History often repeats itself. Last year at this time there was an argument over who the Pac-12 player of the year would be.The race was between Utah’s Delon Wright and Oregon’s Joseph Young. Oregon’s Young picked up the award in the end and seemed to confirm his selection with a game winning shot against Utah in the Pac-12 tournament. This year the Pac-12 player of the year award appears to be a two man race once again, with both Utah and Oregon again having a player in the race. Utah’s Jakob Poeltl and Oregon’s Dillon Brooks are the two leading candidates this season. Popular opinion seems to give Brooks an advantage, but what is the argument for Poeltl?
For starters, Poeltl beats Brooks from a purely statistical standpoint. Poeltl is averaging 18.1 points per game to Brooks' 17.2 points per game. In rebounds, Poeltl averages 9 per game with Brooks averaging 5.7. It's worth noting Poeltl and Brooks are not the same type of player, Poeltl is a true center at 7-0 235 lbs. while Brooks can play both inside and some on the perimeter, at 6-8 225 lbs. The differences in their styles of play are evident in certain stat columns, like blocks per game, where Poeltl averages 1.4 blocks per game while Brooks averages 0.4 per game. In assists per game, Brooks takes the lead with 3.1 per game compared to Poeltl's 1.9.
When you take in to account differences in position and style of play however, Poeltl appears to be the more dominant and consistent player. Look no further than Poeltl's twelve double-doubles so far this season. Five of them have come in Pac-12 play and two others have come in important games against Duke at Madison Square Garden and against rival BYU. In comparison, Brooks has three double-doubles this season, only one coming in conference play against Stanford, the other two coming against Valparaiso and Fresno State.
Poeltl has won four Pac-12 player of the week awards this season, which is four times as many as Brooks has at one. Poeltl's four Pac-12 POW awards double the amount of the next closest player in the Pac-12, Andrew Andrews of Washington, with two. No other player besides Poeltl and Andrews have won multiple player of the week awards this season. His four selections this season tie him with Eddie House 1999-00, Ed O'Bannon 94-95 and Gary Payton 89-90 for second most in a single season, driving home how impressive Poeltl's year has been.
Poeltl has been arguably the Pac-12's hottest player down the stretch, scoring 20-plus points in seven of the last nine games and recording double-doubles in the last three games, including a critical late season road swing through Los Angeles. Brooks has also been instrumental to Oregon's success, putting up impressive performances against tough competition, including scoring 30 points against Utah recently.
Watching Brooks play is a treat and he can make the game look easy at times. Poeltl plays a traditional post game and can be ruthlessly efficient and at times unstoppable. Out of the two it is clear Poeltl is the most important to his team. Without Poeltl in the lineup, Utah would be nowhere near the top of the conference and would likely be struggling to make a run for the tournament. Having Poeltl inside changes everything. Oregon has a better supporting cast around Brooks. That is not to take anything away from Brooks' ability, however there are more pieces to draw opponents attention and cover if Brooks is having a bad night.
The Pac-12 player of the year award is voted on by the coaches at the conclusion of the regular season. The winner of the award seems to shift between the undisputed best player in the conference or the best player on the best team. How these two teams finish out the final two weeks of the season could go a long way in determining who gets the award. If Oregon finishes with a better record and the coaches look at Utah and Oregon's head to head matchups, Brooks will probably get the nod. Brooks had better games than Poeltl in the two head to head matchups this year. But if they look at total body of work, Poeltl is the obvious choice for Pac-12 player of the year.