The NESCAC Player of the Year talk is heating up, and with coaches voting on awards this week and announcements coming out at the end of the tournament, we wanted to make our nomination today, before postseason play starts. While most NESCAC observes are prognosticating a three-way race between Aaron Toomey, Willy Workman, and Michael Mayer, we think one player has been more valuable than any of the three: Nolan Thompson.
There is a good case to be made for the superstars mentioned above. Their conference statistics, followed by Thompson’s, went as follows:
Toomey: 18.6 ppg, 48/51/87 shooting, 4.7 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.8 spg, 34.6 mpg, 19 turnovers
Mayer: 17.9 ppg, 59/44/77 shooting, 8.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.4 spg, 1.2 bpg, 30.4 mpg, 25 turnovers
Workman: 12.7 ppg, 53/48/70 shooting, 7.6 ppg, 4.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.5 bpg, 33.9 mph, 18 turnovers
Thompson: 14.0 ppg, 54/52/91 shooting, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 38.2 mpg, 9 turnovers
Among the four, Thompson ranks 3rd in ppg, 2nd in FG%, 1st in 3PT%, 1st in FT%, 3rd in rpg, 4th in apg, 3rd in spg, 4th in bpg, 1st in mpg, and 1st in TOs.
In other words, based on purely traditional metrics, Thompson belongs firmly in the discussion. But it is the non-traditional numbers that define Thompson as a player and separate him from the pack. The following is a list of each conference matchup this season, with the statistics of the player Thompson guarded, followed by their conference averages.
Bates: (Don’t remember/know)
Tufts: Ben Ferris 2-3 FG, 4 points, 2 turnovers (Conference: 13.8 ppg, 43-87 FG)
Connecticut College: Matt Vadas 2-6 FG, 7 points, 3 turnovers (Conference: 19.1 ppg, 54-143 FG)
Wesleyan:* Shasha Brown 3-10 FG, 9 points, 2 turnovers (Conference: 18.9 ppg, 62-136 FG)
Williams: Taylor Epley 1-6 FG, 4 points, 3 turnovers (Conference: 18.2 ppg, 64-134 FG)
Hamilton: (Don’t remember/know)
Bowdoin: Bryan Hurley 1-5 FG, 3 points, 4 turnovers (Conference: 8.9 ppg, 27-86 FG)
Colby: (Don’t remember/know)
Trinity:** Mick Distasio 1-6 FG, 2 points, 5 turnovers (Conference: 5.9 ppg, 19-51 FG)
Amherst:*** Aaron Toomey 3-11 FG, 7 points, 1 turnover (Conference: 18.6 ppg, 54-107 FG);
Willy Workman 2-3, 4 points, 1 turnover (Conference: 12.7 ppg, 40-76 FG)
(Conference statistics subtract Middlebury game in order to accurately reflect statistical difference. For the Amherst and Wesleyan games, I only changed the field goal numbers, because the scoring totals are in majority reflections of non-Nolan defenders. Can explain more if necessary.)
*Brown scored 20 points in the game, but the tape shows 11 that were essentially out of Nolan’s control (fastbreak layup off of turnover, baskets after switches on screens, free throw put-pack)
**Distasio scored 5 points in the game, but at this point we were keeping close track to points allowed by Nolan, and it was 2.
*** Explanation for the numbers decided upon here can be read in our Amherst post-game note.
Thompson held the combination of Ferris, Brown, Vadas, and Epley, four of the top ten players in the league, to a combined 46 points under their season averages, an average of 11.5 fewer points per player per game.
He held Hurley and Distasio, two good but not great players, to a combined 9.8 points under their season averages.
He held Toomey and Workman to a combined 11 points in 55 minutes, whereas their season averages applied to the number of minutes he guarded each would have predicted 25.8 points, 14.8 points more than he allowed.
While a big part of Thompson’s game is limiting touches and shot attempts, his shot defense was stellar as well. These eight players shot a combined 15-50 from the field against Thompson, a 30% rate. They combined to shoot 45% in conference away from Thompson.
In sum, he held this group of players to abysmal shooting on their way to an average of 10.01 points under their season averages per game. The 10.01 points per game that he took away represents 64% of their average points per game.
This is a group of matchups that includes point guards, power forwards, and every position in between.
It includes players of the following heights: 5’10″, 5’11″, 6’2″, 6’3″, 6’4″, and 6’6″.
Of the eight players listed, six (Toomey, Workman, Brown, Vadas, Ferris, Epley) are likely to make an All-Conference team.
Every player except Epley, and arguably Hurley or Distasio, is the best player on his respective team.
While guarding these players, and despite playing 38.9 minutes per game, Nolan committed 10 fouls in all of conference play. At least 2 were intentional fouls in end-of-game situations. He ranked 2nd in the conference in minutes, and 89th in fouls (and 20% of the fouls were intentional!).
Speaking of minutes, Nolan would have played them all if Jeff Brown had let him. He went 40 against Williams and 55 against Amherst.
What Thompson accomplished night-in and night-out was both unbelievable and most likely unprecedented. He was assigned to guard every great player he could have possibly guarded in the conference and he won every matchup decisively. We believe that this resume is enough to make up for the (not-as-significant-as-you-would-think) difference between he and the other three in a comparison of traditional statistics. (Did you see those offensive efficiency numbers?)
This is not to say that we do not realize that all three of the players mentioned bring value that is not measured on the stat sheet. Toomey and Mayer both completely change the ways defenses play and create space and opportunities for their teammates like nobody else in the conference. Workman’s versatility is extremely valuable and dangerous, and he plays excellent defense as well (though most of the value of Workman’s roaming, risk-taking style of defense is reflected on the stat sheet). Much like Thompson, these three bring unique challenges to opposing coaches that go beyond the numbers.
Yet, having watched all of these guys play several times each, and looking closely at all of the measurables and considering all of the other factors and analytical inputs that we could come up with, we felt that Thompson was the most valuable of the bunch. The defensive numbers speak to his astonishing value.
While we did not count this toward our decision, it is worth mentioning that Thompson is a one-of-a-kind teammate and leader. His interview with Pat Coleman reflected his class and selflessness (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=eIdo7DtdneU). It goes beyond that though, as he is the silent example-setter who everybody else on the team follows in work ethic and attitude. Assistant Coach Alex Popp told us he has literally never heard Nolan make an excuse. Thompson is always in the gym shooting, and in the few moments when he goes to the bench during games, he is the most enthusiastic and vocal supporter of his teammates. He never talks about himself and he is filled with sincere compliments and appreciation directed toward his teammates and coaches. He exemplifies the leadership and character of the Division III student-athlete.
He is also, in our view, the best player in the conference.
While we will be coming out with our All-NESCAC teams soon, here are our picks for the other individual post-season awards:
COY: David Hixon, Amherst (Two straight years without losing in conference, while replacing three significant contributors, with the competitiveness at this level, is remarkable)
ROY: Tom Palleschi (His in-conference numbers almost earned him a spot on our Second-Team All-Conference)
DPOY: Thompson (Is there a defensive player of ever award?)