Uncovering Georgetown

Perhaps the most perplexing team in the Big East last season was Georgetown. A dynamic lineup with positional versatility on the wings, an experienced scoring guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and some serious size in the low post with Bradley Hayes and Jessie Govan. And yet, the Hoyas finished 15-18, with 10 of those losses being a one or two possession game. This is interesting to me because watching the Hoyas didn’t give the impression that they were a bad team. Yes, the offense was frustrating to watch when it featured questionable shots and stupid turnovers. But there were simply too many pieces to ignore: Isaac Copeland the 6’9 bouncy forward looked brilliant at times (32 points, 7 rebounds vs. Marquette); 6’10 freshman Jessie Govan’s three-point shooting was encouraging, though it came in a limited sample size; LJ Peak looked comfortable and explosive attacking the rim toward the end of the season. And guess what? All of those players are returning.

While I’m not a big believer in the “addition by subtraction” philosophy, this is a situation where that might actually be true. Don’t get me wrong, DSR had a tremendous career at Georgetown and finished as the school’s fifth highest all-time leading scorer. But, there are some obvious negatives: He was the team’s highest volume shooter (25.6% of shots) despite being one of its least efficient players (50.1% eFG). For lack of better options, he’s been stuck in a point guard role the last two seasons despite being more comfortable off the ball. And as a 6’3 guard with a 6’3 wingspan and average speed, he was of no particular value on the defensive end.

So, where does that leave us? With a lot of questions…

Does Georgetown really need a single go-to scorer?

What people say they want on a team is someone to give the ball to when in desperate need of points. What they really want is a multitude of scoring options so opposing defenses can’t predict who will get the ball. If everyone knows DSR is getting the ball on the final possession, life just became much easier for defenses. Even elite prospects can’t just score at will when facing double or triple teams. Think about how successful Villanova was by having scoring options at every position. That national championship game winner? Everyone thought Arcidiacono was taking the last shot and multiple defenders focused on him, leaving Jenkins virtually uncovered. Focus on Josh Hart? Booth, Brunson, Bridges, etc. can all score in the open floor. Fine, Georgetown might not have a team like Villanova’s, but they were pretty good at getting open looks last season (66th in 2pt FG%) and JT3’s offense generated a number of open perimeter shots, it’s just they couldn’t make them consistently.

On the bright side, there are a number of incoming players who will certainly bolster their point guard play:

  • Jonathan Mulmore (26.1 PPG at the JUCO level)
  • Rodney Pryor (18.0 PPG at Robert Morris)
  • Jagan Mosley (NJ.com player of the year – led 32-0 St. Anthony in scoring)

Mulmore and Pryor didn’t have great seasons shooting the ball last year, but it could have been a product of playing a volume-dependant, ball dominant role on their respective teams. Pryor experienced a strange drop-off in which his 3PT FG% declined from 42.9% to 29.0% from freshman to sophomore year on a similar attempt rate. But either way, all are proven scorers and will offer a significant upgrade at the point guard position.

What’s up with the terrible shooting?

Georgetown might have had one of the worst relationships between 3PT FG% and 3PT attempt rate. It was the most trigger happy team since 2005 and a large reason why their games felt so unsatisfying. DSR attempted 221 threes last season, connecting on just 33% of them, while Isaac Copeland took 125 at an even lower 27.2% mark (he shot 38.9% the season before??). Both of these guys attempted more than their perimeter designated shooters: Marcus Derrickson (37.6%), Reggie Cameron (35.6%), LJ Peak (40.9%). So wiping off DSR’s attempts and replacing them with any of these guys should boost the team’s shooting efficiency, especially if Copeland finds his touch. More importantly though, with Mulmore, Pryor and an aggressively attacking LJ Peak, it figures that Georgetown will be taking more shots closer to the basket… which is a good thing. They don’t have great inside scorers, but they do have plenty of capable slashers and a number of forwards who can knock down shots.

Can they PLEASE stop fouling so much?

This is still the biggest question mark. Georgetown had a propensity for fouling last season (345th nationally in foul rate), especially in the post. It felt like Hayes and Govan were in foul trouble every game (they were) and the defensive commitment fell through when teams were constantly picking up easy points at the line. Will that change? Nobody knows. The perimeter defense needs to be better so Hayes/Govan aren’t constantly put in the position of stopping shots near the basket, and adding a couple of athletic guards should help. Peak should be good on the defensive end (6’9 wingspan and plenty of strength) if he puts the effort in. Copeland has proven that he can guard multiple positions, but the metrics are a bit head scratching (steal rate, block rate, rebounding rate are all well below average). And I’d expect Hayes and Govan to improve in their shot challenging decisions / positioning with experience under their belts.

So what’s next?

This has been my long-winded narrative to get to a rather open-ended conclusion. Whereas last season, while JT3 had the pieces in his arsenal, many didn’t have opportunity to showcase their talent. Now there’s opportunity. Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson, two promising sophomores who are perfect fits for the system, will take on larger roles. These two forwards have good passing and shooting skills and will threaten defenses when catching the ball at the top of the key. Moreover, the importance of having more natural distributors in the backcourt cannot be understated. Yet as always, it remains to be determined as to whether JT3 can put it all together.

Kelan Martin and Small-Ball Offense

While it won’t happen as much this season, Kelan Martin’s time as a small ball 4 went underappreciated last season. Putting him alongside a handful of floor spacing shooters would do wonders to open up driving lanes and create scoring chances for Butler. Unfortunately, the personnel just isn’t right to do that this season. Either way, here are the things I like about Martin in that role.

He’s an Effective Shooter / Scorer 

Kelan Martin’s much improved sophomore campaign came as a result of two things: increased opportunity and better shot selection. While Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham were considered the go-to options last season, it was actually Martin who had the largest share of shot attempts. His 16.1 PPG ranked him sixth in the conference and he’s now first overall among returning players within the Big East. While he wasn’t the team’s most efficient player, the scoring threat he provided turned Butler into a three-headed monster – in large part explaining why Butler had its most efficient offensive season in over 15 years (1.16 PPP ranked them 14th in the country). With Dunham and Jones graduating, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Martin is the front-runner to lead the conference in scoring.

But everyone knows this. Martin’s presence is the reason Butler is showing up in preseason Top 25 rankings. The Bulldogs will now be his team and an experienced backcourt in senior Tyler Lewis and a few key transfers will keep the offense humming and enable Martin to focus on scoring.

Rebounding

Scoring is what everyone knows Martin for. But we’re going to discuss something more interesting: Martin might be the best perimeter rebounder in the conference. For all the hype Josh Hart received last season for being a “high motor” guard with an excellent nose for the ball, Martin was the better rebounder on a minutes-adjusted basis:

Kelan Martin Josh Hart
% Min 70.6% 78.2%
D Reb % 21.6% 17.1%
O Reb % 6.5% 7.6%

Yes, some of this was a function of him spending more time at the 4-spot, but Holtmann’s defenses switched frequently on PnR and would sometimes settle into a 2-3 zone, so it’s not like Martin spent a lot of time under the basket. So what makes Martin such an effective rebounder? Positioning.

 

He’s only 6’6, but his 235 pound frame means he doesn’t usually get pushed around under the basket. The best part of having Martin rebound the ball is that he can then push the tempo more quickly than a big can. His ball handling is still very much a work in progress, but he’s a more threatening scorer in transition than the frontcourt players.

 

Kelan Martin Playing the 4

We saw Martin at the 3 and 4 last season, playing an ever-important versatile role alongside 6’7 Andrew Chrabascz and 6’8 shot-blocker Tyler Wideman. Now with 6’11 Joey Brunk and 6’10 Nate Fowler entering the fray, Martin’s minutes as a de facto 4 appear to be over. But Martin is an intriguing 4 in Chris Holtmann’s system. He’s strong enough to rebound effectively there, and a good enough shooter / ball-handler to punish slower defenders on the offensive end.

The reason I think Holtmann should try Martin more at the 4 is a function of how Butler’s offense performed in higher tempo settings. Butler was 13-0 in games with 70 or more possessions, and 9-11 in those that fell under. Sure, 70 might be an arbitrary number, but the point still stands no matter how the data is cut.

Butler’s style of play is far from “run and gun”, but it makes sense to push the tempo when you have one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country.

The halfcourt offense will take a hit without Dunham and Jones, two of their best shot creators who accounted for 38% of their scoring. As a result, teams will hone in on Martin. So to ease Martin’s scoring burden in half-court sets, Holtmann should continue to push for transition opportunities… and that lineup is best constructed with Martin at the 4. Chrabascz shoots well (37% from deep), but isn’t as threatening of a player in transition:

Kelan Martin Andrew Chrabascz
eFG% in Transition 57.1% 51.7%
eFG% in Non-Transition 48.4% 54.3%

The obvious flip side is that in order to play this lineup, Butler would sacrifice a significant amount of size in the backcourt: Lewis is 5’11, Woodson 6’2, Savage 6’3 and their two incoming freshmen are 6’2 and 6’4. So unless 6’6 180 pound redshirt freshman Sean McDermott demonstrates an ability to play physical defense, the above lineup is largely inconceivable.

Nonetheless, the conference as a whole will be playing smaller this year. Villanova, Xavier, DePaul, Providence and Marquette all lost key interior pieces, so this lineup could work in select circumstances and I’d love to see how opposing teams try to defend it.

The Curious Case of Kaiser Gates

I already know the first question coming across your mind: who is Kaiser Gates and why should I care? Well, if you care about an NBA-level prospect that has gone completely unnoticed or enjoy reading about under the radar players with the potential to make an impact on a top 10 team, then this is for you.

How could such a player fail to draw national attention? Because NBA draft media focuses on two types of players: highly touted high school prospects that are considered draft-ready by the time they step foot on campus, and more experienced players who have dominated at the collegiate level. Kaiser Gates is neither – his freshman season failed to provide ample opportunities. Needless to say, with two frontcourt players departing last season, Gates’ time has come.

Spacing the Floor

Let’s start with the simple facts. Kaiser Gates is 6’8 forward who is most comfortable playing on the perimeter. Gates is not the typical post banger that Chris Mack usually deals with. He is not a tremendously physical rebounder nor does he match up well with opposing centers. Instead, he is a prototypical stretch forward that can provide tremendous value to a team with an already physically dominant interior player. Look past the 33% three-point shooting and see for yourself:

 

For a 6’8 forward, his shooting mechanics are remarkably fluid. His release is quick and consistent, and his range extends well beyond the college line, making him a viable floor spacing forward both at the collegiate and pro level.

Defense

The three-point shooting is a nice bonus, but what makes Gates so valuable is his ability to defend the 1-4 positions. He has the length to defend equal-sized players, but more importantly, moves well laterally and has quick hands, enabling him to cover guards in pick-and-roll situations. Despite a cross-over and quick change of direction from opposing guards, Gates can able to angle his body and stay in front of his man, preventing penetration.

 

On more than one occassion, Villanova tried to involve Gates in a pick and roll to exploit a mismatch, but Gates prevents penetration while simultaneously denying an entry pass.

 

As with most freshman big men, his biggest weakness at this stage is a propensity to commit unnecessary fouls, especially when guarding bigger players. At times, Gates will overcommit or over-play with his hands and pick up silly fouls. You can see the poor interior positioning on his part here as a help defender. He played too far up in the 1-3-1 and as a result, was out-muscled and out-positioned by Ochefu in the post.

 

It’s also worth noting that his 40-minute adjusted foul rate was the highest on the team, which could pose a major problem when Chris Mack begins to rely on his defensive presence.

Fitting Into Xavier’s Roster

As I said earlier, Chris Mack hasn’t dealt with a player like Gates in recent years. He’s different from the Jalen Reynolds – James Farr – Matt Stainbrook mold of previous Xavier bigs because he isn’t an interior player. Based on their skillsets, these guys were all constricted to the prototypical “big man” role: set screens, roll to the paint and provide offense via short-range shooting and offensive rebounding.

While Mack tended to feature two traditional bigs in recent years, he shifted to a smaller, wing-oriented one last season. This team used 6’6 swingman Trevon Bluiett at the 4. Bluiett is a prolific shooter (his 39.8% clip put him fifth in the conference), but he struggled on the defensive end when matched against bigger opponents. Mack’s employment of a 1-3-1 masked this to an extent, but more importantly, the defensive and rebounding presence of Reynolds and Farr offset any deficiencies. While 6’9 transfer RaShid Gaston and 6’10 Sean O’Mara now step into the fold, the more interesting and effective lineup variation will be plugging Gates into the 4 position and sliding Bluiett to a more natural 3. Doing so won’t hamper the team’s shooting or floor spacing and it’ll give Chris Mack another defensive tool at his disposal. Gates can play the top or middle in a 1-3-1, effectively clogging passing lanes and penetration, or use his length in a man-on-man setting to disrupt an opposing team’s best scorer.

Putting It All Together

At the end of the day, while the sample size is small, the potential is there. He figures to make an impact on the defensive end right away, but my biggest concern is whether Mack can effectively put Gates to use in a system that simply hasn’t heavily relied upon outside scoring. There are a number of ways Mack can use him on the offensive end:

  1. Put him in a pick and pop situation with Edmond Sumner, a guard with excellent penetration abilities, and an instant headache is created for opposing defenses.
  2. Let him float on the perimeter, drawing his defender away from the basket and opening up the paint as seen here.
  3. Have him run the baseline as a corner shooter and offensive rebounder – Gates’ long arms can certainly tip balls and he’s best as a rebounder with a running start.

The opportunity for extended minutes will present itself, and Gates should flourish in a 3-and-D role.

Big East Key Offseason Questions Part 1

I wrote the first part of this series over at Rush the Court: http://rushthecourt.net/2016/04/12/big-east-key-offseason-questions-part-i/

Some interesting situations that stuck out to me:

  • Butler and Georgetown are undergoing similar situations…
  • Butler grew to rely heavily on Dunham and Jones for offensive production over their four year careers in the same way that Georgetown relied on D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. These players grew into focal points as sophomores and juniors, so it’s difficult to imagine the offense without them. Butler’s Kelan Martin put on a tremendous sophomore campaign, boosting his eFG% from 45.5% to 50.4% and vastly improving his rebounding rates. Martin should fill into the primary scoring role well, although adapting to that increased defensive focus takes time. My bigger concern there is who fills into the other scoring roles. Chrabascz hopefully will, provided he can rediscover his shooting touch and confidence. Is Tyler Lewis going to provide enough at the PG spot? Maybe Kethan Savage (the GW transfer) will give them some backcourt production, although he was wildly inefficient during his time at GW… averaged 11.2 PPG on 43.9% eFG and never eclipsed a 26.4% three-point rate during his three-year stint.
  • For Gtown, there are a lot more offensive pieces, just ones that haven’t really gotten the opportunity to do so. Blame JT3’s system or blame DSR’s presence, it was probably a combination of both. The more interesting thought process is trying to figure out why this team so badly missed the mark compared to its preseason expectations. Paul White’s versatility was missed (spent much of the season injured) and there weren’t any good interior defenders on the roster (sorry Bradley Hayes), but the offensive limitations were inexplicable. DSR was a decent distributor but never shed that score-first mentality while Tre Campbell’s turnover rate overshadowed his passing. For a team stocked with shooters, the Hoyas’ aggregate percentage on the season was shocking: 33.9% from deep (211th nationally). Peak, Reggie Cameron and Marcus Derrickson were all >35%… DSR and Copeland took the most on the team yet shot the worst. Copeland has to turn the corner and improve his shot selection in order for Georgetown to take a step forward, because the skillset and physical attributes are there. Consider me less worried about the others… Peak will excel without DSR, Derrickson and Govan are already acclimated to the Princeton offense and both are versatile enough to play within it.
  • I’m not sure what form Marquette takes without Ellenson on its front-line, but it’s safe to say that Wojo isn’t done yet. Over the past month he has added Markus Howard, a small but prolific scorer, and USC transfer Katin Reinhardt, a sharpshooting wing. Looks like Marquette will be playing a good amount of “small ball”, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing if Luke Fischer inspired confidence as a rim protector and plus rebounder. But he doesn’t. He’s a terrific scorer around the rim, but I’m less confident in those other parts of his game. To thrive in a 4-out type system, they would need a strong baseline defender and a good passer out of the low post (a la Ochefu). Maybe he’ll prove me wrong and turn the corner, but I still think the Golden Eagles need to add another post player. The rest of the pieces (Traci Carter, JaJuan Johnson, Cheatham, Duane Wilson, et al) are interesting because they’re all effective slashers. If the offense can add some outside shooting consistency (which Wojo just did… see above), it’ll be a dangerously effective perimeter style of play. Can Wally Ellenson provide serviceable minutes at the 4? Is Matt Heldt (6’10 rising soph) ready to play at the collegiate level?

4/6 Big East Thoughts

  • No surprise Henry Ellenson declared. We knew he was a one-and-done from the start, the only ones holding out hope were Marquette fans hoping to continue the rebuild. Ellenson’s draft stock as a top 10 pick is somewhat overvalued though. I think he’ll struggle on the defensive end against NBA-level athletes since he’s primarily a below the rim player. But the offensive end is what teams love… he has great shooting mechanics, good size (a solid 6’10/6’11) and demonstrated a pretty impressive ability to score as a freshman in college. Despite leading his team in scoring, I wouldn’t really say Ellenson “flourished”. He had a high usage rate which padded his stats on an absolute basis, but his eFG% was just 48.0%, second lowest on the team among those who saw consistent minutes. His three-point shooting percentage was sub-30%, and that’s from the college line. I think Ellenson’s pro success would come at the 4 as a stretch guy who can knock down threes. He’s also a good rebounder in terms of having a nose for the ball, but struggled against good rebounding teams, especially those that went directly at him. Offensive rebounding was inhibited from his position on offense… he often played a mid-range/perimeter role, especially when Luke Fischer was in the game.  His success will be highly dependent on the system he plays in and he’ll certainly be starter material down the line if he develops a consistent outside shot.
  • Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins rightfully declared for the NBA draft… stock/name recognition is sky high and they’ll get some useful feedback. I don’t think either one stays though. Hart is a good defender and good athlete, but he isn’t ready to play any position in the NBA. He’s only 6’5 and doesn’t have a long wingspan so really won’t ever be able to play the 3. But his ball-handling and shooting aren’t there yet to play the 2. I’d imagine this is the feedback he’ll get, and those are definitely things that can be improved. Hilliard improved remarkably in both these regards and now serves as a Pistons “3 and D” bench guy. As for Jenkins, he’s a strange case. Lethal shooter who has also demonstrated the ability to score in back-to-the-basket situations this year. He’s also a pretty good passer and screen-setter, which could peg him as an interesting Draymond Green mold player. Defense was his biggest issue last season and he improved on it as the season went on. He hasn’t really shown up on any draft radars, which surprises me, although positionally he’s a big question mark. He operated best as a stretch 4 at Villanova, and he’d likely project to play in the same spot in the NBA since he simply isn’t quick enough to guard 3s. His rebounding metrics never really jumped off the page though and I’m not sure many teams would take an undersize 4 who isn’t a strong rebounder.
  • I was really impressed with Phil Booth in the championship game. He hit a sophomore slump this season and lost that “killer instinct” that he showed last season when attacking the rim. Looks like he rediscovered his game though… 20 points on 6-7 shooting. His play will be instrumental next season alongside Brunson as they share PG duties. If he can maintain that consistent shot, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Villanova keep its 2PG lineup. It worked well last season in handling pressure and keeping its drive-and-kick game rolling. His potential value add is being seriously underrated on next year’s team… Hart and Jenkins obviously round-out the 3/4 spots and I think Reynolds/Spellman share time at the 5. That’s the biggest question mark at this point, but Jay has done a fantastic job developing bigs recently (Cunningham, Mouph Yarou, now Ochefu), and it should be no different here.

Three Key Factors in the Championship Game

One game remains in the 2015-16 college basketball season and the storylines surrounding it are plentiful. Villanova and North CarolinaKenpom‘s #1 and #2 teams, will square off in a battle between the most statistically efficient offenses in the nation. Two-point shooting aside, however, these teams could not be more different. The former bases its scoring attack on guard play — all of which are proficient shooters and slashers — while spotting a lone big man inside to aid with ball movement and spacing. The latter runs an offense heavily predicated on second chance points with the focus on getting the ball to its dominant frontcourt players in scoring position. North Carolina thrives in transition and pushes the ball frequently off of defensive rebounds; Villanova has succeeded by running controlled half-court sets. Tonight should come down to two different styles: winning with size vs. winning with spacing. Below are three keys that will decide the champion.

  1. North Carolina’s ability to successfully make entry passes and establish post position. Villanova’s numerous defensive schemes have been wildly effective when it comes to stifling opposing offenses. Its guards put constant pressure on ball-handlers, forcing difficult entry passes (see: Kansas’ Perry Ellis) that often result in bigs catching the ball out of scoring position. Marcus Paige is far from turnover prone, but Villanova’s 2-3 half-court zone set could complicate his entry passes. Moreover, Villanova’s guards time their low post double-teams well, limiting easy scoring opportunities in the paint. Given how heavily UNC relies on inside scoring, the time that Villanova’s guards spend playing help defense on Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks will be worth monitoring. The other key factor here will be Daniel Ochefu’s foul situation – his team’s help defense will have to be aggressive to avoid putting the Villanova big man in dangerous spots.
  2. Jay Wright’s big vs. small lineup decision. With the exception of Kansas and Perry Ellis (although, to be fair, Ellis isn’t a true post scorer), Villanova’s NCAA Tournament opponents have been generally perimeter-focused teams. As a result, there has not been much pressure on center Daniel Ochefu to contain low post scoring; instead, Villanova’s defensive focus has been placed on containing penetration and preventing three-point shots. Jay Wright’s lineup decisions were easy ones. But North Carolina’s style of play is unlike anything Villanova has faced this season. With its exceptional frontcourt size and depth, both Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart will face a significant height and rebounding disadvantage at their positions (UNC ranks third nationally in offensive rebounding). So the key question is whether Jay Wright opts to play Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds at the same time to provide some additional interior defense. The tradeoff comes at the offensive end, where spacing will be inhibited and the mismatch that Jenkins provides against one of the North Carolina bigs will be lost.
  3. Villanova’s shooting. It sounds obvious, but the effects are deeper than it looks at face value. Hot shooting doesn’t just give Villanova immediate points; it allows the Wildcats to set the tempo. Made baskets mean that it can either establish its 1-2-2 press or get back on defense and more easily mark defensive assignments. Slowing the pace on the offensive end has provided Villanova with high percentage shots while limiting turnovers, thereby suppressing any transition opportunities and momentum that faster-paced teams rely upon. North Carolina’s offense can certainly operate well in the half-court, but Roy Williams’ teams always look to get out and run, capitalizing on opportunities at a ridiculously high rate (59.5% effective field goal percentage in transition; 50.2% in the half-court). Moreover, while they have gone largely unchallenged against equal-sized teams, the big question mark is how effectively Villanova can score in the paint against North Carolina’s long and athletic front line.