College basketball: A rather early look at Naismith Trophy favorites
The Naismith Trophy has been given annually to the best player in college basketball since 1969. The initial 50-man watch list for this year's award will be revealed Nov. 29th and the winner will be announced Sun., April 2nd at the Final Four in Phoenix, Arizona.
Buddy Hield of Oklahoma won last year to join these legends: Lew Alcindor, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson and Bill Walton.
Hield, a 6-4 guard, achieved an epic shooting season. He sank 50 percent of field goals, 46 percent of 3-pointers and 88 percent of free throws to average 25.0 points per game (2nd in the nation). The New Orleans Pelicans drafted him sixth overall in June.
Who can succeed Hield?
Here are nine favorites:
Grayson Allen, Duke (21.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Building off his success in the 2015 Final Four, Allen emerged as one of the country’s premier scorers last season. The Blue Devils relied on Allen (along with Brandon Ingram) to handle the basketball and create offense. Allen was extremely efficient, hitting 50 percent of 2-pointers, 41 percent of 3-pointers and 80 percent of free throws.
He made third-team AP All-American and is the lone returnee among the 15 players honored.
It will be interesting to watch how Allen’s role shifts this season. Duke welcomes a freshman class filled with scorers and returns a solid nucleus from a Sweet 16 squad.
Josh Hart, Villanova (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
Hart roamed the baseline and the fringe of the Naismith Watch most of last season.
The 6-5, 202-pound senior is a phenomenal finisher (59 percent of 2-pointers) and dangerous shooter (36 percent of 3-pointers) who fits perfectly in Villanova’s system as a multi-faceted wing with a nose for the ball.
The big stage doesn’t scare Hart, either. He scored 35 points on 21 shots and snagged 16 rebounds in the Final Four.
Josh Jackson, Kansas (freshman)
The Jayhawks need an impact player to replace Perry Ellis (graduated) and Wayne Selden (turned pro). Jackson lands in Lawrence with a reputation as a gifted scorer, relentless rebounder and potential triple-double threat. Kansas coach Bill Self thinks Jackson, an athletic 6-7, 185-pound small forward, can be the best freshman in the country, which is lofty praise considering the talent at the top in this year’s class.
Harry Giles, Duke (freshman)
Giles, a Winston-Salem, NC native, missed his sophomore season of high school basketball with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in his left knee. He tore the ACL in his right knee in the season opener at Oak Hill Academy last year.
Those injuries cast doubt on how effective Giles will be on opening night, but analysts expect him to be a dominant rebounder and scorer inside 15 feet. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils will be cautious with his rehab.
It’s just an individual workout, but Giles looks healthy and mobile in this video released earlier this week.
Melo Trimble, Maryland (14.8 ppg, 4.9 apg)
Trimble has made 363 free throws (5.2 per game) in two seasons at Maryland. Most of last season Trimble deferred to the talented players around him, assisting on 28 percent of the Terps’ baskets. He struggled beyond-the-arc (31 percent) but finished strong, averaging 20 points in Maryland’s three NCAA tournament games. With three starters gone, Trimble must return to the scoring first mentality he handled as a freshman, which should keep him in contention for postseason honors.
Joel Berry II, North Carolina (12.8 ppg, 3.8 apg)
Miraculous shooting and scoring from Marcus Paige rallied North Carolina in the national championship game. But it was Berry II, a 6-0 junior, who was their most consistent big-game guard.
In the Tar Heels 18 games against teams in the top 50 of KenPom.com ratings, Berry hit 52 percent of 2-pointers 40 percent of 3s and 95 percent of free throws (37 of 39). That generated a ridiculous 131.3 offensive rating. He scored 20 points in the title game loss to Villanova.
Paige and inside threat Brice Johnson graduated, so don’t be surprised if Berry II, who took 20 percent of the Heels shots last year, absorbs a greater role in Roy Williams’ up-tempo attack in 2016-17.
Malik Monk, Kentucky (freshman)
Monk is one of several talented rookies in Lexington.
Skal Labissiere, who played one season at Kentucky and was the 28th pick in last year’s draft, thinks the 6-3 scoring guard won’t need much time to capture the nation’s attention.
“Malik Monk was one of my teammates, and I think he can be the best player on that team," Labissiere told reporters at the NBA Draft Media Day. "He's a high-flyer, he can really shoot the basketball. He's athletic, he has hang-time in the air and he's very competitive. He's a winner. I think he might end up being the best player on that team.”
Monk won the McDonald’s All-American 3-point contest in March.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana (11.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
The 6-10, 255-pound center set a school record by shooting 68 percent last season. He earned All-Rookie honors in the Big Ten and appears poised to parlay his strong debut into an outstanding sophomore campaign.
The big fella slipped outside-the-arc and sank five 3-pointers (in 15 attempts) a year ago, but make no mistake -- he earns his scholarship in the low post and on the backboard. He grabbed one rebound every 3.9 minutes. Expect him to play more than 22 minutes per game and watch his productivity climb.
Kris Jenkins, Villanova (13.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
The last time we saw Jenkins he was in Houston swishing a 25-footer from the right wing at the buzzer to give the Wildcats their first national championship in 31 years.
You probably remember the shot. It capped an impressive offensive display in the NCAA tournament for Villanova and a deadly shooting streak for Jenkins, who was 17 of 33 in the six-game march to the title.
Jenkins, a 6-6, 240-pound matchup nightmare, became a pivotal part in the Wildcats’ balanced attack last season. He scored in double figures in 23 of the final 24 games with eight 20-point outbursts. His return made Villanova a serious contender for a second consecutive crown.