To read Andy Staples' case for John Wall as national player of the year, click here.
How good is Evan Turner? Lately, he's been causing me to tune into games I should really have no interest in watching, like last week's Ohio State-Penn State contest. The Nittany Lions were 2-12 in the Big Ten at the time. The Buckeyes pretty much controlled the entire second half. Yet I couldn't stop watching. I wanted to see what Turner would do next.
At one point early on, he throws an inbounds pass in under his own basket, immediately takes the ball back and flies down the baseline for a slam. During one early-second-half span, he feeds teammate David Lighty for a dunk, then runs back down court and blocks Penn State star Taylor Battle. Moments later, off a missed Penn State shot, Turner races down court and leaves two defenders in the dust for a layup.
And then there are the jump shots -- all sorts of jump shots. On one, he takes a pass on the wing, makes a crazy spin move to ditch Battle and puts up a floater. Penn State eventually cuts a 17-point deficit down to four with 3:30 left, but you know what's coming next. Two straight possessions, two straight Turner pull-up jumpers. Ballgame.
Final tally: 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three steals, two blocks.
Though he makes even the most mundane game exciting, Ohio State's do-everything junior won't win Player of the Year honors on highlights alone. John Wall can go toe-to-toe in that department. Turner deserves it because he's the most complete player in the country, the most valuable to his team and the most productive all-around guard the sport has seen in years.
You have to go back to 2004 to find the last time a point guard, St. Joe's star Jameer Nelson, won the Naismith Trophy. Lately the hardware's been dominated by power forwards like Tyler Hansbrough and Blake Griffin. Those guys were ballers, no question, but their games were more workmanlike. Lots of bullying inside the lane to grab rebounds and get fouls.
It's been a treat this year to watch Turner and Wall do their thing in the open floor, and they're both electrifying players. The difference is, Turner does more things in more areas over the course of 40 minutes.
He averages 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals. Consider: He's a 6-foot-7 point guard who leads his conference in rebounding. Not only that, he's No. 1 in scoring and No. 2 in assists, making him the only Big Ten player in the past 26 years to rank in the top three in all three major categories.
Just for kicks, he's also second in steals, fifth in field-goal percentage (. 538) and eighth in blocked shots (0.9 per game).
And did I mention he's one of just two players in the country (the other, Marshall's Hassan Whiteside) to post two triple-doubles?
Clearly, the guy's got more than enough credentials to qualify for Most Outstanding Player. We also have certifiable proof why he's the sport's Most Valuable Player.
Ohio State, 24-7, currently sits in first place in the Big Ten. Take away Turner, however, and the Buckeyes are an NIT team. We know this because early in the season, Turner suffered, quite literally, a backbreaking injury.
Ohio State was 7-1 when Turner crashed to the floor following a dunk against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 5, fracturing the second and third lumbar vertebra in his spine. He missed six games, during which the Buckeyes went 3-3, including losses at Wisconsin and Michigan in their first two league games. Since his return, Ohio State has gone 14-3 and is seen as a potential Final Four team.
Turner has some fine complementary players around him in William Buford, Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale, but they pale in comparison to Wall's supporting cast at Kentucky, which includes two fellow projected lottery picks (DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson). Without Wall, the Wildcats wouldn't be a front-runner for the national championship -- but they'd probably be in the discussion with that kind of talent.
Wall is akin to what freshman star Derrick Rose was to Memphis' 2008 national runner-up squad: the cherry on top of what was already a very tasty sundae. Even without Rose, the Tigers had reached the Elite Eight a year earlier with largely the same cast of players.
Turner plays more the part that his fellow Chicago native, Dwyane Wade, did at Marquette in 2003 -- a guy so talented he could almost singlehandedly lead an otherwise pedestrian team to the Final Four.
With that in mind, the player of the year race between Wall and Turner figures to be no easier a decision than an NBA general manager would have right now if he had a choice to sign Rose or Wade. You can't go wrong either way.
But the question here isn't, who's more talented? It's, who's been more outstanding during the 2009-10 season? Turner has scored more, rebounded more, shot better and notched as many steals while tallying slightly fewer assists. No other player in the country does so many different things so well.