The season is only two weeks old, but we have already seen glimpses of what we can anticipate from a number of teams from the Pac-12 moving forward. Because it is Thanksgiving after all, I’m giving a shoutout to one player from each team that we should all be thankful for this season.
Player: Lauri Markkanen
The freshman seven-footer from Finland has lived up to the preseason hype through four games, recording a double-double his last time out. Markkanen has easily been the most efficient offensive player for the Wildcats, logging an offensive efficiency rating of 147.9 (next highest is Parker Jackson-Cartwright at 119) while averaging 19.5 points per game and going 22 of 23 from the free throw line.
Player: Torian Graham
Players that can shoot from deep are just flat-out fun. That’s exactly what the 6-5 senior guard has done in six games for the Sun Devils, compiling four games where he knocked down four or more triples, including 5-6 in the season opener against Portland State. A shooting slash line of 55.6/45.2/87.5 probably isn’t sustainable, but it is an incredible start.
Player: Charlie Moore
With Ivan Rabb banged up to start the season, the Golden Bears have surprisingly looked to freshman guard Charlie Moore to step up and lead the Cal offense. Moore is the only Cal player that has played multiple games this season and averaged more than 10 points per game. Moore exploded in a comeback win over UC Irvine in overtime last week, unloading for 38 points, ensuring his name will stay in the California freshman record book for quite some time.
Player: Derrick White
The Buffaloes have a healthy quartet of Derrick White, George King, Josh Fortune and Xavier Johnson, but I’ll give the nod to White to start the season. The redshirt senior leads CU with 14.4 points, 4.2 assists and 1.2 blocks through five games. White will be a centerpiece to Colorado’s return to the NCAA Tournament as he has a hefty 23.2% usage percentage and easily the best box plus/minus per game at 13.7, the best on the roster.
Player: Chris Boucher
Yes, preseason All-American forward Dillon Brooks has returned from a foot injury, but Chris Boucher has been lights-out through the first two weeks of the year. The lanky 6-10 forward is shooting 43.5% from deep (10-23), while converting 65.7% of his two-point attempts and shooting 70% at the line, quite an impressive trio of stats for a player that has been named a rim-protector by many. He’s still good at that, too, swatting 18 shot attempts in the first six games. Boucher might end up being the most important player on the Ducks when it’s all said and done.
Player: Tres Tinkle
Not many expected Oregon State to be 2-3 with losses to Lamar and Tulsa at this point, but it doesn’t discount what Tres Tinkle has accomplished to start the year. Tinkle, the son of head coach Wayne Tinkle, is the ring leader of the Beavers team. In both OSU wins, Tinkle averaged a double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds, 10.5 free throws made and two steals. If anything is for certain about this Oregon State team, it’s that the Beavers will count on Tinkle to single-handedly carry OSU to victories throughout the season.
Player: Reid Travis
Travis has arguably been the best story in the Pac-12 in November, with massive increases in just about every statistical category. His offensive efficiency rating is up 16 points from last season, he’s nationally ranked in offensive and defensive rebound percentage, and 7th in the country in fouls drawn and free throw rate. Travis played only eight games last year, but there’s no reason to believe why Travis can’t be a key cog in Stanford’s quest for a tournament bid.
Player: Lonzo Ball
Lonzo Ball has been better than advertised. Seriously. The elite freshman looks like a perfect fit in the Bruin offense, averaging 16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and nine assists a night. We haven’t seen a talent like Ball in years, if ever, at the college level, so we have to enjoy it while it lasts. Only one player has averaged more than 10 assists per game in the last 22 years, but Ball might make a legitimate run at averaging a double-double this season.
Player: De’Anthony Melton
I see you, Elijah Stewart, but freshman guard De’Anthony Melton has been fantastic on the defensive side in his first four games at the college level. Melton has the third highest steal percentage in the country at 7.5% but also has a stellar offensive efficiency rating of 122.8. Melton won’t light up scoreboards, but he’s good for 10 points a game and does the little things like snatching a few steals and a handful of rebounds a night.
Player: Kyle Kuzma
Playing two non-D-1 teams and 332nd ranked Coppin State in the first three games is boring, but at least we have Kyle Kuzma. It’s a very small sample size, but Kuzma was two points and three rebounds from going 3/3 in the double-double category to begin the season. In the season opener, Kuzma scored 23 points and grabbed 19 rebounds to go with four assists. Kuzma and senior guard Lorenzo Bonam should create a formidable duo that can keep the Utes in the tournament hunt.
Player: Markelle Fultz
Washington might not win a lot of games this year, but at least we can all be thankful for Markelle Fultz. The superstar freshman will only spend a year in Seattle, but it should be a special one. Fultz is averaging 25.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 3.1 blocks+steals in five games this season. He might even finish with a usage percentage over 30, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a Husky since Tony Wroten (32.2%) did it back in 2012. In three words: Fultz is good.
Player: Josh Hawkinson
I’m still waiting for everyone to give Josh Hawkinson the respect deserves. Hawkinson has been one of the most consistent and reliable players in the Pac-12 despite playing for a Washington State team that has won 32 games in the last three seasons, and should be capable of averaging a double-double for the third consecutive season. Hawkinson shoots above 80% at the line and 60% on two-point attempts, while racking up 17.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game in the first five games this year, all career-highs.
Which players are you most thankful for being able to watch this season? Enjoy your Thanksgiving - we have a lot of hoops to watch in the coming days.