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Jaxon Kohler Named Moneyball MVP - Should We Care?

The summer event came to a close with some impressive showings by Spartan Men’s Basketball Players. How much should we really care?

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State Sophomore Jaxon Kohler left his mark on the Moneyball summer pro-am event and earned event MVP honors. Kohler averaged 34.5 points per game across the event. He and fellow Spartan, Tre Holloman, led their team to the event championship. The honor was well deserved as Kohler stood out consistently at an event that is usually dominated by high volume guards and dunks (speaking of dunks, we are legally required to mention Coen Carr is the unanimous dunk champion of the summer - yes, I just made up that award but it’s still true).

While it is a nice honor, and clearly Kohler worked hard to earn it, should we actually care?

Argument AGAINST Caring, AKA the Pierre Brooks Rule

Last summer, a fringe rotation player named Pierre Brooks took over Moneyball.

After an inconsistent Freshman year at Michigan State, Brooks entered the summer with many questioning his future with the program. He showed up to summer workouts looking stronger and slimmer than his Freshman year. He then proceeded to attack Moneyball. It worked out, and Brooks was named Moneyball MVP. His blistering scoring had him looking like the offensive dynamo he’d been in High School.

I could search and replace Brooks’ name in the paragraph above with Kohler’s. Their stories match up that well. Here’s where Kohler hopes the stories diverge.

During the 2022-2023 Brooks proceeded to revert to his disappointing freshman year. Squandering an injury shortened rotation, Brooks was a disappointment early on. After falling out of the rotation it looked like Brooks stopped working out and when needed later in the year, he was clearly unprepared. Brooks became the one person to transfer out of the program.

Brooks is clearly the cautionary tale about caring about Moneyball performances. Even before him, history has not been super kind to those with standout Moneyball performances. In 2019, Marcus Bingham, Jr. had an outstanding Moneyball. While he clearly contributed more than Brooks, the heights of the Moneyball scoring never materialized during the regular season.

All of this is good reason to smile, cheer and then quickly move on from the news that Kohler won MVP. Or could it actually mean something this time?

The Case FOR Caring

Kohler’s Freshman year was a completely different scenario than Pierre Brooks. Despite Kohler often looking overwhelmed by the physical defense at the Big Ten level, he was still a substantial member of the front court rotation. His offense had big flashes like his double-double at Rutgers. Even his rebounding showed some signs of being a force to be reckoned with, like when he grabbed 7 rebounds in the early season matchup with Alabama.

Still, Kohler got outplayed as the season went on, and eventually Carson Cooper seemed like the better option down the stretch.

Jaxon Kohler had something that made him stand out as a Freshman: his footwork. He consistently found ways to create open shots by outmaneuvering defenders. The problem was in the finish. Kohler was maddening throughout the year seemingly having endless shots rim in and out he lacked either the focus or physicality to finish some truly fantastic offensive moves. In the end, it felt like confidence in his finishing might be the real problem.

Confidence is what Moneyball can fix. The defense at Moneyball is effectively non-existent. That gives players looking to build rhythm finishing their offensive moves plenty to work with during the summer event. And Kohler did that and more.

The reports out of Moneyball showed him scoring under the basket, in mid range shots, and almost unbelievably from outside the arc - sometimes even working as a ball handler.

This is the type of range players can display at an event like this then never duplicate in a “real” game. Still, building the rhythm of truly finishing his great moves could carry over to a more confident sophomore season.

Combine the scoring, with the massively improved physique and you may have an emerging talent with the strength and confidence to start scoring at the Big Ten level.

Kohler won’t average 34.5 points for the Spartans, but he doesn’t have to. If he can parlay this summer into consistent 8-12 point performances in playing time split across a crowded front court, the Spartans have a LOT to be excited about.