Four Players Who Deserve More Shine
A closer look at four players who deserve way more recognition for their excellent seasons
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It’s the time of year where national award watchlists get cut down, which means it’s also the time of year where those very same watchlists should hopefully reflect on-court production more than name recognition. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Of course, a watchlist snub doesn’t equate to a total lack of respect for a player’s production, but it’s important to showcase the players who go overlooked. We started the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award in the 2019-20 season to bring a spotlight to players in conferences that don’t get much national coverage, but the lack of recognition issue also extends to some power conference players.
We don’t want to spoil the upcoming Hammon Award watchlist reveal, so let’s focus on a handful of high-major players that deserve some shine.
If you visit the Division I Win Shares leaderboard, you’ll find two huge names at the top: Aliyah Boston, the presumptive national player of the year, and Ayoka Lee, who has emerged as a serious contender for national awards. Below those two, however, is a name that wasn’t even on the Wooden Midseason Top 25: Veronica Burton. The senior guard is a defensive pest and a catalyst on offense for Northwestern.
Burton is averaging a downright unprecedented stat line. Through Jan. 10, she is averaging 18.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 4.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. Since the 2009-10 season, only one other player has averaged 4.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. Add in her assists, and that leaves just Burton on the list.
That’s before even considering her strong scoring and solid rebounding for a guard. If you had to place money on any single player to record the next quadruple-double, your best bet would be Burton.
It is hard to fathom how Burton slipped under the radar of the Wooden Award panel, taking this all into consideration. Not only should she have made his list, but she also has an incredibly strong case for All-America team nods this far into the season.
Shelley is another stat sheet stuffer out of the Big Ten who does a little bit of everything. Currently, Shelley is averaging 13.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. Since 2009-10, the only other players to put up those lines for an entire season are Gabby Williams in 2016-17 and Crystal Bradford in 2013-14.
Shelley came into this season without nearly as much fanfare as her Big Ten foe Burton, but her outbreak after two low-key seasons in Oregon is not garnering nearly as much attention as one might expect. She received some notoriety after recording a triple-double in just 20 minutes earlier this year, but that hype has subsided even as she’s led Nebraska to a 13-1 record that includes a 21-point drubbing of No. 8 Michigan last week.
As weird as it might sound for a conference that placed five players on the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25, the Big Ten tends to not get the respect it deserves. Nia Clouden of Michigan State, who currently ranks No. 10 in Win Shares, is another notable omission, despite popping into the national consciousness with a 50-point game against FGCU.
Speaking of players with triple-doubles this season, LSU’s Khayla Pointer recorded the first one of this season with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists against Nicholls State. Since then, she has amassed the fifth-most Win Shares in Division I thanks to a combination of solid volume scoring and elite facilitation. Pointer’s 27.5% assist rate ranks in the top 6% nationally, paired with a better than average turnover rate, giving her an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.05, ranking 151st in the country.
On the defensive side of the ball, Pointer pulls down a total of 6.6 boards and 1.5 steals per game. Maybe, more importantly, Pointer averages just 1.4 fouls per game, a big reason she can play more than 35 minutes per contest.
Pointer has led LSU to an impressive 13-2 start, and the Tigers are currently ranked No. 13 in the AP Top 25.
With most overlooked players, the team tends to also be outside the national spotlight. It is strange that the top player in such a high-profile program isn’t getting the spotlight their production should garner.
In the 2019-20 season that got cut short due to COVID, Robertson was in pursuit of the all-time single-season three-pointer record. She finished 23 short of the overall record of 154 and was 0.16 shy of the per-game record of 4.53.
Could Robertson have made the final push with the benefit of a handful of Big 12 tournament games? We’ll never know. The 2020-21 season was also cut down by a few games, limiting Robertson to just 24 games and 86 made threes.
This year Robertson is back on track, averaging 4.4 makes per game through 15 games. So, once again, this puts both the overall and per-game records within reach for the senior guard. The added wrinkle this season is where Robertson will finish on the all-time career three-pointers list. Her 388 currently ranks 15th all-time, and at her current pace, she could easily challenge for No. 4 all-time, 430 by Belmont’s Darby Maggard.
Considering Robertson plays for a rising force in one of the nation’s strongest conferences, the fact that this record pursuit isn’t being covered more widely means the average fan is missing out on a historic talent.
All of these storylines and statlines are exactly what draws viewers and engage fans. When a national watch list comes out and a great player is snubbed, it perpetuates the exact environment of coverage that led to that very same player being overlooked. When a record chase comes and goes without fanfare, fewer people tune in with hopes of witnessing history.