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Should JP Macura or James Farr have been Big East Sixth Man of the Year?

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JP Macura is undeniably one of the best bench players in the league, but it’s not entirely clear he’s the best bench player on his own team. We take a deeper dive into the coaches’ decision to crown him instead of James Farr.

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

You certainly know by this point that JP Macura won the Big East Sixth Man of the Year award. If you didn't, well, now you do. The consensus among the coaches in the Big East was that nobody in the conference made a bigger impact on games coming off the bench. Obviously, this is a high honor. But... there isn't even a consensus among Xavier fans regarding which Musketeer makes the biggest impact on games coming off the bench. Enter James Farr.

For the uninitiated, James Farr has been a revelation for the Musketeers this year. After three fairly unremarkable seasons trying to be a face-up four, he reinvented himself as a post player who protects the rim and beasts the boards on both ends. His production has taken off now that his game fits his body, and his numbers have been undeniably impressive. He is maybe the best rebounder in the nation and almost certainly the best rebounder in the conference (depending on what Daniel Ochefu does for you). So why isn't he the Sixth Man of the Year instead of JP Macura? Let's break it down.

The statistical argument

First, let's get something out of the way here: both of these guys are sixth men, or at least neither of these guys is a starter. James started four games in conference play; JP started four games in conference play. Each has grabbed exactly one start since the Georgetown debacle. Xavier's starters are Sumner, Davis, Abell, Bluiett, and Reynolds.

With that settled, here are some pertinent stats from the conference season for JP and James:

ORtg %Min %Poss eFG% FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG ARate TORate Blk% Stl%
JP Macura 121.1 61.2 18.0 56.1 .480 .362 .865 9.9 2.6 2.1 15.6 14.4 0.2 2.7
James Farr 109.0 53.1 23.5 54.8 .544 .500 .788 10.6 7.4 0.6 5.9 19.4 4.3 2

On an average game, you're going to get about 24 minutes out of JP and about 21 out of James; no surprises there. James has the edge in scoring and rebounding, but JP has better assist numbers. JP is far and away the more efficient offensive player, with ORtg giving him an additional 12 points of value per 100 possessions as compared to James. This comes down to a couple of things. First of all, JP is a ton more likely to get three points from one shot than James is, having hit 21 threes to James's 1. Even though James's FG% is .064 higher, JP has the better EFG%. JP also has much better ball distribution and ball security numbers. On the scoring side of things alone, JP gets a pretty big edge.

There's more to ball than just putting the biscuit in the basket though, which is why Jimmy Chitwood ended up going undrafted before playing overseas for 13 years. Both players have solid steal numbers, though JP has the edge there. Where James is monstrously ahead is around the rim. He has a block rate in the top 10 in the conference; JP has one blocked shot. James gets twice as many defensive rebounds as JP gets rebounds overall. I think, just from the numbers, there's no question James is the more productive defensive player.

Does that massive gulf in rebounding and rim protection make up for the 12-point gap in ORtg? I don't know. Defensive value in basketball is something that's really difficult to quantify, as a lot of what a good defender makes happen is noteworthy for the lack of impact in makes in the box score. Suffice it to say that the number like JP and James in very different ways.

The subjective argument

Being a sixth man isn't just about what stats you post off the bench though, it's about changing the nature of the game when you come in. There's no doubt that JP does that. His energy at the top of the 1-3-1, for instance, is a nightmare for opponents to deal with. He flies from one end of the floor to the other, creating chaos and activity wherever he goes. He pokes, prods, hustles, dives, and occasionally chests up the normally benign Mo Watson from the moment he steps onto the floor until whenever Coach Mack sees fit to withdraw his preternaturally rosy cheeks from the game. Throw in his ability to score in bunches or set up teammates with incredibly deft passing and JP is a fireball off the pine. When he comes in, you know it.

On the other hand, so does James. When he paws a rebound out of the sky and slaps it into his other hand like an angry dad trying to stop an overly raucous game involving a beach ball, he demands attention and respect. There have been stretches this year where he has completely shut down the defensive glass; you feel like every miss coming off the rim is his. His usage rate also demonstrates that he is going to dictate the flow of the offense, not fit into it. He commands attention on the post and will take apart your seven-foot ginger with obvious glee. He's also a more vocal leader than JP, a veritable Myles Davis of the frontcourt. He talks the back side of the zone, keeping everyone in position and apprised of cutters, and he can frequently be seen pulling teammates in for a word of encouragement or admonition.

The final word

So which of these guys is the sixth man of the year? Both of them have put up really good numbers off the bench. Both of them change the nature of the game when they come in. Both of them offer something radically different than the other does, but both are vital to Xavier's success this year. I'm a little surprised the coaches picked the prickly antagonist over the veteran with the feel good story, but I'm not sure that you can really go wrong with either of them.