The choice was very likely between just two players and neither could be considered an undeserving recipient, but I was fairly surprised Monday when the Big West Conference announced Hawaii’s Stefan Jankovic as its Player of the Year.
If I’d had a vote, it would have gone to point guard Roderick Bobbitt, who has been Hawaii’s floor general the past two seasons. Bobbitt creates offensively and sets the tone defensively. He has the ball in his hands so frequently and is almost always the safety outlet when the shot clock is running down.
Jankovic has had some monster games this season and knows when he’s got it going. He doesn’t force his offense so even his low-scoring games haven’t been inefficient. But just watching the action, his presence is often less noticeable than Bobbitt’s, which is why my gut would be to reward the point guard.
But when I dug a bit deeper into the numbers, it seems like Jankovic’s season has been even more impressive than I first thought and his production has surpassed that of Bobbitt in most advanced statistical categories.
The big man’s offensive ability shines through the screen and his impact on the team is just as impressive. He has an offensive rating of 125.4, which means Hawaii scores 125.4 points per 100 possessions with Jankovic on the court. That’s far and away the best mark on the team and well above Bobbitt’s rating of 112.7. He’s also best on the team with a 91.5 defensive rating.
They’re not even close in Player Efficiency Rating, with Jankovic’s 29.0 way higher than any other ‘Bow, including Bobbitt (18.3). And in terms of win shares, his 4.5 for the season leads Bobbitt’s 4.1, despite Jankovic playing about 10 fewer minutes per game.
So I’m a bit torn. If I had to decipher who is Hawaii’s most indispensable player, it would be Bobbitt. Despite the statistical evidence — and good stats, not just points, rebounds and assists — leaning heavily towards Jankovic, I’ve seen the team operate without each on the court and they’re just a little bit lost without Bobbitt. They can still play well and Quincy Smith has done a decent job sliding to that spot when necessary, but Bobbitt makes his team much more comfortable and his opponents much more uncomfortable.
It’s that classic eye test versus hard evidence dilemma. I never like commentators who throw away advanced analytical stats as meaningless because they seem to be the same people who think Rudy Gay is an All-Star because he can score 20 points a game. Taking a look at what Jankovic has meant to Hawaii on the stat sheet is pretty staggering and would make it clear that he’s the most deserving candidate.
But having watched as much Hawaii basketball this season as possible, my eyes have informed me that Bobbitt — to borrow a phrase from Kevin Durant — is the real MVP. I’m sure Eran Ganot would never want to make this decision, but had he been forced to play the year without Jankovic or Bobbitt, I believe he’d let go of the big man.
So the most indispensable player on the conference’s best team is where my vote would have eventually fallen. I apologize to my advanced metrics brethren. I’m exiting the basement and going with my gut on this one.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.