The title of best player is always up for debate in the world of sports. Sure, some NBA teams possess super stars that leave little doubt like the Heat and LeBron James, the Magic and Dwight Howard, or the Zombie Sonics and Kevin Durant, but at the college level things change drastically. Several players contribute in a variety of ways to allow great debates about which player has the greatest and most positive impact on his team.
This past off-season saw the departure of our two best players in Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten. While some may not agree with declaring Wroten as one of our top players, it is hard to ignore everything he did for the Husky squad. What this means for the 2012-2013 season is a wide opening for several individuals to elevate their games to the next level and take over the reigns as the squad’s “Best Player.”
Being the best player is about more than points per games or how many rebounds a player can snatch up in 40 minutes. The best player needs to have intangibles that don’t show up in the post-game box score. The best player needs to dominate all aspects of the game and thrive because of it.
Arguably the best player in recent, if not all, UW history is Isaiah Thomas and he is exactly the sort of player I refer to when I talk about a guy doing more than just hitting baskets and making plays. I.T. ruled the court with both his skills and his attitude. The guy refused to lose. He did everything and more to motivate and carry his team through adversity as well as success. If you have any doubt about how good I.T. was and is, just watch this.
My initial reaction was to peg Scott Suggs as the best player next season. Suggs has everything a team could want in terms of size, athleticism, and experience. After facing a tough foot injury right before the 2011-2012 season began, Suggs opted to take a medical redshirt and return in full force for a complete and dominating senior season. Built just like Ross, Suggs stands at 6-6 and nearly 200lbs. Suggs’ long athletic frame allows him to elevate above the competition at the hoop and outside the arc.
During his junior season campaign, Suggs showed a huge improvement concerning his inside game. Suggs was able to attack the rim and finish inside. We are all well aware of Suggs’ ability to nail the outside shot. Suggs was arguably the best sharpshooter on the team in 2010-2011 due to his consistency and accuracy. Watching Suggs during warm-ups this past season has only increased my confidence in his ability to drain the long ball. As a fifth year senior, Suggs has more experience than most. Suggs has participated in 3 NCAA tournament appearances as well as having won a regular season title and two tournament titles (I won’t include his redshirt season as he did not play in any games).
I believe Suggs will step in to fill Ross’ shoes immediately and will make a strong case for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. The one aspect on his game that Suggs can improve on to solidify his position as the Best Player is rebounding. Suggs has never been a great rebounder, but the increased presence of his inside game will allow Suggs more opportunities near the hoop to snag a few extra boards. I can easily envision Suggs averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds per game. That type of production combined with excellent senior leadership and tenacity would make for an amazing player and could certainly be a game changer in tight situations.
C.J. Wilcox should be involved in any type of “Best Player” argument, whether simply the Husky Basketball team or the Pac-12 conference. Wilcox averaged a quiet 14 points per game last season despite battle nagging injuries that prevented him from seeing action in several games and limiting his play time in others. With a full summer to heal the stress fracture in his hip/leg, Wilcox is primed to light up the court for what could be his final season. Wilcox is attending the Kevin Durant skill camp this summer along with playing the the Seattle Summer league games, giving him plenty of opportunities to work on his abilities before the preseason games across the Atlantic.
As with Suggs, Wilcox can strengthen his argument for the team’s best player by improving his rebounding from 3 boards per game to 5 or 6. A greater aspect to improve upon, perhaps more important than a few more rebounds per game, would be Wilcox’s ability to play into and through contact near the paint to draw fouls and free throws. Wilcox averaged 84% from the line last season and at one point had hit over 30 free throws in a row. Romar’s teams have always been known to be unsuccessful at the foul line, yet individual players have made great strides in improving their shot from the charity stripe and in doing so become game changers.
These individuals include I.T. and Jon Brockman. Last season, Wroten averaged nearly 8 free throws attempts per game, making under 60% on the season. With Wilcox’s 84% average those 4 points from 8 free throws becomes nearly 7 points per game. 3 points extra per night is a huge number from the foul line where close games are won and lost. What could ultimately hold Wilcox back from being the best player on the 2012-2013 squad is his quiet nature. In terms of sheer athletic ability, no one can match-up with Wilcox.
Wilcox has been the fastest at the mile, is one of the quickest sprinters on the team, and has the highest vertical jump of anyone. Wilcox out jumped Ross last season and we have all seen what type of plays can occur when a player has huge hops. If Wilcox can become not only a leader in terms of production, but also as a vocal and emotional leader, he could be a favorite for Player of the Year awards.
Aziz N’Diaye would be my third pick for top player on the team. N’Diaye’s size and defensive presence alone put him near the top of the list. N’Diaye showed great improvement to his footwork, post moves, and in softening his hands. The big man is no longer a black hole in the middle where the ball will never return from. N’Diaye showed better court vision knowing when to take his man to the hoop and when to kick the ball back out to the perimeter. N’Diaye is already a supreme rebounder, picking up nearly 8 per night, but could take another step forward by boxing out better on the offensive end and allowing his length to take charge.
Where N’Diaye can really improve is his offensive game. This has always been the weakest part of N’Diaye’s game, but his jump hook is improving steadily. I would also like to see N’Diaye throw down a few more dunks. Too often, N’Diaye is right next to the hoop and opts for a dainty little lay-in. Throw down, big man, throw down. Dunks are the highest percentage shots there are. At 7-0, it is hard to have a dunk blocked inside 4 feet. Take a page out of this kid’s book, N’Diaye, it’ll help you immensely. If N’Diaye can continue improving his ability to catch the ball and finish at the rim, he could quite possibly average 14 points per game on top of 8 rebounds and a block or two a night. All that production does not even begin to tell the whole tale, something I argued earlier would be critical in determining the team’s best player. How many times has an opposing player driven towards the lane only to see N’Diaye towering in the paint? How many times has that player then changed his mind and opted for either a terrible jumper or been forced to kick the ball back outside the paint? That is the type of impact that doesn’t show up in the box score. It’s the type of impact that every player should strive for.
A fourth, perhaps outside pick, would be Abdul Gaddy. Gaddy has struggled to live up to the All-American hype that surrounded him coming into his freshman season. Gaddy came to the UW as a quite young 17 year old, trying to compete against 22 year old players who were much stronger, faster, and experienced. Gaddy’s sophomore campaign started phenomenally, but sadly he blew his ACL right as Pac-10 play began. Gaddy spent the summer recuperating his knee and appeared to be on track for a solid 2011-2012 year.
Gaddy spent much of this past season looking slower and more cautious, something that was not all that surprising given his newly injured knee. At the end of the year, Gaddy finally realized how deadly he can be when driving the lane. Not only does it open the opportunity to kick out for an assisted 3-pointer, but it also allows Gaddy to get a good look at the hoop down low in the paint where his teardrop shot can be put to good use. What Gaddy needs to do in order to become our best player is to take this team over and make it his.
This will be Gaddy’s senior season. His last hurrah. Gaddy must develop that seasoned, vocal leadership this team so dearly lacked last season. Gaddy could average double digit points if he attacked the rim consistently and improved his 3-point accuracy. And, while it may seem greedy, I would really like to see Gaddy average 7 assists per game. Gaddy has amazing court vision and has a great knack for making solid passes to open players. I believe Romar’s play calling is what is holding Gaddy back from averaging those types of numbers. If Romar can develop a few more motion offensive plays, Gaddy will have more opportunities to deliver the rock to open guys on the perimeter and in the post. With the addition of Suggs as a steady hand inside and out, Gaddy has one more tool at his disposal to spread the floor and make things happen. Another important point to note is the absence of Wroten allows Gaddy to resume taking a majority of the point guard play time, meaning more play-making opportunities to boost his stats.
So who do you think will take over in 2012-2013? One of these four? Someone else? Let us know in the comments below.