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The case for Paige Bueckers to win national player of the year

Bueckers has a convincing argument to become the first-ever freshman to take home the award.

David Butler II - USA TODAY Sports

Despite all of the hype that preceded her arrival to Storrs, Paige Bueckers’ freshman season has somehow managed to shatter and exceed even the highest expectations.

Bueckers is (or at least, should be) the clear frontrunner for national freshman of the year, even in what has proven to be one of the better freshman classes in recent memory. She’s also making a strong argument for the best freshman season in UConn history. But above all, Bueckers’ accomplishments so far this season put her in the conversation for national player of the year.

The easy argument for Bueckers is that she’s the best player on the best team. UConn sits on top of the AP Poll and — barring a catastrophe down the stretch — will secure the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Bueckers has been instrumental in that success, leading the team in minutes, points (nearly five points per game ahead of their next leading scorer), assists, 3-point percentage, and steals. She also went off for 31 points to lift UConn to its best win of the season over South Carolina and made a game-clinching 3-pointer in the final minute against Tennessee.

Without question, she’s been the best player on the court for the Huskies from start to finish.

From a numbers perspective, it’s hard to look at a single value or even a small subset of numbers and decipher who the best player in the nation is. One that does a decent job of that is win shares, which relies on a combination of many individual (and team) statistics to estimate the number of wins a player contributes throughout the season. It’s not perfect, but most NBA and WNBA MVPs lead the league in Win Shares at the end of the season.

The last five Naismith Player of the Year Award winners (Breanna Stewart, Kelsey Plum, A’ja Wilson, Megan Gustafson, and Sabrina Ionescu) have all been either at the top or near the top of the country in total Win Shares and each has ranked in the top 10 nationally for total Win Shares and Win Shares per 40 minutes during the season in which they won the award.

As of now, there are only three players in the country that rank among the top ten in the country for both Win Shares and Win Shares per 40 minutes, per Her Hoop Stats. Paige Bueckers is one of them, along with Naz Hillmon (Michigan) and Kiersten Bell (Florida Gulf Coast University).

Bueckers ranks second in the country for total Win Shares. While that’s impressive in its own right, the other names in the national player of the year conversation trail her despite having played more games. Dana Evans (Louisville) and Charli Collier (Texas) are both in the top ten and have played 22 games to Bueckers’ 18. Aliyah Boston (South Carolina) sits at 12th but, again, has a three-game advantage over Bueckers. Measuring with Win Shares Per 40, Bueckers checks in at sixth, even with her 650 minutes being 150 minutes over anyone else in the top 15 in the nation.

If you aren’t already convinced, there’s also the argument that Bueckers is one of, if not the best, offensive players in the country right now. She has either the bucket or assist on over 40 percent of UConn’s made field goals this season while her 20.5 points per game have come at a clip of 56.7 percent shooting from the floor and a gaudy 53.7 from three — all while being the main focus of opponents’ defensive efforts.

Bueckers also ranks 15th in the country in points per play with Hillmon and Bell being the only players ahead of her with a comparable number of field goal attempts per game. She finishes 74 percent of her attempts around the basket and makes 50 percent of her jump shots, both of which rank among the top three percent of players. These metrics indicate that, despite the volume in which she scores for the Huskies, her efficiency has not been compromised from anywhere on the floor.

While the race for national player of the year feels more open than it usually does with March right around the corner, Bueckers has certainly carved out a strong argument for herself. She’s not just gunning for hardware, either. If she wins, Bueckers will also etch her name in history as the first women’s college basketball freshman to take home a national player of the year trophy.