Jarrett Culver over Dedric Lawson for Big 12 Player of the Year a simple case of one guy winning more
If Dedric Lawson is cool with it, you’d think Kansas basketball fans would be too.
Saturday afternoon, following KU’s 78-70 victory over Baylor in the regular-season finale, Lawson was asked whether he thought he should be player of the year in the Big 12 Conference.
“I guess so.”
Lawson’s numbers certainly made for a strong case — stronger than those words, anyway.
But give the guy credit for getting it just hours before Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver was named Big 12 player of the year. First of all, Lawson didn’t come to Kansas for individual awards and to be all about himself. The team-first, happy-go-lucky Kansas leader has shown that throughout the season.
Second, Lawson clearly recognizes that winning is the most important thing in sports and, even if his numbers were better, two other Big 12 players led their teams to more conference wins than he delivered at Kansas.
To Lawson, and many others, that has to mean something.
The 6-foot-9 Memphis transfer became one of just a handful of players in the history of the league to finish a season leading the conference in scoring (19.1 points per game) and rebounds (10.6), and his 20 double-doubles made him the kind of go-to guy that Kansas could count on for production throughout the 2018-19 season.
But unlike Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, the back-to-back Big 12 players of the year who came before him at Kansas, Lawson could not lead his team to a Big 12 title.
That, of course, did not fall fully on his shoulders. There were plenty of reasons Kansas saw its 14-year streak of Big 12 titles come to an end this season, not the least of which was the strong play by co-champs Kansas State and Texas Tech throughout the conference season.
But there’s little doubt that KU failing to deliver Big 12 title No. 15 to Lawrence cost Lawson in the player of the year voting.
Think about it. Had Kansas found a way to extend the streak, even if it were just by winning a share of the title, it would have been next to impossible for voters to turn down the guy who delivered numbers that landed him in the same category with names like Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley.
All three of those Big 12 legends finished a season averaging double digits in scoring and rebounding and all three were the clearcut choice for player of the year.
That, no doubt, was another factor in Lawson not winning it. Numbers aside, he was not the clearcut choice. Even KU coach Bill Self said strong cases could be made for K-State’s Barry Brown Jr., and Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, who wound up winning it in the eyes of the Big 12 coaches. The Associated Press pick will come out Tuesday, but don’t expect Lawson to win that one either.
A popular criticism of Culver from Kansas fans around the Internet is that he didn’t finish as high in the overall rankings as Lawson. That’s true in most cases.
Culver’s 18.4 points per game put him third, less than a point behind Lawson. His 6.3 rebounds per game put him in 10th place, more than four rebounds behind KU’s leader. And he finished behind Lawson in field goal percentage (49.1 to 48.4), free throw percentage (80.3 to 70.2) and blocks (33 to 12).
What’s even more interesting is a look at the numbers put up by these two players in the four games they played against the other two Big 12 teams that were still in the race heading into the final week of the season.
Culver and Lawson both went 2-2 against the other two teams — Culver 2-2 against KU and K-State and Lawson 2-2 against Tech and K-State — but in those games alone, Lawson’s numbers were noticeably better. Again, the production didn’t lead to any more victories, and wins and losses is really what this thing came down to, but in games against the Big 12’s best Lawson’s 18.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists were better than Culver’s marks of 15.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
However, if you toss in their games against Baylor, which finished fourth, you’ll notice that the gap between Lawson and Culver shrinks ever so slightly, with Lawson holding a 2.7-point edge in scoring, instead of 3.3, a 2.7-rebound edge on the glass, instead of 4.0, and averaging less than half as many assists.
What's more, according to KenPom.com, Lawson ranked in the Top 160 nationally in five categories — percentage of possessions used, percentage of shots taken, offensive rebound percentage, defensive rebound percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes.
Culver, meanwhile, finished in the Top 160 nationally (higher than Lawson in each one) in three categories — percentage of possessions used, percentage of shots taken and fouls drawn per 40 minutes.
Make sense yet?
You can throw out all of the numbers you want to throw out and dissect splits and analytics until your heart’s content. But nothing is going to change the fact that Culver led his team to two more Big 12 victories than Lawson.
“Everything comes with winning,” Lawson said Saturday. “And, this year, we failed to do that.” Stats are great. But wins are better.
Sometimes things really are that simple.