Warning: I’m about to trot out a preseason All-American team. Though Luke Harangody, Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins, Patrick Patterson, and Kyle Singler have been named “preseason All-Americans” by the Associated Press, the very term is of course absurd, on a par with “clear winner of a race that hasn’t been run yet.” What we really mean by it, naturally, is something more like “best players from last year who are still in the game.”
And on that basis I think I’ve found five players who rise to the top. So I’ve rewarded them with a label I’ve called absurd. Go figure.
Before I open the five envelopes, though, I want to say a word about Patterson. The AP has put me in an interesting spot with respect to the Kentucky junior. You see there’s this book coming out any day now in which you’ll find me stomping around with great vigor and élan as I deplore the historic injustice that was done last year when Patterson was so very overlooked and underrated. And now you’re telling me that just a couple hundred days later he’s a first-team All-American? Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down there national hoops consensus! I am a huge Patterson fan and I believe with every fiber of my being that the Gillispie fiasco robbed him of his due measure of applause, adulation, and awe in 2008-09. But the rules of this game are that there can only be five All-Americans, and so I’m going to console the no doubt crestfallen Patrick by naming him this team’s sixth man. (Better yet, Sixth Man. See? It’s a Big Honor!)
Now, the winners are:
Cole Aldrich, Kansas
No argument with the Associated Press here, certainly. Perspicacious voters of the AP, I salute you! If you want to read me going on and on about how great Aldrich is and thus how smart you all were, buy that aforementioned book of ours, coming soon.
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Warren is similar to Aldrich in that both players had insanely effective seasons last year that were largely overlooked nationally due to all the attention being showered, quite rightly, on Blake Griffin. Unlike Aldrich, however, Warren was a direct--and huge--beneficiary of Griffin's stellar performance. So let me be clear: Warren’s numbers for efficiency should dip this year. (If they don’t, wow.) But right now “teammate to Blake Griffin” is the only context we have with which to judge Warren’s performance. In that context he was unbelievable, hitting shots from both sides of the arc and at the line. Bill Self has said Warren is the most talented offensive player he’s ever recruited. (Doubtless leading Deron Williams to say, “Uh, hello? Me? Any of this ringing a bell?”) Warren did nothing last year to cast doubt on such a statement.
Jerome Randle, Cal
Direct comparisons between players can be invidious--no two situations are ever going to be exactly alike--but in this case I just can’t help it. Behold Jerome Randle and Sherron Collins, two feisty five-foot-something scoring point guards for major-conference teams currently ranked in the top 15.
ORtg %Poss. 2FG% 3FG% ARate TORate FT% FTRate
Randle 121.1 25.2 53.4 46.3 28.3 19.5 86.3 42.3
Collins 108.6 28.0 47.2 37.6 29.0 19.1 79.5 31.9
When the numbers on offense tilt in Player A’s favor, people who like Player B will say: What about defense? But I don’t suppose any of these nationally prominent scoring point guards are exactly going to be confused with Rajon Rondo. Suffice it to say Randle’s continuing obscurity is exhibit A for hoops lovers on the left coast who perennially lament that theirs is an overlooked corner of the gym. (Overlooked purely in terms of popular perception, mind you, for certainly the NBA has proven to be suitably attentive to goings-on in the Pacific time zone.) In this case that lament has substance.
Evan Turner, Ohio State
I can’t point to any single discrete facet of Turner’s game and say, “See? He’s awesome!” like I can with Aldrich’s defensive rebounding or Randle’s point-guarding. But just look at this guy. In the upcoming book that I’ve been known to mention on occasion, colleague Kevin Pelton, who seems to know a thing or two about the next level, calls Turner “the best all-around prospect in the country.” No, I’m not picking players here according to their NBA potential--if I were the last name on my team would get bumped by this or that tremendously hyped freshman. I just think Kevin nailed it descriptively: Turner’s all-around game is incomparable in the literal sense--I don’t know who to compare him to. He’s a 6-7 point wing who attacks the rim, gets to the line, hits the defensive glass, and dishes assists. I decided my team could use one of those.
Matt Howard, Butler
If you liked Tyler Hansbrough's game you should like Matt Howard. Both players kill opposing defenses silently and cumulatively by going to the line and making their free throws. Again and again and again. And before you say “Yeah, but who’s he doing it against?” keep in mind the top half of the Horizon doesn't have to apologize to anyone, least of all me. (Cleveland State, for one, seemed to fare pretty well against big bad Wake Forest last March.) In addition Howard’s an excellent rebounder whose numbers on the offensive and defensive ends are nevertheless depressed by the fact that he plays for Brad Stevens and alongside Gordon Hayward, respectively. (Stevens prefers the certainty of transition D to the risk of offensive boards. Hayward is a fellow beast on the defensive glass.) He makes 56 percent of his twos and, not least, he does all of the above at a listed height of 6-7. Only thing: Howard’s foul-prone. He fouled out of Butler’s four-point loss to LSU, for example, in the first round of the tournament. (Though not before recording 22 points in 25 minutes on ten made free throws.) But, hey, that’s why I have that Sixth Man I was telling you about.
Give me these five, with Patterson coming off the bench, and I have everything I need to win in Indy next April. Team speed, defense, perimeter shooting, rebounding--the works. Even I could coach this team.
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John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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