Stewart’s the right choice


In this week’s ON THE BALL, Nation basketball writer Justin Marville takes a look back at the happenings in local basketball last week.
SO THIS IS HOW it feels to be a castigated council member.
Yup, ever since I naively revealed I was on the selection panel that tabbed Adrian Stewart as Premier League MVP it’s been one set of criticism after the next like I had planned to cut a couple thousand Government jobs right after Christmas. And that’s putting it mildly.
Try phrases like “you gotta be mad”, “wha basketball you watching?”, “you foolish or wha”, or my personal favourite “you ain’t know nutten bout nuh basketball”.
Yeah I hear all of that, but can you imagine if I DIDN’T choose Stewart.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting there were no other worthy candidates as the evergreen Cougars swingman probably won the award in what must be the most loaded MVP field in the last decade.
But to dismiss Stewart’s candidacy as lunacy is even more ludicrous, especially considering that most of the arguments for his competition just don’t add up.
First, let me acknowledge that André Lockhart is undoubtedly Barbados’ best player, but if the MVP were awarded to the league’s best every time then a certain Michael Jordan would’ve won every such honour in the 1990s save for the baseball years.
Stats then obviously have to play a huge role in these types of selections, and trust me when I say there isn’t much in it between Stewart, Lockhart and Jeremy Gill, though they do help to exclude a fourth candidate, Akeem Marsh (17.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.1 bpg).
Gill did lead the league in scoring at 22.8 points a contest, however, Stewart (21.2) and Lockhart (20.4) held the next two spots on the table, while virtually the same thing played out for the assist leader board where Lockhart (5.6 apg) barely edging out second-placed Gill (5.4) and fourth-best Stewart (4.9 apg).
Stewart (8.0), though, had a considerable advantage on both Gill (5.3) and Lockhart (2.9) on the glass but that has a lot to do with the fact that the Cougars forward plays in the frontcourt while his counterparts are primarily out on the perimeter.
So it really comes down to which star had the biggest impact on theleague during the regular season, and this is where Stewart really comes up aces.
I don’t simply want to dismiss Gill’s efforts, as his offseason arrival did transform Pinelands into a legitimate contender, but the Pine never really had the feel of a title-winning squad during that regular season while losing all but one of their four matchups against the other playoff-bound sides.
And that solitary win came late
 in the year when both Sonics and Pinelands had already assured themselves of postseason berths.
It seems unfair really to pin those initial shortcomings on Gill, especially considering he averaged an otherworldly 26.7 points in those contests.  He also didn’t help to bring out the best in Charles Vanderpool (13.3 ppg), Daniel Lovell (9.3 ppg) and Rico Thorpe (5.9 ppg) though, and isn’t that what an MVP is supposed to do?
That leaves a deadlock between both Lockhart and Stewart, who both unfortunately had to miss games late in the season for varying reasons.
But it’s how Lakers and Cougars responded to their absence that really demonstrates each player’s respective impact as the former won all but one of their last five games without their star floor general while Cougars literally fell apart in dropping the final three contests without Stewart.
It wasn’t even that they lost those matchups more so than the manner in which they did such, with Cougars – who were still battling for playoff positioning at the time – losing those games by an average of 16 points including a 114-85 stinker against those same Lakers.
Contrast that with the 102-100 overtime victory against Lakers that proved the peak to Cougars’ historic 7-1 start to the season where the Hothersal men looked like certain world beaters with Stewart at the helm.
An argument can be made that Lakers have a loaded roster with the likes of Sixth Man of the Year Keefe Birkett (16.0 ppg), Ian Alexander (14.4), Mark Bridgeman (13.3) and Adrian Allman (11.9) so the drop-off without Lockhart wouldn’t be that steep.
That, though, should’ve also held true for Cougars, as they had arguably the league’s most talented line-up behind noted scorers such as Godfrey Leacock (16.4), Ricardo Jemmott (15.4) and Selwyn Brooks (11.3).
It just shows the level of impact that Stewart has on a Cougars team which never even sniffed the postseason before his MVP-winning season.
Others will argue for Jemmott’s return being the main driving force behind the end of Cougars’ playoff drought, but they also probably forgot that Cougars were in postseason contention last year too with Stewart before a certain brawl and the ensuing suspensions laid waste to that run to the Final Four.
Diminishing Lockhart’s impact on the champion Lakers is folly though, as the star playmaker truly had a season worth recognising – just not at the risk of the lunacy that would be dismissing Stewart.


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