late in the year, but its tough to put someone in the top 15 when his own coach is benching him at the end of the season.

CJ Harris - Just being a scorer isn't enough. Harris scores (though when you remove pace he only ranks 7th in the league in scoring) but he doesn't do much else. He's a decent passer but he turns it over a good bit for a wing player and he's part of a defensive team that ranked dead last in the ACC.

Durand Scott - I love the rebounding from the guard spot. That, along with a good assist rate and fairly low turnover rate from a primary ball-handler (Scott's not a point, per say, but he's got the ball in his hands a lot) are why he made the top 20 to begin with. But I'm not a huge fan of him defensively, and he has not been particularly efficient as a scorer this season.

Andre Young - I like Young's efficiency as a scorer and obviously his low turnover rate. He's a decent but not fantastic defender (a lot of that is due to his size, but he certainly makes the most of his talent defensively). He doesn't rebound well but given his stature that's hardly surprising. Young is a deserving All-ACC candidate but he falls off my ballot simply because I have 16 other players ahead of him.

Ryan Kelly - I'm a big Kelly fan, in that he's an exceptionally efficient scorer who's also a decent rebounder who doesn't turn it over very much. He simply becomes a victim of the numbers game, and while I think he's a good defender the guy who just beats him out for the 3rd team is an awesome defender and that's ultimately why he's here and Tanner Smith is one spot ahead of him.

3rd Team 
Tanner Smith - Smith is versatile and one of the top five defenders in the ACC, in my opinion. He's got a better assist rate than everyone on this list apart from Lorenzo Brown & Kendall Marshall. He crashes the defensive glass (Scott Wood could take a lesson or two from Tanner). The turnovers are higher than I'd want and he's an efficient, but not prolific, scorer. Nothing about Smith jumps out but the combination of doing so many things well places him here.

Kenny Kadji - I want big men to rebound, and Kadji is 6'11" but allowing his 6'5" guard teammate to be his rebounding equivalent on both offense and defense - that's a problem. Again, we are splitting hairs here but the scoring and efficient shooting isn't good enough when you don't rebound - especially when your team could really use the help.

Seth Curry - Curry has really come on strong lately after struggling to adapt to his role as pseudo-point guard. He's scoring, as you might expect from a shooter of his caliber, very efficiently while also keeping his turnovers down. His rebounding hasn't been great but among the guards he's fairly average, and he's actually very similar in profile to both Harris and Young. He beats them out due to better defense (over Harris) and better efficiency (over Young).

Lorenzo Brown - Lorenzo was not on the first iteration of my ballot, but the more I thought about it the more I came to this conclusion - if you vote for Kendall Marshall you have to vote for Lorenzo Brown. He's the better scorer, shooter, rebounder and defender. As far as assists rate, the difference between him and the rest of the league is a whopping nine percent. He does more stuff on the court than Marshall as a whole and is just as important to his team. I don't love the efficiency, I don't like the turnovers at all - but I can't turn in a ballot that contains Marshall and not Brown.

Erick Green - Depending on who returns to the ACC next year, and the growth rate of VT's talented-but-inconsistent freshman, Green could become a serious POY candidate next season. He's kept a super young, struggling Tech team in way more games than they deserved to be in this year. He's posted an insanely low turnover rate while managing to keep up a good assist rate and score for his team. His efficiency has come down lately, which has bumped him to the 3rd team, but he remains one of the more underrated players in the league.

2nd Team

CJ Leslie - A guy who wasn't even close to making my mid-season list, he's been simply incredible lately for the Pack. He's brought his shooting up despite continued struggles at the free-throw line, he's brought his turnovers down considerably and when he focuses a valuable defender (CJ Leslie as a defensive player is a topic for another time, but the short version is he's better than you think).

Kendall Marshall - No no elicits more controversy than Marshall. He is literally last or second-to-last on my cheat sheet in every offensive category except assists - where he's far and away the best. I do not doubt his importance to Carolina, but I'm judging the 15 best players not the 15 most important players to a team - because I can't judge that without being on each and every team in the league. You can't know 'importance', you can only know contribution.

And with Marshall, his contributions are a historic assist rate to go with a middling shooting percentage, low scoring, no rebounding, poor defense and a high turnover rate. He's the perfect player for the system and talent that is around him, but that doesn't make him one of the best five players in the league in the league. All that said, I cannot begrudge anyone for where they put Marshall on their ballot. If you think he belongs on the first team, we can agree to disagree.

Bernard James - James gets a huge bump because of his defense (as does Henson one team up from him). As an offensive player he's an excellent shooter but doesn't get as many touches as he probably should (you could blame Hamilton for this but for the purposes of this list its his own fault he's not more involved) and also turns the ball over way too often. But he's a monster on the glass on both ends, and his superior defense is enough to make up for some of the holes in his offensive game.

Terrell Stoglin - Defense matters, Terrell. And while I admire Stoglin's ability to produce so efficiently despite the highest usage rate (by far) of any player in the league, he's also one of the reason's the Terps have the league's third worst defense. He's quick and athletic but he doesn't seem to use those attributes on defense. The scoring and the nice turnover rate aren't enough to make up for it.

Harrison Barnes - Barnes is a great scorer who plays on a fast-paced team that helps inflate his scoring totals. But he's not a particularly great shooter (Rivers has him beat in TS%, for instance). I'd like to see him rebound more considering his size and athleticism, but part of that is having two glass hogs like Henson & Zeller on the same team. He's an extremely good player, an underrated defender for Carolina on the perimeter who doesn't turn the ball over very much. Saturday could easily determine if he stays here or moves up a spot.

1st Team
Austin Rivers - Like Snaer, he gets a bonus for his shot over Zeller. Rivers slumped a little bit at the start of ACC play, making his position here less than certain. Like Barnes he's a scorer first, but he rebounds well for his size and distributes the ball effectively. The turnovers are problematic, though not surprising as a freshman. Also similar to Barnes in that no one discusses them as defenders but both are above-average in that respect.

Michael Snaer - One of the better defenders in the league (he would have been sixth on my All-Defensive team), he's also an efficient scorer who rebounds well for a guard and distributes at a decent. The turnovers are the glaring weakness in his game. And finally, while I love stats as much as anyone, Snaer gets extra credit for hitting two game-winning shots in conference play. Those shots moved him up a couple of spots on my ballot, because without them Florida State isn't in third place and they aren't solidly in the NCAA Tournament.

John Henson - He's a beast of a defensive player, which is enough to lift him to this spot despite his very bad shooting (bad by All-ACC standards, mind you). Being the best defensive rebounder, shot blocker and general defensive menace in the league helps to keep some of that other stuff from mattering. Very low turnovers and not being a complete block hole (he has a good assist rate by center standards) help solidify his spot as one of the best five players in the league.

Mike Scott - Scott has probably had the best full season of any player in the league, but as I said before conference play matters far more than non-conference play on my ballot. Regardless, Scott has essentially carried Virginia on his shoulder's offensively this season despite being the focal point of every defense. There's no way Virginia is an NCAA team without him.

Tyler Zeller - No one has had a better ACC season that Zeller. Efficient on offense, good defense, attacking the glass on both ends of the court. Should be, and probably will be, the Player of the Year in the league.

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