The nation’s most valuable player, an honor given to a student-athlete who has shown a superiority above all others in the game of basketball. This year in men’s college basketball, we have seen a fair share of awe-inspiring individual performances. These performances build excitement and create intrigue for all college basketball fans to see. The players in contention for the Naismith Award have proven worthy of receiving such a prestigious honor. These players include Josh Hart from Villanova University, Lonzo Ball from UCLA, and Markelle Fultz from Washington University.
Previous winners of the Naismith have gone on to have illustrious Hall of Fame careers, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, ‘the Great White Hope’ Larry Bird, ‘The Admiral’ David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and last but certainly not least ‘His Airness’ Michael Jordan.
Stars in modern-day NBA have also taken home this honor, including Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Durant.
Let us now return to present day and offer a short-list of candidates for the Naismith Award for the 2016-2017 season.
1. Lonzo Ball-Guard-UCLA Bruins
Coming into UCLA as the no. 4 overall prospect in the nation, Lonzo Ball has transitioned exceptionally well into college basketball. His most notable game would be against powerhouse Kentucky where he scored only 12 points but hit big shots down the stretch that propelled UCLA to a victory.
Ball has shown glimpses of his scoring ability all throughout the year, averaging 14.9 points per game. However, he isn’t necessarily known as a dominant scorer. His game is more suited to being a play-maker, with his ability to get his shot when he wants to, his game management, ball handling, and his ability to dish to teammates, for which he is second in the nation doing so. Ball has had six games where he had double-digit assists and currently averages eight assists per game.
BALL’S CASE FOR THE NAISMITH: Not only has Ball been a dominant guard throughout the year, he has brought back basketball to UCLA, which was once a powerhouse in the college basketball world. Ball has all of the potential to make an easy move to the NBA.
2. Josh Hart- Guard- Villanova
Following a national championship victory, Josh Hart has gotten more spotlight than the others included on this list for the simple fact that he has been in college longer than Ball or Fultz. Hart almost went on to the NBA last year. He got invitations to compete in the Draft combine and then decided it was best if he stayed back a year to build his draft stock.
That decision by Hart looks like it was the right one. The draft stock for Hart has risen since last year’s draft as a late second rounder. But now Hart is projected to go mid to late first round. Hart in college has shown his ability to get to the basket with his driving ability and has been known to stretch the floor with his ability to hit from long distance. Hart offers up his athleticism on offense and on defense the ability to stick to his defender and even bang down low in the post
Leading Villanova to a successful season thus far, Hart has been the backbone and go-to player when a bucket is needed, which says a lot of Hart’s game with teammate Kris Jenkins being the guy who sunk the National Championship game-winner versus North Carolina last season.
HART’S CASE FOR THE NAISMITH: Hart does a bit of everything an NBA coach would appreciate, averaging 19 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, and 3.5 assists per game. Being the best player on the number one team in college basketball gives him an edge when it comes to voting.
3. Markelle Fultz- Guard- Washington
Fultz, the better scorer between Ball and Hart, has had NBA general managers chomping at the bit to add him to their roster in the draft. Fultz joins the list of popular Washington guards along with Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson.
Washington is off to a rough start with a record of 9-12. The team itself is in danger of not making the NCAA Tournament, where Fultz would be unable to play against tougher competition. However, players who don’t make the big dance don’t necessarily lose their draft value ala Ben Simmons last year with LSU.
Fultz’s game is reminiscent of Damian Lillard back in his Weber State days. He is not afraid to pull up from anywhere and has several ways to put the ball in the basket. Fultz is putting up 23.7 points per game, pulling down 6 rebounds per game, and sharing the rock with 6.2 assists per game. He is the ultimate play-maker but struggles due to the lack of talent around him. Fultz may be the underdog to win the Naismith.
FULTZ”S CASE FOR THE NAISMITH: Being 3rd in the nation in scoring can only help his case. In a game where scoring is premium, Fultz is one of the best in doing so. Keep in mind Buddy Hield won the Naismith award last year, finishing second in the nation in scoring. You never know.