In a year where the most productive player in the league is toiling for the worst team in the league and no one player is putting together a campaign that gives them a clear edge – it’s safe to say the race for ACC Player of the Year is wide open.
Despite all this, one player who has clearly been one of the five most productive players in the league this season is getting almost no consideration for that award. That player – Richard Howell, NC State’s quiet work horse who never takes a night off and wasn’t even considered one of the top two players on his own team coming into the season.
That preseason perception is probably partially to blame of Howell’s name not coming up in the discussion as much as it should. Another problem is that, even now, Howell doesn’t get a lot of offensive sets run for him nor does he make the kind of plays that show up on highlight reels. He just out works, out muscles and out efforts everyone on the court night in and night out.
But Howell absolutely deserves consideration as the most productive player in the league. Let’s look at some traditional statistics as well as some more advanced metrics to get a closer look at how Howell rates among his contemporaries and why he deserves consideration.
12.7 points per game (18th in ACC play) – This is the area where Howell detractors will point to the most when it comes to dismissing his POY candidacy. But his efficiency (which we’ll get to) makes up for his less than spectacular scoring. If you also factor in that Howell is essentially the fourth option on his team, and almost never has plays run for him in the half-court offense – it’s actually quite impressive that Howell ranks in the top 20 in scoring.
11.9 rebounds per game (1st in ACC play) – Howell is to rebounding what Erick Green is to scoring in the ACC. He’s more than two rebounds clear of Mason Plumlee in second place, and has on more than one occasion carried the Pack in the rebounding department.
Field goal percentage - 50% (6th in ACC play) - Howell has consistently been one of the best shooter in the league... he takes smart shots and converts around the rim.
1.3 steals per game (7th in ACC play) – He’s a 6-8 center who leads the league in rebounding AND he ranks in the top 10 in steals per game through 16 league games.
Offensive Rating – 116.84 (5th) – Offensive rating attempts to create one singular stat that gives an indication of a player’s overall efficiency when that player is involved in the offensive possession. Howell rates fifth in the league for a variety of reasons – high shooter percentage, good offensive rebounding and a low turnover rate.
Due to the extra value given to 3-point shots in the rating, it’s rare that a player who isn’t a 3-point shooter ranks this high. He is, in fact, the only ACC player who plays primarily in the post to rank in the top 10.
Turnover %: 13.1% (13th best in ACC) – The one thing that truly kills an offensive possession is a turnover, and Howell is one of the best in the league when it comes to holding onto the ball. His ability to keep possession is a key reason he’s such a valuable offensive player – he helps keep the Pack’s overall turnover percentage fairly low, balancing out some starters with less ball security acumen.
Offensive Rebound %: 14.29% (1st) and Defensive Rebound %: 23.11 (3rd) – Plumlee and Akil Mitchell rate ahead of Howell on the defensive glass, but he’s far enough beyond them in offensive rebounding (they rank 18 and 16, respectively) that he still reigns supreme as the best rebounder in the league by these metrics.
Effective FG%: 56.1% (9th) – Once you start factoring in the added value of 3-point shots, as effective FG% does, it drops Howell down a few notches. But even with a few guards moving ahead of him, he still rates among the top 10 in the league in this metric.
Howell has not only been highly productive as a post player – clearly the most productive post player in the league this season – but he’s also doing a lot of other things you don’t expect a post guy to do well. He’s holding onto the ball, he’s generating steals – he does nothing poorly.
In some seasons, maybe that’s not enough to be a candidate for Player of the Year. But this year, with a weak field, it’s more than enough to deserve consideration.
Ultimately, Howell will probably not win the award. Voters will probably look past his rebounding and vote for players with shinier points per game averages or players on team higher in the standings. But voters shouldn’t be outright dismissing his candidacy – he deserves as much consideration as anyone else in the league.