I've really prioritized the value of seeing players live this season. Statistics are a valuable tool, but best served when supporting what's actually happening on the court. Not the other way around. While I am certainly excited to see the likes of LIU's Gerrell Martin, CCSU's Faronte Drakeford, Wagner's Marcus Burton, and SFU's Earl Brown this month, it seems unfair to include them in my mid-season awards having not seen them play live.
Therefore, I am going to stay away from doing a mid-season All-NEC selection, and instead issue some non-traditional awards alongside some of the mainstay awards in a series of articles this week. Let's start off with the granddaddy of all traditional awards - Player of the Year.
Brent Jones - Senior point guard - St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
Is this award even close at this point in the NEC schedule? Is there even a debate for anyone else? Jones has simply been the best player on the best team through 10 games, and it's not really that close. Before I start gushing about what I saw live, let's take a quick look at some of his advanced in-conference stats (the only ones that should really matter).
Jones finished last season with an insanely high 47.7% assist percentage while using just 18.6% of his team's possessions. He also carried a 125.9 offensive rating. The loss of guard Ben Mockford (graduation) and Wayne Martin (transfer) signaled that Jones would need to increase his scoring and usage this season, and it would be hard to maintain those lofty numbers. At least that was a pretty good assumption.
The first part of that assumption has certainly been true. Jones has put the ball in the basket more - 10.9 ppg to 16.2 ppg - and used more of his team's possessions. It's the fact that his level of efficiency has largely remained the same that's a little surprising. His assist percentage has dipped to 34.9% (the lowest of his career), but his turnover percentage has dropped to 17.2% (also the lowest of his career). His offense rating has remained strong at 118.6, and he's been a better defender statistically this season with a rating of 99.9 (down from 105.1 last season).
But those numbers don't fully capture the impact that Jones has on the court. He's able to move defenses with his pass fakes that heavily show the ball. He finds open players on the weak side in drive-and-kick opportunities, is an exceptional passer to his interior players while driving, can pass off the bounce and on the move, and the ball arrives to his teammates in a position that allows them to make a play.
Seldom do you see Jones throw a pass at a teammate's feet or force one of his frontcourt players to jump in order to catch and ball and have to reset their post position. It's no surprise that his 5.9 assists per game is currently leading the conference.
Is there a better player in the NEC at picking his spots and dictating tempo? I've watched him toss a perfect alley-oop about eight feet over halfcourt, and then back down his defender like Andre Miller a few possessions later. But those things aren't new with Jones. What is new is that he's making more buckets.
He's managed to add six points to his scoring average while only taking four more attempts per game. Furthermore, he's connecting at a career-best 40.4% from beyond the arc, and taking two more attempts per game this year. At 16.2 ppg, Jones is currently ranks fourth in the conference.
Defensively, Jones is a very good on-ball defender that is capable of sliding laterally with his man without fouling (only 1.9 per game). While Jones wasn't the on-ball pickpocket like RMU's Kavon Stewart can be at times when I saw him, he wisely played passing lanes and snagged errant kick-out and skip passes. His 1.7 spg, third in the NEC, is a tribute to his intelligence on that end of the floor.
Lastly, Jones is the definition of clutch and simply takes over games late. He broke the game open for his team on national television against the Robert Morris Colonials last month, and was a perfect six-for-six from the free throw line in an overtime victory at Mount St. Mary's last Thursday.
Statistics are great and what I saw on the court was indeed impressive. But those aren't the only metrics in which POY should/could be decided. As a media member, I attend games for free. After seeing at least half of the teams in this conference take the floor this season, Jones is certainly one of the players that is easily worth the price of admission.
- Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.