Tyler Hansbrough vs Michael Beasley
Last season there was no debate. Kevin Durant was head and shoulders above the field which is partially blamed on the fact Greg Oden was injured early on. It was thought Tyler Hansbrough would take a shot at national player of the year last season but his game did not reach that tier which separates a player from everyone else around him. This season, Hansbrough has done that as have others, such as Kevin Love, UCLA and Michael Beasley, Kansas State. In recent weeks, Love has kind of receded and it looks to be a two player race between Beasley and Hansbrough.
Looking at the basic statistics, Beasley averages three more points and two more rebounds per game while shooting slightly worse from the field and FT line. Beasley also features a three point shot which Hansbrough does not and also is a better shot blocker in general. Since the ACC and Big 12 are 1-2 in the RPI and UNC's SOS in the non-conference is slightly better than KSU it is safe to assume these numbers have been posted against similar competition. On the surface these numbers give an edge to Beasley, especially given the dominant nature of his play in certain games. However, there are factors which make the numbers what they are which deserve consideration.
One significant factor is examining the makeup of the respective teams involved here. The question is raised as to whether Beasley enjoys a higher scoring and rebounding average because he plays a larger role on his team than Hansbrough does? The answer according to Ken Pomeroy is yes, Beasley does play a larger role in the offense. According to Pomeroy, Beasley has a Possession Percentage of 33% and takes 35% of his team shots per game. Hansbrough on the other hand has a %Poss of 26% and takes 24% of his team's shots. So this basically tells us that Kansas State is more dependent on Beasley than UNC is on Hansbrough because the supporting cast is probably better in Chapel Hill than Manhattan, KS. A perusal of the team stats for each team shows UNC has three players besides Hansbrough averaging in double figures whereas KSU has only two besides Beasley. In effect Hansbrough is required to carry a lighter load and his numbers reflect that.
The Injury Factor
So based on the numbers Hansbrough is a slightly smaller factor in the offense for UNC than Beasley is for KSU. That being said, let's examine how Ty Lawson's injury(and by extension Bobby Frasor's as well) affected Hansbrough's numbers. Lawson was averaging 13 ppg when he went down with his ankle injury and has been replaced by a backup in Quentin Thomas who does not bring the same offensive production. Add to this the fact UNC also experienced multiple injuries to other key players such as Deon Thompson, Danny Green and Marcus Ginayrd which eliminated some of their effectiveness to score points and provide offense in different games. What do Tyler Hansbrough's numbers look like when he is thrust into a situation where his supporting cast is rendered less effective due to injury? They improve significantly:
|Without Lawson/Frasor(and others)||7||37.7||28.0||12.1||57%|
Tyler Hansbrough, when faced with injuries effecting his supporting cast posts numbers that are as good or better than what Michael Beasley has posted the entire year. And in terms of sheer toughness, Hansbrough is playing six more minutes per game that had did before Lawson went down and has essentially carried the team to a 6-1 record in those games. And this was not some slight elevation in his numbers, the scoring and rebounding went through the roof in an effort to keep UNC winning as the personnel around him faltered due to injury.
It also should be noted that Hansbrough has a higher offensive rating than Beasley. Pomeroy explains the ORtg to be:
A measure of personal offensive efficiency developed by Dean Oliver. The formula is very complicated, but accurate. Anything over 110 is good, and 120 is excellent for a player that is the workhorse on his team. The best I saw from last season was Utah State’s Spencer Nelson at 133.
Hansbrough has an ORtg of 127 while Beasley's is 120. This basically means, Hansbrough is more efficient on the offensive end than Beasley which is also reflected in points per shot. Hansbrough has a PPS of 1.76 and Beasley is at 1.51. Considering rebounding, according to Pomeroy, Beasley is better than Hansbrough in terms of percentage of offensive and defensive rebounds collected. Beasley is also capable of hitting three point shots, tends to block more shots whereas Hansbrough(especially of late) has been very good at getting steals and drawing offensive fouls from opposing players.
As it pertains to the stats, the cursory look gives the nod to Beasley but a deeper investigation of the numbers as well as the escalation of Hansbrough's play in wake of multiple injuries to his supporting cast seem to place him in a better light.
Aside from the stats, I am convinced the team winning games also must be considered. Not only has Hansbrough carried his team to a 6-1 mark in a stretch of games rife with injuries but he has done so and managed to maintain UNC has a top five team. In fact UNC is now 26-2 and Hansbrough is obviously a huge part of building that record and keeping it viable when personnel issues cropped up. Beasley on the other hand is a member of a now unranked team that has lost three straight despite his gaudy point totals. KSU is presently 18-9 and at one point was near the top of the Big 12 before losing several games to less than stellar competition.
Also consider the Lawson injury factor again. When UNC was found struggling to adjust to the loss of their starting PG, it was Hansbrough consistent play that righted the ship. In the double OT game against Clemson, Hansbrough almost willed the team to a win. The same was true in the game at Charlottesville. Now that the team has adjusted, Hansbrough is still the one player opposing teams can do little to stop. Conversely, Beasley routinely puts up big numbers but it does not seem to translate to winning. In other words, if you remove Hansbrough from UNC, the Heels probably lose all of those games in the stretch with Lawson out and a few more even with Lawson playing. In the case of KSU, Beasley is a difference maker in that the Wildcats would not have 18 wins without him but not to the point he cam put them over the top as often as Hansbrough has done.
In many ways I realize the case I have presented follows more of a "most valuable player" route rather than "best player in college basketball" concept. It is very evident that Beasley is an absolute beast, more athletic than Hansbrough and possessing better skills than the UNC junior does. I imagine some voters are going to look at it from that perspective rather than accounting for some of the factors I have mentioned. I would argue, however, that given the gap between Hansbrough and Beasley in terms of talent and the fact their numbers are very close when the circumstances are similar you can argue that Hansbrough's performance is the more impressive one, especially in the all important month of February. Granted there are still games left to be played and both candidates have more opportunities to make their respective cases to the voters. In my biased opinion, Hansbrough has done a great deal for his case with the way he has carried the Heels during the past seven games and if that continues along with the winning, I am not sure how it can be argued otherwise that he is the best player in college basketball.