The player of the year race is a two horse race (sorry Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger). Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker have turned basketball games into their own personal highlight reels ever since November.
Both Walker and Fredette have similar skill sets; both are shooting guards in point guard bodies, both can kill you from the outside or get their points in the paint and either way they can score in bunches.
They can take over games no matter the situation. Last night versus undefeated San Diego State Fredette took over in the second half by driving the lane and getting to the free throw line at will. Walker struggled mightily against Texas until overtime when he scored seven points including the game winning shot and wore down Texas defenders with his relentlessness.
Fredette has scored 40 in 3 of the last 4 games, Walker ad a five game stretch in the early portion of the season where he averaged 33 a game including 30 against Michigan State and Kentucky.
Without them their teams are probably still good but not top ten material. So the question is who would you choose, Fredette or Walker?
As I said earlier they are basically the same player as far as skills go. They both play without fear and want the ball in every key situation. Both are small, tough and from New York (yeah I threw that in there it’s a pride thing). So is there anyway to separate them? Well of course there is. If there wasn’t I wouldn’t be writing this now would I?
Across the board the edge goes to Fredette. He shoots 48% from the field including 42% from three and 90% at the line while Walker goes 44, 34 and 83 in the same order. When Fredette gets open you better pray he misses.
Both guys are shoot first point guards that average fewer than 5 assists a game. Walker however has a better feel for the position, as is a better defender. Walker is a great rebounding guard at 5.3 per game, which is third on the team and he leads the Big East in steals (2.1). Plus Walker is always the man with the ball in is hands with the game on the line. Time after time we see Walker with the rock with time winding down and he comes through time after time. We haven’t seen that out of Fredette, which could be due to the Cougars schedule lacking the same competition as the Huskies.
Which cast could still be competitive without their star? Without Fredette’s 27.4 points per game the cougars still average 58 a game with the rest of their reserves.
Fredette gets a ton of help from guys like Jackson Emery, Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock who all average close to or over 10 points a game and Emery is one of the nation’s leaders in steals (2.7). The team shoots over 46% from the field and pulls down 40 rebounds per game.
While the UCONN reserves don’t put up the same numbers they do run very deep on their bench. Alex Oriakhi is close to a double double a game at 11 & 9 plus 2 blocks a game. Plus Walker has guys like Shabazz Napier and Charles Okwandu who are great defenders and plenty of big bodies like Roscoe Smith and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel who help wear down opponents inside.
Without Walker UCONN is still a tournament team, without Fredette I think the Cougars don’t have the same punch, which makes Fredette more valuable.
Both teams were unranked at the beginning of the year and while Fredette and the Cougars were picked as MWC favorites the Huskies were an afterthought after a disappointing season last year.
Walker’s opening month including that ridiculous Maui Invitational set the tone for the Huskies season and they haven’t looked back. With the drop-offs by Syracuse and Pitt lately you can make a case that UCONN is the best team in the nation’s best conference.
That and his late game heroics give him the bigger impact.
CHANCES IN THE PROS
They both have a gift and a curse. They can score in bunches, but they’re too small to do that in the NBA.
They’re in the same position as Stephen Curry and that is that they are Shooting Guards who will play the point in the league but need more time to learn the position.
While Fredette can score I question his passing skills and can he makes the guys around him better. While he shoots very well his vision is suspect and he can’t really see the floor too well.
Walker has a better understanding of the position and I feel can defer to his teammates more such as the Marquette game where he played wingman to Jeremy Lamb putting him in a position to get his shots.
So who would I go with? Statistically Fredette is having the better season and is a machine in the open floor, but I go with Walker for player of the year.
Walker is averages less points per game than Fredette but there’s one thing he has that I haven’t seen yet in Fredette, that’s more of a will to win and an unshakeable confidence.
We’ve seen Walker struggle and have bad shooting nights and yet he still pulls through and leads UCONN to wins, Fredette hasn’t had the same challenges as Walker, which he shouldn’t fell bad about but it should be noted.
If there’s one player I want with the ball in his hands late in the game its Kemba Walker. When the game is on the line no matter the situation he has delivered time and time again. In the NCAA tournament, with games on the line in do or die situations that’s what matters most.
Either way you can’t lose though. Both men are playing great and are a joy to watch. Whoever has the unfortunate task of guarding these men I feel bad for every night because you will end up on their highlight machine. Both teams are lucky to have them.