Rock M Nation is handing out postseason hardware. On Monday, we unveiled our picks for All-SEC teams, and today we’ll single out players who garnered individual recognition.
Player of the Year
Grant Williams, Tennessee
Combo Forward, Jr., 6-7, 236 pounds
Let’s cut to the chase: Why pick Williams over PJ Washington? No doubt, the Kentucky sophomore displayed the consistency we pined for a year ago. Yet Williams, who was sterling last season, also improved. As a junior, Tennessee’s bulwark stretched his range to the 3-point line and displayed a knack for burying contested jumpers in the mid-range — all while bullying opposing bigs on the block. Sheer brawn and brutality were once his calling card. This season, he showed the polish and versatility to counter his status as the focal point for opposing scouting reports.
Meanwhile, Williams grades out slightly better on the defensive end of the floor, allowing 75.9 points per possessions, which ranks second among high-usage SEC players, according to Synergy Sports. (Washington allows 81.3 points.) To spot the gap that gives Williams the edge, we can turn to net rating — the gap between their offensive and defensive efficiency — and see Williams (41.1) clearly has the edge over Washington (21.6). When you look at the impact of their presence, Tennessee is 16 points worse per 100 possessions when Williams sits, according to HoopLens. UK sees a similar dip with Washington off the floor.
In reality, we’re parsing decimal points — and acknowledging that Williams lived up to his already lofty billing.
Freshman of the Year
Tyler Herro, Kentucky
Wing, Fr., 6-5, 195 pounds
The freshman sharpshooter didn’t just have an uptick in production as the season wound down. It was a bonafide breakout. Over the four weeks, Herro averaged 17.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and shot 41.9 percent from behind the 3-point arc. That surge helped him lead the Wildcats in minutes (34.5) and finish second in scoring (16.1), assists (2.2) and steals (0.9) during SEC play. While Herro thrives when flying out of screens for jumpers, he can use those same curls to drive the ball, and he’s actually been really productive (1.314 PPP) when asked to lead the break.
Meanwhile, he arguably became coach John Calipari’s most reliable defender, ranking 11th among high-usage SEC players by allowing just 81.8 points per 100 possessions, according to Synergy Sports. He’s also shown plenty of pluck and moxie by getting on the backboards. Undoubtedly, Keldon Johnson had an equally productive freshmen campaign, one where his jumper was more consistent at times than some might have expected. In late January, he might have been a consensus pick. Instead, Herro put together a compelling closing argument.
Remaining SEC All-Freshman Team
- A.J. Lawson, South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ surprising SEC run boiled down to guard play, and the freshman wing showed he could create offense in a multitude of ways: drilling spot-up jumpers, hitting catch-and-shoots coming left off screens and attacking the rim out high ball-screens. And he did it all efficiently, posting a 106.0 offensive rating in league action.
- Isaiah Joe, Arkansas: A major question confronting Arkansas was how it would replace perimeter shooting to keep defenses from collapsing on Daniel Gafford. The Fort Smith native was the answer, shooting a 42.6-percent clip from deep and setting a program record 3-pointers by a freshman.
- Keldon Johnson, Kentucky: His tool kit is more fully equipped than Herro’s on the offensive end of the floor, but Johnson’s efficiency on both ends slipped a bit during SEC play. That’s a soft critique, though. The wing can still score at all three levels and is a nightmare in the open floor. And it’s not as if Johnson is lackadaisical on the defensive end.
- Naz Reid, LSU: A late surge by Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry needs to be noted, but whatever analytic advantage he might have might erode if he had Reid’s usage. While Reid struggled at times scoring out of post-ups, the rest of the big man’s arsenal, whether stepping out to the 3-point line, rolling to the rim or taking passes in the short corner was sterling. And while it took some time for his defense to improve, you can’t doubt his effort on the glass.
Defensive Player of the Year
Tremont Waters, LSU
Point Guard, So., 5-11, 175 pounds
Last season, Waters’ stature and frame made him easy to mash in ball-screens, while he also learned the hard way at times when to gamble in search of takeaways. This season, the sophomore could trigger a potent a transition game — his 5.38 steal percentage was far and away the best in the SEC — without putting the Bayou Bengals in a bind.
Only Grant Williams averaged more defensive possessions than Waters’ nine per game. Despite the heavy workload, he only yielded 0.736 points each time down the floor, including 0.67 PPP when guarding pick-and-rolls. Meanwhile, he remained sound off the ball, allowing opposing guards to connect on just 28.9 percent of their catch-and-shoot attempts.
Sixth Man of the Year
Hassani Gravett, South Carolina
After a woeful non-conference performance, the major issue confounding the Gamecocks was easy to see: None of their guards could reliably fill up the scoring column. While A.J. Lawson emerged over SEC play and graduate transfer Tre Campbell eventually settled in, Gravett’s perimeter shooting stroke ensured Frank Martin’s team had a legitimate floor-spacer. During SEC play, Gravett’s ranked third in the conference for 3-point shooting (43.9%), and only Breein Tyree might have been better at knocking down catch-and-shoot jumpers. Gravett’s reliability was a godsend for a backcourt that featured a slashing freshman in Keyshawn Bryant, a streaky shooter in Campbell and saw three of its members — Lawson, Justin Minaya and T.J. Moss — lost to injuries.