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College Basketball NPOY Race: Is Jalen Brunson Starting to Close the Gap on Trae Young?

JalenBrunson

With the regular season just about a month away from ending, we’ll be doing different running themes with the blog. Every Sunday I’ve been putting out bracketology – that will stay the same. As will Monday’s Contender Series. I’m going to start highlighting the NPOY race though and some potential winners. I did a huge scouting report on Trae Young back in December so for the time being we’ll use that as his breakdown. We’ll get into some other things I’m often asked about including bubble teams, coach of the year and other such awards. 

The National Player of the Year race has seemingly been over since Trae Young started doing Trae Young things on a consistent basis. He has been the runaway favorite for this award since about late November – mid December and he’s still the favorite. However, the gap is starting to close and that’s due to the play of Jalen Brunson of Villanvoa – who somehow continues to be overlooked in the grand scheme of things. When you’re talking about NPOY guys people are talking about Young, Bagley or Ayton and rightfully so as they are all All-Americans and beyond absurdly good. However, Brunson continues to just produce and put up numbers that would make him the National Player of the Year almost any other year if there wasn’t a pesky 6’2′ scrawny guard in Oklahoma putting up historic numbers.

Brunson’s stat line right now sits at 19.4 ppg/5.0 apg/3.1 rpg with shooting splits of 55.5% FG/47.2% 3pt/78% FT. That’s not too shabby. To get a little more in depth he has a usage rate of 25.6%, a PER of 29.4 and a true shooting percentage of 67.4%. He ranks 4th in the country in ORtg on KenPom, 30th in effective field goal percentage, 28th in true shooting percentage, 94th in assist rate and 106th in turnover rate. All this while still somehow not being the most talked about guy on his roster as that has been due to Mikal Bridges’ breakout season and rise to top-10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Simply put Villanvoa is where it is because of Brunson. That was evident in the Marquette game on Sunday. It reminded me of last year’s team during the Big East where the roster was depleted and the scoring had to come from Josh Hart and Brunson. Hart was the lead guy, finishing second in most NPOY races and an All-American. This year Brunson slid to that role with Phil Booth now being hurt and Mikal Bridges slid into the Jalen Brunson role from last year.

What Brunson is doing though is giving Villanova a different look and making it easier for Jay Wright to use his rotations. What I mean by that is Wright is finding different ways to get Brunson the ball and let him create. He’s using him in ISO sets, letting him create off the dribble and finish at the rim. He’s using him in postups where he’ll play bully ball and use his little jump stop and 6-footer jumper or kick out to one of the shooters around him – especially true now that Eric Paschall is shooting 62% from the 3-point line in Big East play.  Here’s Brunson’s shot chart this year. As you can see it’s pretty evident to how he’s so successful. There are minimal low efficiency bubbles and you see high efficiency bubbles at the rim, mid range and at the three point line.

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When you look at Brunson’s play breakdown on Synergy it’s one of the most balanced across the sets that I’ve seen in quite some time. He’s been in the ball screen 74 times, spot up 69 times, ISO 46 times, post up 18 times. Simply, he can beat you in any sort of way. Here’s Brunson’s shot chart this year where he’s scoring a wildly efficient 1.236 points per possession (ranked in the 99th percentile nationally). If you factor in his assists, Nova is scoring 1.557 points per possession. That’s flat out unreal.

Player of the Year Rankings

Shout out to Rob Dauster who is the first one I remember reading a weekly NPOY rankings blog. I’m not saying I stole this idea from him, but it helped. 

1. Trae Young (Oklahoma)

2. Jalen Brunson (Villanova)

3. Marvin Bagley (Duke)

4. Deandre Ayton (Arizona)

5. Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State)

6. Trevon Bluiett (Xavier)

7. Devonte’ Graham (Kansas)

8. Mikal Bridges (Villanova)

9. Jevon Carter (West Virginia)

10. Chandler Hutchison (Boise State)

Coach of the Year Rankings

1. Tony Bennett (Virginia)

2. Bruce Pearl (Auburn)

3. Jay Wright (Villanova)

4. Matt Painter (Purdue)

5. Chris Beard (Texas Tech)

6. Chris Holtmann (Ohio State)

7. Lon Kruger (Oklahoma)

8. Rick Barnes (Tennessee)

9. Chris Mack (Xavier)

10. Mick Cronin (Cincinnati)