As any basketball fan knows, players with size can serve as huge advantages for teams if utilized properly. Forwards have the ability to score in the paint, rebound, and block shots better than their shorter teammates. But some of the Big Ten's best forwards have shown the ability to do more than just that; they've shown the ability to be active defenders, shoot the ball from all over the floor, and make smart decisions with the basketball. As evident by the Big Ten standings thus far, the best teams in the conference tend to be the ones that do the best job utilizing their forwards inside and outside of the paint.
The Best of the Big Ten
Frank Kaminsky; Wisconsin; 17.2 PPG; 8.2 RPG
Arguably one of the forwards in both the Big Ten and the entire nation, Frank Kaminsky is a college basketball phenom. Evident by his numbers, Kaminsky does all of the tangibles that have propelled this Badger team to the top of the Big Ten standings. He scores at an efficient level, connecting on over 53% of his field goal attempts, and finds himself ranked second in the Big Ten in rebounds per game. Maybe more importantly, Frank Kamisnky is the senior leader in which Wisconsin plays through and looks for during crunch time. In Wisconsin's most recent 69-64 overtime win over Michigan, Frank Kamisnky had a key three-point play that helped Wisconsin take and keep the lead until the final buzzer sounded. His 22 points and 9 rebounds led the Badgers to a solid road victory.
But one of the most overlooked aspects of a quality forward's game is his ability to score outside the post. Frank Kamisnky has become the player that he is due to his ability to stretch defenses and force opponents to defend him both inside and out. He can back you down in the post or shoot right over you, your choice. Kamisnky knocks down 40% of his three pointers and connects on 75% of his shots from the charity stripe, giving him an added ability that few big men possess. To add to his accomplishments, Kamisnky only gives the ball away 1.5 times per game while averaging 2.4 assists per game. Kaminsky's ability to be a complete player all over the floor is certainly a key reason for Wisconsin's early season success.
Jake Layman; Maryland; 14.3 PPG; 6.9 RPG
Behind effective play both inside and outside the post, Jake Layman has emerged as a big time performer and a leader on a dangerously good Maryland team. When comparing Layman's stats to those of Kaminsky's it becomes clear that there are very few differences in efficiency and style of play. While Kaminsky averages a few more points and rebounds per game than Layman does, both shoot the ball just above 40% from behind the three point line. Layman also shoots the ball at an efficient 75% from the charity stripe. Sound familiar? Layman also shoots the ball at 51% from the field, just 2% behind Frank Kaminsky.
While Kaminsky is considered by most to be the better player of the two, there are obvious similarities in the style of play between both players. Each possesses the ability to stretch the floor, shoot the ball inside and outside the post, and score and rebound at a high level. The play of these two post players have given their teams copious success in Big Ten play. Behind Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin resides at the top of the Big Ten standings (7-1), whereas Jake Layman and the Terrapins find themselves close behind in second (6-2).
Troy Williams; Indiana; 13.2 PPG; 5.9 RPG
Upon looking at the next best team in the Big Ten conference, the pattern continues in a similar, but slightly different fashion with the third ranked Indiana Hoosiers. Though Troy Williams stands at only 6'7'', he leads the Indiana Hoosiers in rebounds and is third on the team in points. With a closer look, it becomes evident that he possesses similar statistics as Layman and Kaminsky.
Like the two forwards mentioned above him, Williams shoots the ball at 75% from the free throw line and actually shoots the ball at 59% from the field. Though Troy Williams lacks three point shooting aspect to his game (20% on the season), he is clearly an efficient scorer, and his game consists of scoring efficiently inside the two point arc. This commonly includes backing taller guys down in the post and taking mid-range jumpers.
The Role of Big Men
Through a closer look at the effective forwards of the top 3 teams in the Big Ten conference, it becomes evident that these players are what separate the good teams from the great teams. But an effective forward is not just limited to his ability to play in the paint; he is able to stretch the defense and knock down jump shots and free throws at a high level. Though Branden Dawson of Michigan St. is the best rebounder in the conference and scores 11.3 points per game, he has absolutely no outside game and shoots the ball inefficiently at 43% from the free throw line. As guard play is clearly a commonality among the best of the Big Ten, forwards are the difference makers and the reason for success, especially those who can become dynamic players both inside and outside of their positions.