As we not-so-patiently await this weekend’s playoff games, it’s time to hand out some regular season hardware. This was a particularly fun year in NESCAC baseball. In Tufts we had a juggernaut dominate the regular season in a way not seen in several years. We had Bates’ insanely hot 7-0 start to league play, followed by an insanely cold 0-5 finish. Williams made a furious run at their playoff spot, but to no avail. And on the other side of the conference, we saw a real-life Cinderella story unfold before our eyes, as Middlebury rose from years of mediocrity to become a real championship contender. We will see how those storylines shift come this weekend. In the meantime, let’s recognize the top regular season performers in the award categories. As always, these are our opinions, so we welcome and expect criticism from all sides. We also urge you to check out the midseason awards article here for more info on most of these candidates.
There are several players who could win this award. Tufts alone has three players who have the stats to contend for it in Nick Falkson ‘18, Tommy O’Hara ‘18 and Will Shackelford ‘19. However, it is precisely that lineup strength that keeps them from winning this award. Pitchers can’t afford to pitch around any of those players because the rest of the lineup is so dangerous. This award is better suited for a player who dominates despite a lesser supporting cast. Enter Thanopolous. Not to diss the rest of the Amherst lineup (NbN’s own Harry Roberson ‘18 excels as a table setter at the top of the order.) But Thanopolous’ run producing is the key to Amherst’s lineup. Additionally, Amherst’s pitching has struggled mightily for most of the season. Without a strong lineup, Amherst would not even be a playoff contender, and Thanopolous is the engine that makes it all run.
Runner-Up: Tufts IF Tommy O’Hara ‘18 (.343/.503/.528, 4 HR, 35 RBI)
Unlike the Player of the Year award, this race has never been close. Varinos has dominated the league as much as any NESCAC pitcher in recent memory. He struck out double digit hitters three times in his nine starts, and the only blemish on his won-loss record came in his last start, a meaningless non-league matchup against Middlebury. Varinos combined with Tim Superko ‘17 to form the most dynamic starting pitching duo in the league. However, Tufts as a team has struggled to find an effective third starter, and even Superko posted a 3.55 ERA this season. He benefitted a great deal from Tufts’ stellar offense to post his 6-0 record. Therefore, Varinos is the key to Tufts rotation, which will be the most important factor in the playoffs as they contend with Thanopolous and the rest of Amherst’s lineup.
Runner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)
Runner-Up: Trinity P Eric Mohl ‘19 (16 APP, 7-2, 2.55 ERA)
Rookie of the Year
Winner: Middlebury OF Justin Han ‘20 (.308/.411/.490, 4 HR, 13:7 BB/K)
Middlebury is both one of the best teams in the league and maybe the youngest team, a testament to the recruiting of new HC Mike Leonard and his assistant Mike Phelps. And based on this season, Justin Han looks to be the biggest prize of that strong recruiting class. He showed tremendous power, finishing second in the league with four home runs. But the thing that sets Han apart from other first year players is his maturity. He only struck out seven times all year against thirteen walks. That kind of plate discipline is uncommon among any player, let alone a rookie. His stats were also better in the elevated competition of NESCAC play. In eleven league games, he hit .324 with two home runs and nine RBI, numbers that are better than his overall stats if you project them out to the same amount of games. Han also showed a clutch gene, hitting a game winning grand slam against Amherst to help Middlebury salvage a crucial game and avoid a sweep. With Han and his classmates, Middlebury is set up to be relevant for years to come.
Runner-Up: Williams SP John Lamont ‘20 (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 4 CG)
*Editor’s Note: We feel bad for Lamont here. Not only does he finish second in two awards, but he has to live with a dud of an older brother (former NbM editor Adam Lamont.) We regret adding salt to that wound, and hope John doesn’t resent it too much in the future.
Runner-Up: Trinity C Alex Rodriguez ‘20 (.342/.361/.465 23 RBI)
As I sit, curled up in my new Red Sox snuggie with a cup of hot cocoa and Star Wars on the TV, a feeling of deep contentment washes over
me.But soon I am disturbed by a thought, which gnaws and picks at my brain like a cockroach in a wall: Who are the frontrunners for the NESCAC Basketball awards, and who are their NBA counterparts? Such is the life of a sports blogger. So here I am, I haven’t showered in three days, and I’m presenting you with this article. It may still be too early for awards considerations, as league play has a tendency to change statistics a great deal, but I DON’T CARE. I have included the top three contenders for each award, as well as the NBA player whom I see as the closest comparison to the NESCAC player, based both style of play, role on their team and spot within the framework of the league. And by the way, I should be leading the NbN writer Power Rankings at this point. I don’t see Rory or Colby putting anything out here while on vacation.
Player of the Year
Bowdoin Guard Jack Simonds ‘19: Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves)
Just as there must always be a Stark in Winterfell, there must always be a NESCAC leading scorer in Brunswick. Simonds has picked up right where Lucas Hausman left off, leading the league in scoring at 23.6 points per game. Despite having the green light from pretty much anywhere on the court, he has gotten his buckets very efficiently, putting up a 47/37/89 shooting line and leading the league in free throws made per game. The Wiggins comparison stems largely from their style of play. The key to mini-leap Wiggins has made this season has been adding an outside shot to his arsenal, something that Simonds utilizes with extreme precision. However, both players are also at their best when going to the basket, as evidenced by the high amount of free throws that both players shoot. Simonds and Wiggins also both play alongside excellent distributors who are shooting liabilities, in Tim Ahn ‘19 and Ricky Rubio. And finally, both players will see their award recognition be largely dependent on where their teams finish, as they both carry teams that have struggled thus far.
Dawson has catapulted himself into Player of the Year consideration on the strength of several strong performances in the last couple weeks. The junior guard has averaged nearly 27 PPG over his last four, including 32 points (and a game winner) in Amherst’s double overtime win over #2 Babson. Dawson has risen to the top of a very deep Amherst team, and has even become something of a volume scorer, taking 72 shots over the last three games. This is where the comparison to DeRozan becomes appropriate. DeRozan is in the top 5 in the league in scoring due to a relentless style that necessitates a lot of shots. Dawson, like DeRozan, subscribes to the “shoot your way out of it” approach to scoring. Additionally, both high scoring two guards play on very deep teams, with a point guard who is considerably more efficient in Johnny McCarthy ‘18 and Kyle Lowry. Dawson and DeRozan both keep their teams in games with their scoring ability, but also run the risk of shooting their teams out of games.
Williams Forward Daniel Aronowitz ‘17: Paul George (Pacers)
One of the most versatile players in the league, Aronowitz has been the key to Williams’ strong start to 2016-2017. At 6’5”, Aronowitz is longer than many of the other guards in the league, which allows him to crash the boards and shoot over smaller defenders in the post. For all their perimeter depth, Williams has serious weaknesses inside. They lack a real interior scoring threat, and Wesleyan exposed their lack of rebounding toughness in their ten point win earlier in December. Aronowitz may well be the player who is most important to their team in the league, due to his rebounding and interior scoring responsibilities as well as holding down the perimeter. Aronowitz’s combination of post scoring, shooting and defense remind me of Paul George. George plays on a team (the Pacers) who lack a dominant inside scorer, as Myles Turner is only in his second year and is something of stretch-five anyway, and therefore he absorbs much of the rebounding burden. Like George, Aronowitz carries a very heavy load for his team. We will see if that is sustainable come league play.
Connecticut College Forward Zuri Pavlin ‘17: Nikola Vucevic (Magic)
Pavlin has been an excellent player for four years, averaging a double-double over his 20 year (it seems like) career at Connecticut College. But his senior season has seen him raise his game to a new level. Pavlin is again near the top of the league in rebounding, as he has been for his whole career, but his offensive game has taken a major step forward. He is averaging 14.6 PPG on 54% shooting, both career highs. Connecticut College leads the league in scoring despite being eighth in three pointers. Pavlin anchors this interior-focused offense. While the Orlando Magic’s offense is considerably less effective than Connecticut College’s (in relation to the rest of their league,) they share an offense that is highly focused on the paint, contrary to the direction that the game is going. Vucevic is an excellent rebounder despite being undersized, and is also a versatile offensive weapon. He and Pavlin share a tenacity on the boards and a versatile offensive game in the paint, although Pavin is far more crucial to his team’s success than Vucevic.
Defensive Player of the Year
Bates Forward Malcolm Delpeche ‘17: John Henson (Bucks)
While Delpeche’s offensive game has been a work in progress throughout his career, defensively he has always been a stud. He has averaged over 1.5 blocks per game three out of his four seasons, and has forced countless more missed shots due to his presence. This season he has been even better than his first three seasons, leading the league in blocks with 3 per game. He has paired with his brother Marcus to give Bates one of the most formidable defenses in the league (third in the league in opponents points and second in blocks.) And with Bates sitting dead last in the league in points per game themselves, their defense is critical to any success they may have. Delpeche’s shot-blocking ability stems mostly from his quick feet and tremendous wingspan, making him very reminiscient of former UNC and current Milwaukee Bucks big man John Henson. Henson uses his tremendous wingspan and footwork to anchor an elite defense that keeps his team in games even when they struggle to score, just as Delpeche does for Bates.
Hamilton Forward Peter Hoffmann ‘19: Paul Millsap (Hawks)
Former ESPN writer and current head of The Ringer (and chief role model of yours truly) Bill Simmons invented the statistic “stocks” in order to measure how destructive a player is defensively. The formula is kind of complicated, but see if you can keep up: blocks plus steals equals stocks. Hoffmann is dominating the NESCAC stocks race, averaging 4.3 stocks per game. Hoffmann is the only player in the league in the top five in both steals and blocks, and has been crucial in keeping Hamilton in the middle of the pack defensively. At 6’5,” Hoffmann has the size to outmuscle guards on the perimeter. And despite being undersized for a forward, he is long and athletic enough make an impact in the paint as well. This is where the Paul Millsap comparison comes to fruition. Millsap has made his mark in the NBA by being an undersized forward whose remarkably quick hands and feet allow him to guard perimeter players and get steals. He can also move down to the post and block shots, making him the centerpiece of an excellent Hawks defense. Hoffmann has been a dominating defensive force this season, and could vault into Player of the Year consideration if he can keep it up in league play.
Middlebury Guard Jack Daly ‘18: Marcus Smart (Celtics)
Middlebury’s greatest strength is their guard trio of Matt St. Amour ‘17, Jake Brown ‘17 and Daly. The three guards are fourth, seventh and second in the league in steals, and are also three of the top four scorers on the team. But with St. Amour’s recent shooting struggles and Brown’s responsibilities to run the offense, Daly has emerged as arguably Middlebury’s best player so far this season. He and Brown share defensive responsibilities on point guards, but Daly’s sneaky-long arms and and strong upper body allow him to body larger shooting guards and forwards. He is also possibly Middlebury’s best rebounder, averaging nearly 6 per game despite being only 6’2”. Daly is not an outside threat in any sense of the word, and yet averages 11 points per game due to pure tenacity and strength in the paint. Daly fills a similar role for Middlebury that Marcus Smart does for the Celtics. Both are devastating perimeter defenders who can guard nearly any position on the court, and also carry a great deal of rebounding responsibility on teams that struggle on the glass. They also both have the horribly cliche “nose for the ball.” If there’s a big play on defense for Middlebury or the Celtics, you can bet that Daly or Smart was involved.
Rookie of the Year
Hamilton Guard Kena Gilmour ‘20: Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
Hamilton is enjoying a youth movement in 2016-2017, and Gilmore looks like the freshman centerpiece. A 26 point outing against Clarkson has skewed his numbers towards the high side a bit, but he has been a consistent contributor all season for the Continentals. Here are his numbers if you project them out over 30 minutes (approximately, since I can’t find a calculator and can’t do math): 21 PPG, 6.0 REB/G, 1.2 A/G, 55.8% shooting. He has shown confidence, if not success, in his jump shot, taking 3 threes per 30 minutes. But his real skill is in the paint, where he gets to often due to his size and athleticism. Gilmore, as is the case with all freshman, has been turnover and defensive-lapse prone, but his offensive contributions speak for themselves. Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown plays a similar style. Despite being far from a threat from three, Brown is a very effective slasher, and has already had two or three monster dunks this season. Brown and Gilmore are both important contributors early in their careers, and Gilmore could be an x factor come league play.
Middlebury Forward Matt Folger ‘20: Domantas Sabonis (Oklahoma City)
The skill that stands out most about Matt Folger if you watch him in warm-ups is his feather soft jump shot. At the beginning of the season, Folger projected as a prototypical stretch four. However, this season has seen him struggle from three, shooting only 18%. But his struggles from outside have allowed him to showcase his other skills. Despite only playing around 12 minutes, Folger averages 1.1 blocks and .6 steals per game. He is also shooting a ridiculous 80% on two point shots, showing good hands and a soft touch around the rim, as well as from mid-range. Sabonis of the Thunder shows a similar skill-set. He entered the league as little more than a stretch four, but has shown already this season that he can be dangerous in the paint on offense and defense. Middlebury and Oklahoma City have problems at the five right now, but if Folger and Sabonis continue developing, they may not in the future.
It’s probably obvious, but there are A LOT of opinions in this article. I changed my mind on both the awards and the comparisons roughly a thousand times, and even now I’m not sure I like any of them. So I welcome any argument about either the NESCAC players in the running for the awards or their NBA counterparts. Arguing about NESCAC basketball is my second favorite thing in the world to do, and arguing about the NBA is first. So come at me on Twitter, on the blog post, on Facebook, or the blog email. I welcome it.