1. PG) Trae Young (Oklahoma) Fr.
It’s an exciting year to be an Oklahoma fan. The Sooner’s will end the 2017-18 athletic season wth a national player of the year on the the gridiron and the hardwood. Just as Baker Mayfield ran away with the Heisman, Trae Young is running away with the Naismith. With the numbers Young is putting up, they may as well give him the trophy now, because no one is going to catch him. Young is remarkably leading the country not only in points per game, but also in assists per game. The fact that a freshman point guard is averaging a double double is incredible enough. But the fact that he’s doing so to the tune of almost 30 points per game is sensational. In fact, a “sensation” is perhaps the best word to describe Trae Young. Despite being a five-star recruit, Young entered college with decidedly less fanfare than other standouts in the freshman class. However, Young has burst onto the scene and not only put up eye-popping individual numbers, but also has elevated his team to an 11-1 record and a #7 ranking. For an Oklahoma program that went 11-20 last season, the leap this team has made has been astounding. Furthermore, almost all of the improvement comes down to the addition of Young. His skillset is even drawing comparisons to that of NBA superstar, Stephen Curry. Trae Young has the handle, passing ability, and deep range like Curry. But lest we forget Young is doing all of this in his freshman year. Whereas Curry didn’t quite explode like Young has until his Junior season at Davidson. Although this by no means guarantees that Young will be the player that Curry is at next level, the sky is certainly the limit for the Oklahoma freshman’s potential. A Naismith award is merely his first stop.
2. PF) Marvin Bagley III (Duke) Fr.
In any other year Marvin Bagley would be a legitimate contender for this award. If it wasn’t for the sensational play of fellow freshman, Trae Young, Bagley would be garnering a lot more attention in this conversation. Attention is something Bagley is no stranger to. After reclassifying late in 2017, Bagley become the the number rated recruit in the 2017 class. All of the talk in preseason surrounded whether Bagley or former number one recruit Michael Porter Jr would be a better prospect. Furthermore, Bagley has endured a ton of scrutiny as one of the top candidates for the number one pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Despite being under the microscope, Bagley has flourished. Some had their doubts about how Bagley would fit in to a Duke offense typically characterized by perimeter shooting. However, the freshman has unquestionably become the number one scoring option for the Blue Devils. That in itself speaks to how well Marvin Bagley has acquitted himself this year. On a team that includes Grayson Allen and five star freshmen Trevon Duval, Gary Trent, and Wendell Carter, it’d be easy to imagine one finding it hard to get touches. But Bagley has had no such trouble. The Duke power forward 21.9 is averaging points per game. A number good enough to place him 19th in scoring nationally, and 5th out of players plying their trade in major conferences. What has been even more impressive are his rebounding numbers. Marvin has racked 11.6 rebounds per game; a figure good enough for 5th nationally. For a kid who was supposed be in high school this year, this type of production is stunning. But as well as Bagley has played, his star may be eclipsed by fellow freshmen big man DeAndre Ayton. As both a better defender, and a more physcially developed prospect, Ayton has for now leapfrogged Bagley as the number one NBA prospect on many scouts’ draft boards. Yet this is not to say Bagley cannot regain his position. At any rate neither of these two will have any shot at the Naismith while Trae Young is around.
3. C) DeAndre Ayton (Arizona) Fr.
The third freshman on my list looks like anything but. One look at that photo of DeAndre Ayton will tell you one thing: that’s a big boy. Despite being a freshman, he has both literally and figuratively looked like a man amongst boys this season. Ayton has displayed a diverse skillset on both offense and defense that has vaulted him up draft boards. Currently, many pundits are forecasting that Ayton will be the number one pick in this year’s draft, ahead of players like Marvin Bagley III, Luka Doncic, and Michael Porter Jr. This as much due to his frame and potential, as it is to his tangible production. For that reason he has been able to implant himself in the conversation for national player of the year. Like the other two on this list, Ayton has managed stellar numbers on the offensive end. The freshman has averaged 20 points per game in an offense crowded with top level scorers like Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins. Even more spectacular is his rebounding ability; a category which he ranks 4th nationally. As if averaging a double double was not enough to cement him as a player of the year candidate, Ayton has one thing the other two players do not. That is elite ability and potential as a rim protector. Although, Bagley is a good defender himself, Ayton’s combination of height, length, frame, and athleticism make him a constant threat as a shot blocker . His versatility and ability on both ends of the floor make him the top prospect in this year’s draft. However, these attributes will not win him the Naismith award.
Who Can Make a Push:
4. PG) Tra Holder (Arizona State) Sr
The first upperclassman on my list, Tra Holder has undoubtedly been one of the best players in the country. What’s been more surprising is that his play has driven the Sun Devils to become one of the best teams in the country. A look at the stat sheet will tell you that the chief way in which Holder has been able to affect the game is through his socring ability. His 22.1 PPG have been good for 15th nationally, and 3rd among players in major conferences. For all that he’s done for the Sun Devils, he simply hasn’t been able to impact the game in as many ways as the players ahead of him on this list.
5. PG) Colin Sexton (Alabama) Fr.
Colin sexton was supposed to be the freshman point guard to set the college basketball world ablaze. While that title belongs to Trae young, Sexton has not disappointed in his time with the tide. Heralded as the most exciting player in basketball coming into the season, Sexton has made good on expectations. He is an explosive athlete with great ball handling, scoring, and playmaking ability. 20.4 points per game as a freshman speak to his ability on offense. The kid also has clamps on defense, repeatedly showing an ability to lock down high level point guards when he needs to. One knock on Sexton is that his predilection for highlight reel plays sometimes leads to turnover issues. Nevertheless, Sexton is sure to bring his electrifying game to the NBA next year as a top ten pick in a stacked draft class. A freshman point guard will be taking home the Naismith award this year. However it won’t be Sexton.
6. SG) Allonzo Trier (Arizona) Jr.
Allonzo Trier was perhaps the most the popular player of the year pick in the preseason behind maybe only Miles Bridges. In the early stages of the season, that would’ve looked like a good bet as Trier came in hot out of the gate. The Wildcats’ junior started off the season averaging close to 30 points per game through the first few games of the season. Had he continued on this pace, he may have even been giving Trae Young a run for his money. In reality, he has come back down to earth a bit as the season has continued, partly due to both the emergence of DeAndre Ayton as a number one scoring option, and the return of Rawle Alkins to the lineup. Although just because his numbers have taken a dip, that doesn’t necessarily mean his play has. Trier has averaged upwards of 20 points per game on one the best teams in the country. He is undoubtedly a leader for the Wildcats, who will bring a tremendous roster to the tournament in march. He may still end up a first team All American, but the Naismith award is a pipe dream at this point.
7. SG) Trevon Blueitt (Xavier) Sr.
After last year’s unlikely tournament run, Blueitt could have entered the NBA draft and likely been a late first round to early second round pick. Instead he opted to return for a senior season at Xavier. His return meant that Musketeers would again be a contender come tournament time, and rightfully so. Blueitt is averaging almost 20 Point per game this year as well as 5.7 rebounds per game. Blueitt is one of the preeminent shooting guards in the country. Yet the Naismith award is not within his reach either. He’ll have to hope for another deep tournament run if he wants to win a trophy.
8.PG) Devonte Graham (Kansas) Sr.
Kanas point guard, Frank Mason, won the award last year. In the preseason, many predicted that another Kansas point guard, Devonte Graham, would have a chance bring the Jayhawks back to back Naismiths. Unfortunately, no one accounted for Trae Young exploding onto the scene. Graham has still managed almost 18 PPG and7.5 APG. These are stellar numbers in their own right. Additionally, Graham is a savvy defender with a knack for coming up with steals. ThesSenior is really jack of all trades for the Jayhwaks and a do it all point guard. Kansas will undoubtedly be a favorite come tournament time, and any success that they have will attributed in large part to Devonte Graham. But quite frankly, all of Grahams statistics and accolades will simply not be good enough to win a Naismith award this season. By no means does that indicate that Graham is would not a viable candidate in another year. Regrettably that seems to be the case for most of the candidates this year. No one’s numbers will eclipse those of Trae Young.
9.PF) Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame) Jr.
Bonzie Colson averaged a double double last year. What’s most impressive about that is the fact that he’s averaged over 10 rebounds per game, playing power forward and center at only 6’6. This is in large part why he was a player of the year favorite to start the season. He’s done more of the same this season again averaging a double double. But this time he’s elevated his scoring averages up 21 Points per game. Unfortunately he is all but eliminated from the conversation after breaking his foot a few days ago.
10. SF) Jordan Murphy (Minnesota) Jr.
Jordan Murphy has a made a tremendous leap this year. And while this type of jump was not necessarily unexpected, it it still remarkable what he’s accomplished early in the season. Averaging a double double in the big ten is no small feat. Add in the fact that he’s second in the country in rebounding as a small forward, and he has a legitimate case as one of the best players in college players. No big deal that he’s averaging over 19 PPG too. In another year he might get a shout. However, not in this year.
Others in Conversation:
PG) Jevon Carter (West Virginia) Sr.
The senior point guard is the quarterback and focal point of West Virginia’s offense. Carter has been a stalwart for the Mountaineers for a number of years and has shown to be able to affect the game in a multitude of ways. Carter is dogged defender who leads the nation in steals. Additionally, he is averaging 16.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 6.6 APG. Carter does it all for West Virginia, and is unquestionably the best player on the #6 ranked team in the country. Even on its own, that is enough to warrant mentioning his name.
C) Brandon McCoy (UNLV) Fr.
Brandon McCoy’s stellar play as a freshman has gone very under the radar. This is likely due the fact that McCoy doesn’t play at an esteemed program like Duke or Arizona, but rather at UNLV. Nevertheless, Brandon McCoy has averaged very similar numbers to his counterparts at the aforementioned programs. Just like Marvin Bagley and DeAndre Ayton, Brandon McCoy is averaging a double double. Yet 19 PPG and 10.3 RPG and 1.6 BPG will not be enough to surpass front court players averaging better numbers at higher level programs.
PG) Jalen Brunson (Villanova) Jr.
The argument for Jalen Brunson iw very similar to the arguments that can be made for Jevon Carter and Devonte Graham. Despite the presence of Mikal Bridges, Jalen Bridges is still the best player on the Wildcats. That is saying something, considering that Villanova is one of the top three teams in the country. Brunson is leading the team in both scoring and assists, with 18.9 PPG and 5 APG. It is easy to see why he was high up on the preseason Naismith award watch list. While impressive, his numbers simply aren’t as eye popping as those of some of the other players on this list.
SF) Miles Bridges (Michigan State) So.
It’s tough to say Bridges has disappointed while his team sits number one in the rankings. The best player on the best team in the country is rarely this low on the Naismith watch list. However, many would have a expected more of a jump in his numbers. That is not to say averages of 16.9 PPG and 7.7 RPG are not noteworthy. But at this point the odds on national player of the year favorite is more of an afterthought in the Naismith conversation.
SG) Grayson Allen (Duke) Sr.
A great year for Grayson Allen at Duke has been slightly overshadowed by teammate Marvin Bagley’s play. Despite not being the number one scoring option on the team Allen is still averaging upwards of 17 points per game. Additionally, there is something to be said about being the leader of what many consider the best team in the country. However, if anyone on Duke wins this award it will be Bagley, not Allen.
First Team All-Americans:
G) Trae Young
G) Tra Holder
G/F) Allonzo Trier
F) Marvin Bagley
C) DeAndre Ayton
Second Team All-Americans:
G) Jaen Brunson
G) Collin Sexton
G/F) Treveon Blueitt
F) Jordan Murphy
F) Bonzie Colson
Third Team All-Americans:
G) Jevon Carter
G) Devonte Graham
G) Miles Bridges
F) Jock Landale
C) Brandon McCoy