As conference play starts to heat up, it’s time to start looking forward at personal awards. Specifically the most important award an individual can win – the Naismith Award.
Since 1969 the Naismith Award has been handed out and plenty of big names have won the award, including the likes of Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis.
There’s plenty of time for the 2015 award winner to make his name known. Since the inception of the award only two men have received the award multiple times – Ralph Sampson and Bill Walton – and last year’s winner, Doug McDermott, is currently playing for the Chicago Bulls.
Last month the initial list of five favorites were published. This is the January edition of the five favorites to win the National Player of the Year award.
- Delon Wright, Sr., Utah
Wright has the Utes ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll and No. 10 in KenPom’s rankings while averaging more than 31 minutes per game and is the best player at Utah since Andre Miller was running the point. He’s averaging 15 points, six rebounds and five assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field. Wright has his chance to have his moment this weekend when Utah travels to Arizona to take on the Wildcats in a key Pac-12 game.
- Jahlil Okafor, Fr., Duke
Okafor was named the CBS Preseason Player of the Year and looked very much the part heading into January. However, back-to-back losses and finding out Okafor’s weakness has dropped him a spot in the Player of the Year rankings. Teams are starting to double Okafor in the post, causing him to make quicker decisions and leading to more turnovers including five against a weak Wake Forest team. He’s still averaging over 18 points and nine rebounds per game, and his name and jersey should help him come award season.
- Justin Anderson, Jr., Virginia
Look, I don’t want to believe it, but Virginia is undefeated. There’s a reason the Cavaliers are sitting at 16-0 and the second ranked team in the country. Anderson is arguably the most improved player in the country, averaging 15 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. However, the most eye-popping stat is Anderson’s shooting 55.7 percent from deep through 16 games. If Virginia wins the ACC again, Anderson might be a lock to win National Player of the Year.
- Devin Booker, Fr., Kentucky
Booker might do the impossible and win the award despite not starting a game. Booker, a 6’6” freshman, is quickly becoming the best player for the No. 1 Wildcats. He’s averaging 10.5 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from deep and looks to only be getting better. If Kentucky head coach John Calipari breaks the platoon system it will be tough to keep Booker off the court. On top of his shooting, he’s becoming the best perimeter defender for Kentucky and, thanks to his size, he can guard multiple positions.
- Kyle Wiltjer, Jr., Gonzaga
There’s arguably no one person or transfer who has had a bigger impact than Wiltjer’s move to Gonzaga. He’s averaging over 16 points and five rebounds per game while playing alongside a loaded starting five. He’s provided relief for point guard Kevin Pangos and is becoming the dynamic scorer many expected him to be when he was a McDonald’s All-American.
Honorable Mentions: Jerian Grant (Notre Dame), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), Darrun Hilliard (Villanova) and Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin)