Who Was Florida Basketball’s MVP?

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview mirror there’s lots of evaluation to be done with what went down from an opening day fiasco against Florida State to a Round of 32 finish in the NCAA Tournament. While there are a lot of important questions to be pondered regarding the roster and style of play there’s a lighter question that would be easy to answer for most teams in the country but isn’t as straight forward for the Gators.

Who was Florida’s best player in 2018-19?

For most teams there is a logical answer, whether it be a clear leader who shouldered the load on both ends of the floor or an offensive superstar who filled up the stat sheet enough to be considered the MVP. But for Florida I don’t think it’s quite as simple. They didn’t always have a go-to guy and they didn’t have someone who dominated statistically. The question of who Florida’s MVP was has been on my mind for a while now and I have struggled to come up with a clear answer, leading me to take a deeper look at the season to see if I could come up with a strong opinion. Here’s what I found.

The Case By The Raw Numbers

Here were the Gators’ leaders in each of the major counting stat categories:

Points: KeVaughn Allen (11.8)
Rebounds: Keyontae Johnson (6.4)
Assists: Andrew Nembhard (5.3)
Steals: KeVaughn Allen (1.4)
Blocks: Kevarrius Hayes (1.9)

No one jumps out as clearly the best player, so let’s look at the stat lines from all the key Gators this year.

KeVaughn Allen

11.8 Points
2.8 Rebounds
2.1 Assists
1.4 Steals
02 Blocks
1.9 Turnovers
38.9% Field Goal
32.6% Three Point Field Goal

Kevarrius Hayes

8.3 Points
6.3 Rebounds
0.7 Assists
1.0 Steals
1.9 Blocks
1.5 Turnovers
67.3% Field Goal
0% Three Point Field Goal

Andrew Nembhard

8.0 Points
2.9 Rebounds
5.4 Assists
1.2 Steals
0.1 Blocks
2.1 Turnovers
41.4% Field Goal
34.7% Three Point Field Goal

Noah Locke

9.4 Points
2.3 Rebounds
0.6 Assists
0.4 Steals
0 Blocks
0.4 Turnovers
37.5% Field Goal
37.9% Three Point Field Goal

Keyontae Johnson

8.1 Points
6.4 Rebounds
1.3 Assists
1.1 Steals
0.3 Blocks
1.3 Turnovers
47% Field Goal
36.5% Three Point Field Goal

Jalen Hudson

9.3 Points
2.9 Rebounds
0.9 Assists
0.7 Steals
0.2 Blocks
1.0 Turnovers
35.5% Field Goal
28% Three Point Field Goal

Is there a player that really stands out as the best from a raw numbers standpoint? Not really. KeVaughn Allen led the way in scoring and was the only Gator to hit double figures but he didn’t do it with very good efficiency and he didn’t contribute a lot from a rebounding or assist standpoint, though he contributed a lot of steals.

Kevarrius Hayes wasn’t even that far behind in average points but he had an outstanding field goal percentage, far less turnovers than a lot of people would think, and he rebounded and blocked shots.

Andrew Nembhard also wasn’t too many points off the pace but his assist numbers are much higher than anyone else’s and that makes him responsible for more offense than his individual points would suggest.

Keyontae Johnson’s numbers are sneakily just about as good as anyone else’s on the team due to the fact he wasn’t that far behind the top players in points but he rebounded really well and shot the ball with good efficiency.

You could make an argument for a few different Gators having the best season by a raw statistical standpoint, but I don’t think there is a clear leader.

The Case By KenPom

Like many, I am a huge KenPom fan who uses the website for analytics almost daily and really like a lot of it’s tools. One of things it’s algorithm does is name an MVP for every game that is played after calculating numbers from the box score. Here is the total number of MVPs each Gator got this season.

KeVaughn Allen: 8
Kevarrius Hayes: 3
Andrew Nembhard: 2
Keyontae Johnson: 1
Jalen Hudson: 1
Keith Stone: 1
Deaundrae Ballard: 1

KeVaughn Allen definitely ran away in this category and this could confirm the opinion of the fans who think he was the Gators’ best player this season. The algorithm KenPom uses is not made known to the public so I can’t say for sure what goes into it but it certainly is interesting the Allen was rewarded far and away the most MVPs of anyone on the team. I’m not sure entirely what can be taken from this data but it’s certainly an interesting note that would support Allen’s MVP case.

The Case By The Analytics

I don’t want to get too into the weeds here with particular analytics that point out the strengths and flaws of each player but I thought I’d look at some of the “catch-all” analytics to see if they point towards any player in particular being Florida’s most valuable

First let’s look at Player Efficiency Rating (PER). This is the granddaddy of catch-all basketball analytics and it uses pretty much every statistical category to put out a single number for each player with the higher the better. Here are the top Gators:

Kevarrius Hayes: 24.0
Keyontae Johnon: 18.9
KeVaughn Allen: 15.5
Deaundrae Ballard: 13.9
Noah Locke: 13.7
Andrew Nembhard: 13.6
Jalen Hudson: 13.5

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge believer in PER and find that it always favors big men (I think they weigh rebounding too heavily in the calculation) but there are two interesting things from this list. First, that Hayes is so high, even for a number that I do think is tilted in the favor of big men. Secondly, I find it interesting that Nembhard is so low. His low number of field goals definitely doesn’t help him here but I would not have expected him to fall behind Deaundrae Ballard and be in Jalen Hudson territory.

A stat I find much better is Win Shares, a formula that calculates the number of wins a player contributes to his team due to both his offensive and defensive contributions. Here’s what it has to say.

Kevarrius Hayes: 4.4
Keyontae Johnson: 3.4
KeVaughn Allen: 3.4
Andrew Nembhard: 3.4
Noah Locke: 2.9

Now this is really interesting. Just like PER Hayes is leading the way, but I’m most interested to see Johnson, Allen, and Nembhard all tied and I think that shows just how close the race for MVP. Win shares can also be broken down into offensive and defensive win shares (those numbers are added together to find the number I just referenced) so let’s take a look at each of these player’s breakdowns. (OWS: offensive win shares, DWS: defensive win shares)

Kevarrius Hayes: 2.4 OWS, 2.0 DWS
Keyontae Johnson: 1.4 OWS, 1.9 DWS
KeVaughn Allen: 1.6 OWS, 1.8 DWS
Andrew Nembhard: 1.6 OWS, 1.8 DWS
Noah Locke: 1.8 OWS, 1.1 DWS

The last catch-all analytic I want to look at is Box Plus/Minus, an estimate of how many more points per 100 possessions a player contributed over a league-average player. So for example if a player’s BPM was 0 he’d be completely average, if he was 10.0 he’d be quite good, and if he was -5.0 he’d be a below-average player. Let’s look at the top Gators.

Kevarrius Hayes: 12.9
Keyontae Johnson: 7.8
KeVaughn Allen: 6.1
Dontay Bassett: 4.8
Keith Stone: 4.4
Andrew Nembhard: 4.3

Once again we have a stat that Hayes leads in and Nembhard falls behind in, and let’s also note Keyontae Johnson looks really good in yet another category. I really like Box Plus/Minus since it deals in points added per 100 possessions instead of an abstract number like PER or Win Shares and it helps frame just how effective a particular player was. Do any of these numbers crown a winner? Not necessarily, but they’re interesting.

Let’s give a final run down on a few of the players that could be considered Florida’s MVP.

The Case For KeVaughn Allen

Allen was as close to a go-to guy as Florida had when they needed a bucket late and he was the leading scorer on a team that struggled to put points on the board. He also provided really good defense on the other side of the floor and that needs to be considered when talking about who the Gators’ MVP was. What really hurts his case is poor efficiency and his worst stretch of play happening near the end of the season when Florida needed him most. The analytics don’t look upon him too positively but the eye test shows someone who was one of, if not the most important players on the roster.

The Case For Kevarrius Hayes

Florida was a defense-first basketball team and Hayes was the best and most important defensive player on the roster and I think that says a lot. The analytics paint a picture that he was the most valuable Gators and I think that can be backed up when you look at his contributions on the defensive end as well as his tremendous field goal percentage on the other end. He played his best basketball late in the season when Florida’s backs were against the wall and was one of the vocal leaders for a young squad. The fact he wasn’t a player who could initiate offense or generate a bucket when the team really needed one hurts his case but there’s a lot that points to him being most outstanding.

The Case For Andrew Nembhard

The point guard position might be the most important in the game of basketball and Nembhard played it really well especially considering he didn’t have many offensive weapons to move the ball around to. The fact he was able to create so many assists out of nothing was incredibly valuable and I don’t think anyone would question the fact that he would be the most irreplaceable Gator given his skill set and the role he filled as primary ball handler. His stats aren’t amazing and he doesn’t look good in the analytics but his work playing the point puts him in the discussion for me.

Final Thoughts

If I had to vast a vote for MVP it would go to Kevarrius Hayes for the reasons I laid out earlier but I think you could easily argue it for KeVaughn Allen or Andrew Nembhard. There wasn’t a stud that clearly differentiated himself this season and that makes the discussion interesting and I’d love to know your thoughts on who you thought the MVP of the team was this year. Be sure to leave a comment or post on the Gator Country forums.

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.