Monday, February 20, 2012

It's Time to Include Draymond Green in the National Player of the Year Discussion

By Charlie Scaturro

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images North America
Anythony Davis and Thomas Robinson. That’s where the National Player of the Year conversation pretty much begins and ends right now, and it’s fairly understandable.

If you have a television and are even remotely interested in college basketball, you’ve had the chance to experience the incredible freshman season that Davis is having in Lexington, and whether you’re talking about the absurd impact he has on the defensive side of the floor, or the fact that he’s the leading scorer and rebounder for a team that’s only lost one game and is the current favorite to cut down the nets in New Orleans, it’s clear to see why the 6’10’’ future lottery pick is the current front runner to win the National Player of the Year award.

Thomas Robinson isn’t far behind Davis in the unofficial Player of the Year standings, and his emergence under the basket for a 22-5 Kansas squad that is much better than anyone would have guessed after they lost the Morris twins, Josh Selby, Tyrel Reed, and Brady Morningstar, can’t be understated. Both Davis and Robinson are having great seasons for two of the best teams in the nation, and while they certainly deserve to be the front-runners for the most prestigious individual award given to a college basketball player, Draymond Green needs to be included in the conversation as well.

It’s ok with me if he doesn’t win, it’s ok with me if he comes in a distant third to Davis and Robinson, but he needs to at least be included in the conversation because what he’s doing for Michigan State is on par with what Davis and Robinson are doing for their respective teams. But if you listen to the guys who are paid to give their opinion about the Player of the Year race, the conversation doesn’t progress any further than Davis and Robinson (if you didn’t bother to click on that video, not only did you miss out on Greg Anthony’s incredible turtle neck sweater, but you missed a three minute and thirty second video that didn’t give mention to anyone besides Davis and Robinson). Again, both guys are playing some unbelievable basketball for two of the best teams in the country and one of them (most likely Davis) will be taking home the POY award, but there’s definitely room for more than just two candidates.

And Draymond Green has to be right at the top of the list of players who deserve some consideration for the Player of the Year honors. It’s not only that Green is averaging a healthy 15.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game for a Michigan State team that has a legitimate shot at a number one seed when the brackets are announced in a few weeks, it’s the other things he does for the Spartans. Few players have the skillset to lead their team in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals, and even fewer players can do that on a team that is as talented and formidable as Michigan State. But Green isn’t just a stat stuffer whose versatile game allows him to put up great numbers across the board, he’s also the heart and soul of Tom Izzo’s team. The 6’7’’ senior is the unquestioned leader of Michigan State on both sides of the floor, and whether the Spartans need a big shot, rebound, or some tough defense, Green is usually the first guy to step up and make something good happen.

There simply aren’t many players like Green in college basketball right now (although Iowa State’s Royce White certainly jumps to mind), and if you’ve watched Michigan State play, it’s clear just how much this team relies on their senior to lead the way. Green’s ability to score from beyond the arc, under the basket or somewhere in between makes him a nightmare for opposing power forwards, but it’s his ability to distribute the ball that sets him apart from most players that lead their team in scoring.

On any given possession, Green can be seen bringing the ball up the court or directing traffic in half court sets, and his ability to find open teammates for easy baskets is uncanny for a player of his size. Watching Green play against Purdue yesterday as he authored another dominant all-around performance in another Michigan State win (20 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists), it was also clear that the Spartans ran their offense through their best player. On basically every possession, Green would either get the ball at the top of the key or in the post and he would either find an open teammate if the Boilermakers doubled him or he would score if guarded by just one player. Usually things aren’t that simple when you’re playing on an opponents home court in a game that has the potential to significantly improve their tournament chances, but it really was that easy for Michigan State (in the second half at least) against Purdue because of Green’s multi-faceted offensive ability.

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America
In addition to basically running the Spartans offense against Purdue, Green also stepped up to the challenge issued by Izzo at the half to improve the job he was doing defending Robbie Hummel. With Green covering him for the majority of the first half, Hummel posted 18 points and had the Boilermakers thinking upset when they took a 38-35 lead into the locker room. But Green stepped up his intensity in the second half and limited one of the Big Ten’s leading scorers to just six points, while he scored 14 of his own as he helped Michigan State outscore Purdue by 17 points in the final 20 minutes of play.

As Green was putting together another one of his patented “do-it-all” performances for the Spartans, he got plenty of praise from Clark Kellogg about how great of a senior season he was having, but not once was Green mentioned as a National Player of the Year candidate. There were a few mentions of the Big Ten Player of the Year possibly going to Green as he posted his fifth 20, 10, and 5 game of the season, but the National award wasn’t amongst the topic of conversation, and it’s a little puzzling.

Green isn’t a high flyer who plays above the rim like Davis or Robinson, and Michigan State’s offense doesn’t revolve around alley-oops and fast breaks, but just because he’s not a flashy, high profile future lottery pick playing on a high-powered offense doesn’t mean that Green is any less of a force in college basketball right now. Maybe it’s because Green quietly goes about his business on most nights, finding the open man, hitting midrange jumpers, and playing below the rim, while Davis and Robinson are sure to deliver a few highlight reel slams and blocks, but that doesn’t make him any less effective or mean that he impacts games for Michigan State any less than Davis or Robinson impact games for their respective teams.

The fact that the Spartans are currently sitting atop a very competitive Big Ten is no accident, and Green is the biggest reason why Michigan State has been able to rebound from a disappointing 2010-11’ season that saw them fail to win a game in the tournament for the first time since 2006. Further complicating matters for the Spartans after last year’s disappointing season was the fact that this team was trying to move on without Kalin Lucas (graduation), Durrell Summers (graduation), Delvon Roe (injury), and Korie Lucious (dismissed from team), all of whom were extremely important pieces on last year’s squad.

But largely because of Green’s contributions all over the court and his leadership, the Spartans disappointing 2010-11’ season and missing players have basically faded from memory. Green was once a guy that Izzo questioned because of concerns about his weight, but as a senior he’s well on his way to becoming the first player from a power conference to average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists since Tim Duncan did so in the 1996-97’ season, and Green has accomplished this incredibly impressive feat while playing the second hardest schedule in the nation to date (he’s also posted as many 20, 10, and 5 games as Duncan did in 96’-97’).

Regardless of what he does for the rest of the season, Draymond Green won’t win the National Player of the Year award, because that distinction will either go to Davis or Robinson, but Green is without a doubt one of the best players in college basketball whose performance this season puts him on the same level as anyone in the country. Maybe after he logs a few more 20, 10, and 5 games, Green’s name will begin to surface in the National Player of the Year conversation, but something tells me that he would gladly trade any national recognition for helping his teammates cut down the nets in New Orleans in early April anyway. And with one of the best players in the country on their roster, Michigan State has a very real chance to do just that.

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