Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dominant College Basketball Players--The Scorers and The Defenders


So, since the beginning of the college basketball season, I've been working on a post examining who is the most dominant college basketball player within my viewing lifetime. It is currently about 9 pages (single-spaced). Obviously, no one wants to take the time to read that long of a post at once. So, I think I am going to periodically post different sections of what has turned into a sort of research paper.

A few things to keep in mind:

1) I'm going with the 1989-90 season as my starting date. I was a pretty big UNLV fan and an even bigger fan of the Shark, so we'll start with the year the Runnin' Rebels beat Duke in the Finals. All players that played during that season or after are eligible for inclusion.

2) I have only ranked the 5 most dominant players. The post examining these 5 players will be the last post. Until then, I will post categories of players that didn't quite make the cut. These players are not ranked. Rather, they are grouped together by some sort of defining characteristic.

3) This is all about dominance. For instance, Grant Hill was one hell of a college basketball player, one of the most complete players I can remember. However, I wouldn't consider him one of the 5 most dominant. Dominant players are the ones I couldn't keep my eyes off of, the ones that dictated the outcomes of games, the ones that put together dominant careers. Simply put, they're the ones that you knew no one could stop when they got in the zone.

This first post examines players that exelled at one end of the floor (but not so much on the other end).


Category 1: The Scorers

This group of players excelled on the offensive end of the court, but didn’t much care for the defensive end (with the exception of Kerry Kittles who was a pretty solid defender). Sure, guys like Allen Iverson could turn it on for a possession on the defensive end, but, even then, they were utilizing their superior quickness to attempt steals and make plays. Their lack of defense, and, in many cases, their unwillingness or inability to include their teammates on offense keeps them out of the Top 5. All of these players were truly a threat to score the moment they touched the ball. In fact, you felt confident that they would find a way to score or get to the free throw line, double-teamed or otherwise.

Allen Iverson (Georgetown): Simply unguardable in the college ranks (and almost unguardable in the NBA). AI’s quickness and balance confounded many a defender. His shooting has improved tremendously since making the jump to the pros. Interestingly, because of this lack of a truly consistent outside shot during his college career, he probably isn’t one of the top 5 offensive talents during my college basketball-viewing lifetime.

Jimmy Jackson (Ohio State): I really did consider Jackson for the Top 5 Overall Most Dominant Players. He was physically dominant, overpowering other guards and wings. He controlled the tempo of the game and had a presence on the court that was undeniable. I remember watching him against the Fab 5 and just being amazed by his ability to score, despite the fact that the entire defense was focused on him. He took a lot of shots but never forced it.

Luke Jackson (Oregon): He had a very good career at Oregon, but his senior year was something to behold. An excellent passer, Jackson actually did make those around him better, unlike most players in this category. He had an uncanny ability to recognize mismatches and holes in defenses, which kept teams from double-teaming him on every possession. Jackson had one of the most sophisticated offensive games I’ve ever witnessed in a college player. His face up game was superb. He could shoot the outside shot, and he could do a little posting-up. Jackson wasn’t quick, but he had excellent body control. I’m still shocked he didn’t pan out in the NBA. Playing the same position as Lebron James in Cleveland didn’t help out. Not too interested in defense. He's now toiling away in the D-League.

Kerry Kittles (Villanova): A good defender and amazing scorer. I was a huge Kerry Kittles fan. Probably my second favorite college player of all time (after Jalen Rose). In 8th grade, I wore my socks like Kittles (one knee-high and one ankle-length). Could absolutely fill it up. Kittles was one of those guys that could score 20 a game without dominating the ball on every possession.

Adam Morrison (Gonzaga): J.J. Redick hit 3’s on a team that forced opponents to guard everyone. Morrison hit shots from everywhere with multiple defenders in his face, on a team which allowed opponents to double-team him. Of all of the players in this category, Morrison was the best at moving without the ball. A crafty offensive player, Morrison, like Luke Jackson, knew how to take advantage of being double-teamed and did an excellent job of exploiting mismatches and defensive weaknesses. He also cried during a game.

Lawrence Moten (Syracuse): A lot like Kittles. Ultra thin but wiry strong. Great at getting to the basket off the dribble from the wing. Excellent at getting to the rim against stronger opponents. Probably had to have the ball in hands more to get his numbers than Kittles. I don’t understand how a guy who had such an amazing career in the Big East was a failure in the pros.

J.J. Redick (Duke): Just a brilliant shooter. In fairness to Redick, he did show flashes of a dribble-drive game and a mid-range jumper during his senior year. I can’t think of another player in the last 20 years as athletically limited as Redick who was so dominant on offense. A big time-prick.

Glenn Robinson (Purdue): Offensively, the Big Dog pretty much ruled college basketball for one season. Had an excellent mid-range game, especially for a big guy. Presented a mismatch for every opponent. Very good with his back to the basket. Just found ways to score. One of the most mature offensive repertoires that college basketball has every seen. May as well have stayed on the offensive end of the court while Purdue was on defense.

Steve Smith (Michigan State): Didn’t make his teammates better but such an offensive talent. Very smart one-on-one offensive player. Excellent shooter. Used his body like a big man on the wing. One of the most patient gunners I’ve ever seen. It’s a shame his NBA career seems to have been forgotten so quickly.


Category 2: The Defenders

It is very rare in college basketball that a defensive-minded player dominates. My theory is that the most talented players are required to score for their teams to put enough points on the board to win. Therefore, they expend their energy on the offensive end of the floor and are forced to slack off a bit on the defensive end. These 5 defenders stand out because they were on talented teams that allowed them to work on defense. They didn’t have to carry the entire scoring load.

Stacy Augmon (UNLV): A shut-down defender. Made steals. Blocked shots. The Scottie Pippen to Larry Johnson’s Michael Jordan. With rare exception absolutely took the opponent’s top scorer out of the game. Extremely versatile, Plastic Man could guard a number of positions. As sophisticated on defense as Glenn Robinson or Luke Jackson on offense.

Shane Battier (Duke): As a leader, this guy, much to my chagrin, was unparalleled. He almost dominated games by the sheer force of his personality. He really wasn’t overwhelmingly dominant at anything but was very good at a lot of things. Defense was his strength, but I would argue that he was definitely the least dominant of the 5 on this list. Battier was versatile on the defensive end, capable of guarding the opponents’ 2, 3, or 4, and he came up with more loose balls than I care to remember.

Marcus Camby (Massachusetts): While it may be hard to believe it watching him as a Nugget, Camby used to be a pretty good offensive player. Opposing centers, couldn’t run the floor with the fleet of foot Camby and power forwards couldn’t contain him on the blocks. Despite his knack for scoring as a collegiate athlete, Camby’s real strength was on the defensive end where he dictated his opponents’ shot selection. In the A-10, his size and skill allowed him to run roughshod over an entire conference.

Alonzo Mourning (Georgetown): Intimidated opposing players driving to the hoop like no one else during my lifetime (Shaq included). A tremendous shot blocker, Zo could change the pace of the game from the center position. Underrated offensively but really made a name for himself altering shots and games on the defensive end.

Emeka Okafor (Connecticut): Closest thing to Mourning since Mourning. Great timing makes him an excellent shot blocker. Excellent body control made Okafor less foul-prone than many dominant defenders. Moved his feet like a wing defender and blocked shots so that his teammates gained possession. Just swallowed up would-be shooters.

OK, who did I forget? I'm taking nominations.

5 Comments:

Blogger Runs With Two Horses said...

I remember Iverson's first college game when Georgetown played the Defending National Champion, Arkansas. He was absolutely pure offensive talent. This was the "40 Minutes of Hell" Arkansas team, and they had a ton of guys to use on him, but Iverson could get to the basket no matter what. He kept scoring at will, but every single long jumper he took (and he seriously probably took over a dozen threes), he kept watching the ball until it hit the rim. Arkansas eventually just had Iverson's man immediately start cherry picking whenever Iverson took a jumper and probably scored 12 points off of Iverson's refusal to get back on defense.

I still think it's a little tough to call him one-dimensional though. He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year both seasons he played at Georgetown and averaged around 3.5 steals a game one season. I know he did it off the same athleticism that made him a good offensive player, but he was everywhere on defense.

I'm concerned that your love for Luke Jackson may have reached an unnatural level. I know that someone once told Natty that he looked like Luke Jackson, so maybe he's just trying to make sure people never forget him. I thought Jackson was really fun to watch, but when you remember Fred Jones and Luke Ridnour were out there on the wing with him, it made it pretty damn tough to double team anyone. I'd put Jackson up there with guys like Erik Daniels and Luke Walton as guys that I could watch every single night in college because they made the offense run so smoothly, but I never thought of him as dominant.

As far as the best defensive players, I think you need to add Wojo to the list. He was tremendous on the ball and when he slapped the floor for some defensive intensity........I'm just fucking with you guys. He might have been the single most overrated defensive player ever, and if he's not, then Wayne Turner needs to be up there with Iverson as the most dominant offensive players.

Seriously though, go ahead and add Corey Brewer to the list of best defensive players. That guy can guard anyone on the floor. It actually makes me a little disappointed that Florida has Noah and Horford to man the blocks, just because it would be fun to see how Brewer could guard a big man. He's Plastic Man 2.0

On a side note, it's pretty funny looking at the old "defense wins championships" adage because the defensive players on this list fared much better in the post season than their offensive counterparts.

February 25, 2007 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger Jumping Bull said...

"In 8th grade, I wore my socks like Kittles (one knee-high and one ankle-length). Could absolutely fill it up." I didn't know that Natty could fill it up in 8th grade. I thought his game pretty much consisted of driving down the middle of the lane, spinning off his defender just below the free-throw line, and dropping little floaters that had no business going in. And behind the back passes...oh wait, you were talking about Kerry.

February 25, 2007 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger UKFan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 26, 2007 at 10:42 AM  
Blogger the butler said...

Even though you mentioned him, I would vote for Grant Hill to be included. I think he fits nicely into the defenders category, with his Defensive Player of the Year award in '92-'93.

I was actually lucky enough to be able to go to that game in Knoxville (Elite 8 1994) when Hill SHUT DOWN G. Robinson.

March 1, 2007 at 12:30 PM  
Blogger Natty Bumpo said...

I agree that Grant Hill was a better defender than at least 2 of the players listed in "The Defenders" category. However, because of his all-around game, I've included Grant in a category that takes into account his overall dominance on the college level.

March 1, 2007 at 1:20 PM  

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