Markelle Fultz and Kelsey Plum are both having fantastic seasons. It doesn’t take much expert analysis to come to that conclusion. Both were named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top-25 this week. And based on their stats they would have to be considered likely to make at the very least the Top-10 come the end of the year (the uncertainty comes on Markelle’s part, Kelsey is a surefire unanimous All-American). Seasons like the ones that each are having don’t come along very often. And it’s even less frequently that both the men’s and women’s teams at one school each have a prospective All-American in the same year. But that is a very real possibility for the UW in 2017.
I first wanted to see exactly how rare that is. I looked at the Wooden Award finalists for each year in the last decade to find instances where both the Men’s and Women’s list each had one player from the same University. Note that the Wooden Award puts out a Top-10 list for the men and a Top-5 list for the women.
Men’s/Women’s Single School Duos 2007-2017
|Tyler Hansbrough||University of North Carolina||Men's||2007|
|Ivory Latta||University of North Carolina||Women's||2007|
|Chris Lofton||University of Tennessee||Men's||2008|
|Candace Parker||University of Tennessee||Women's||2008|
|Hasheem Thabeet||University of Connecticut||Men's||2009|
|Maya Moore||University of Connecticut||Women's||2009|
|Renee Montgomery||University of Connecticut||Women's||2009|
|Terrence Williams||University of Louisville||Men's||2009|
|Angel McCoughtry||University of Louisville||Women's||2009|
|Blake Griffin||University of Oklahoma||Men's||2009|
|Courtney Paris||University of Oklahoma||Women's||2009|
|Kemba Walker||University of Connecticut||Men's||2011|
|Maya Moore||University of Connecticut||Women's||2011|
|Shabazz Napier||University of Connecticut||Men's||2014|
|Breanna Stewart||University of Connecticut||Women's||2014|
|Jerian Grant||University of Notre Dame||Men's||2015|
|Jewell Loyd||University of Notre Dame||Women's||2015|
|Markelle Fultz||University of Washington||Men's||2017|
|Kelsey Plum||University of Washington||Women's||2017|
About once a season there is at least a 2nd team men’s All-American and a 1st team women’s All-American from the same school. That includes 2009 when Connecticut had two women make the Top-5 of the Wooden Award and one man, which I’m counting as two separate instances.
Given that the most dominant program in the last decade of college basketball has been the UConn women’s team it isn’t a shock that they are the only school to show up more than once. So it happens a little more frequently than I expected. The question then becomes how historic are the specific seasons that Fultz and Plum are having compared to the other dynamic duos. First, let’s look at where each of the Huskies are to this point in the season statistically (stats are from prior to this week’s games).
Fultz is having a phenomenal season but Plum’s numbers are otherworldly. Plum of course has the advantage of being a senior while Fultz is a freshman so their accomplishments are probably equally astounding when you adjust for age. It will never happen but it would be fun to see what Fultz would look like playing college basketball as a senior. Now, let’s compare them to the other duos from the last decade. I took the sums of their per game totals and took an average of shooting percentages.
Best Men’s/Women’s Duo Statistics 2007-2017
As you might expect, which categories each duo excels in depends largely on the positions they play. Combinations of two low-post players like Blake Griffin and Courtney Paris dominated in areas like Rebounds and Blocks while struggling in categories like Assists and Free Throw Percentage. I considered only using the women’s stats for 3-pt % for the duo paired with Hasheem Thabeet as he never attempted a three-pointer and thus 0% isn’t quite an accurate representation of his skills. I decided to leave it in as I think it’s fair to penalize him for having absolutely zero game outside of dunking and being really tall (you may be able to tell I was never on the Thabeet hype train even before he became both literally and figuratively a giant NBA bust).
A quick glance at that table tells you immediately that Fultz and Plum are lapping the field when it comes to scoring the basketball. They are a full 6.5 points per game more than 2nd place and 14 points more than 3rd place. That isn’t surprising considering there’s a decent chance that Kelsey Plum becomes the all-time leading scorer in the history of women’s basketball by the time her career is done. Fultz may not be quite the scorer that Plum is, but he’s still third of the 9 guys on the list in points per game behind only Kemba Walker and Blake Griffin.
The Washington pair also lead all others in combined assists which again, is helped by being one of only a few pairings made up entirely of guards. They also hold their own in the rebound category despite neither playing around the rim. The free throw percentage ends up being ok but Kelsey picks up the slack, making 90% of her freebies compared to Fultz’s 2 out of 3.
A Fultz/Plum combo certainly appears to be right up there, but how to decide if they are in fact the best? I took each statistic for each pair and divided it by the maximum amount in that category. For example, if the top duo had scored 50 points per game they would get one point and another pair that scored 25 points per game would get 0.5 points. Then I multiplied it so that the best possible score (a team that finished first in all 8 categories) would be a 100. A perfect attempt to create such a formula would include different weighting for each category to say for example that points are more important than free throw percentage. But that’s one step further than we’re going to go. So equal weighting it is. Here are the results:
Final Duo Rankings
Fultz and Plum end up your winners, narrowly beating out the combination of Shabazz Napier and Breanna Stewart. Fultz is putting up a season that’s just a better version of what Napier did. The only categories in which Napier had the edge were free throw percentage and a 0.1 advantage in steals per game.
It’s much more difficult to compare Plum and Stewart’s seasons. Stewart played on an always loaded Connecticut team that rarely allows one player to put up the raw statistics that Plum has for UW this season. Nonetheless, she averaged almost 20 points per game to go along with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3.5 blocks while shooting 57/43/84 from the field. Kelsey’s season has been amazing and she’s a different player than Stewart but I think I’d give the edge to Stewart. Looking at the individual seasons of each leaves it as close as the narrow numerical margin would suggest. One way to break a tiebreaker would be to acknowledge that conference season just started and it’s likely that both UW players’ stats will go down at least a bit by the end of the year. However, there’s a more reasonable tiebreaker.
The elephant in the room is team success. 2014 was the year in which both the men’s and women’s UConn teams won the national title. Napier saved his best for last with 21 points, 4.5 ast, 5.5 reb, 2.5 stl, and 1.7 blk while shooting 45/47/94 from the field in the NCAA Tourney to seemingly will his team (a #7 seed) to a miraculous title. The women’s Huskies meanwhile went 40-0 to coast to an undefeated season.
Plum led Washington to a Final Four last year as an underdog and it wouldn’t be crazy to think they could go at least as far again this season. It goes without saying that the level of miracle required for Fultz to end up in the Final Four would be orders of magnitude greater than the one which Napier used to secure a national title.
The stats aspect are close enough to a tie that I think the dueling national championships for UConn are enough to make the difference. So ultimately I would say no, Markelle Fultz and Kelsey Plum are not having the greatest combined season for a University in the last decade. But they are close. If Markelle jumps to the NBA after this season as expected, his legacy as a Husky won’t be nearly what Kelsey’s is but he still deserves recognition for how special a season he’s having. Now is as good a time as any for all Husky basketball fans to take a step back and appreciate the greatness on display at Hec-Ed every week for the next two months.