Well, let’s start with the basics: putting that orange, bouncing ball in the hoop thing with the net attached to it. Let’s see how MSU has scored baskets through four games. (Note: Exhibition games are not included in official college basketball statistics and will, therefore, not be acknowledged by this blog. Football games against Division 1-AA teams are, however, part of the official record, so go ahead and talk about those if you’d like. Ha! My first bit of veiled trash talk!)
Here are the scoring stats we’re all used to seeing–points per game:
Raymar Morgan 16.75
Drew Neitzel 15.25
Chris Allen 9.00
Durrell Summers 9.00
Marquise Gray 7.50
Goran Suton 7.50
Kalin Lucas 5.75
Drew Naymick 3.50
Travis Walton 3.50
Isaiah Dahlman 1.50
Tom Herzog 1.00
Idong Ibok 0.67
No big surprises here. Last year’s All Big-Ten performer and the guy we all knew was ready to be a primary scoring option are the two leading scorers. Neitzel’s scoring average is down a few points from last year’s average of 18.1; Morgan’s is up a few points from last year’s average of 11.7.
The three freshman perimiter players and the two starting big men have all made contributions, averaging between 5 and 10 points per game. Walton and Naymick are making smaller contributions, as would be expected from two players who earn their scholarships mainly on the defensive end of the floor.
So points per game tells us how OFTEN each player has scored. But it doesn’t tell us how EFFICIENTLY they’ve scored. For example, the following two stat lines both results in 12 points:
Player A: 2/3 on 2-pt FG; 2/4 on 3-pt FG, 2/2 on FT
Player B: 3/8 on 2-pt FG; 1/5 on 3-pt FG, 3/5 on FT
But Player A has scored his 12 points while using up a much smaller number of opportunities than Player B, leaving more opportunities for his teammates to score. Hence, the invention of point per weighted shot (PPWS). The formula for PPWS is:
PPWS = PTS/(FGA + (0.475 x FTA))
A longer explanation can be found here. But the basic idea is to ask, “How many points did this player score per possession he used up by taking a shot?” Player A’s PPWS is 1.51; Player B’s PPWS is a much less impressive 0.78. So Player A was almost twice as efficient in scoring as Player B was.
On to the real PPWS stats for MSU this season:
Tom Herzog 2.00
Durrell Summers 1.62
Marquise Gray 1.56
Drew Neitzel 1.38
Drew Naymick 1.34
Goran Suton 1.29
Raymar Morgan 1.28
Travis Walton 1.23
Isaiah Dahlman 1.02
Idong Ibok 1.00
Chris Allen 0.90
Kalin Lucas 0.77
As it turns out, I could have used Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas to illustrate the usefulness of PPWS. Both have averaged 9.0 points per game, but Summers has done it much more efficiently that Lucas. The third freshman, Chris Allen, also falls at the low end of the continuum. He has shown flashes of the scoring ability we all heard about coming in from high school but has also seemed to struggle with adjusting to the faster pace of the college game. Not to worry: he has another 3.9 seasons to get it figured out. Same story with Lucas: he clearly has scoring ability (I watched him put up 30+ points vs. Neitzel and Walton in the Green-White game); it’ll just take him some time to adjust to the college game. Summers probably has an advantage in terms of adjusting to the college game due to his pure athletic ability. I will say, though, that I’ve been impressed with his judgment as to when to attack the basket.
A few other observations:
- Get Tom Herzog some more minutes! OK, we’re dealing with a small sample size here. He’s only attempted one shot.
- Marquise Gray’s high PPWS reflects, I think, mainly that he’s dunked the ball a lot.
- Neitzel’s PPWS is up slightly from an already impressive 1.19 last season. My guess is that he won’t end up scoring enough points to be an All-American when the season ends–but that will be a result of other scoring options having emerged, rather than a decline in the quality of his production.
- Goran Suton’s PPWS has improved from 1.06 last season. He’s one of the keys to this season. This team needs a semi-reliable inside scoring option to keep defenses honest. So far he’s come through for the most part–particularly with several key baskets at the end of the Missouri game.
- Raymar Morgan, barring injury, will be a first-team All Big-Ten selection this year. (My first bold prediction!) He may even end up surpassing Neitzel as MSU’s conference player-of-the-year candidate. He’s the complete package. The only real concern is that he gets a bit too confident and starts making questionable decisions (as he did in the UCLA game–both on the defensive end by getting in foul trouble early and on the offensive game with a couple unforced turnovers).
- Here’s hoping Travis Walton can continue to use his few scoring opportunities efficiently. Already impressive was his willingness to become the sixth man so that all three freshman aren’t coming off the bench together. I’ve been surprised how heavily Izzo has leaned on Lucas instead of Walton–26.0 minutes/game for Lucas compared to 18.8 for Walton. This is probably the right move in the long run; Lucas brings a lot more to the offensive end. If Walton can live with this and do what he does well (play tenacious defense and pass the ball), it will be a tremendous asset to the team.
Alright, this has already gone on a lot longer than I expected, but let me finish with a question: Why does MSU seem to struggle to score late in close games? We all know how many close games they lost last year. They managed to score enough baskets to close out the Missouri game, but the end of the UCLA game seemed to follow the same script from last year. Two theories:
1) Their point guards aren’t well suited to late-game situations. Walton just isn’t a scoring threat, so he’s not going to be able to create shots. Lucas will certainly be the guy you want with the ball in his hands in another year or so but doesn’t have the experience yet (see, for example, getting the ball picked after trying the split-the-defenders maneuver too many times). And Neitzel has become a tremendous off-the-ball scorer and continues to be a superb creator with the ball in his hands in most situations due to his passing abilities, but is still to overmatched in terms of size and athleticism to create a quality shot when they’re down to the last few seconds. Hence, the two long-distance three-point attempts at the end of the UCLA game.
2) Izzo runs perhaps the most complex offense in the basketball. It relies on a high number of scripted plays. When MSU is executing it properly, they can look unstoppable. But when the clock is down to ten seconds and they need a shot without running people through screens/etc., they can look pretty inept. The trade-off is, on balance, worth it. But last-second situation are clearly something Izzo needs to address if this team is going to win enough close games to win a Big Ten championship and/or make an NCAA tournament run.
The best solution to this dilemma is this: Don’t take your foot off the gas when you built a lead. Use the team’s depth to continue being aggressive on offense. In both the Missouri and UCLA games, I think MSU started to sit on the ball a bit too much early in the second half. As the freshman develop into more consistent scorers and Neitzel finds his role in the more diversified offense (and, to be fair, isn’t suffering from a nasty stomach virus), I’m hopeful the offense will be pretty darn consistent by the end of the season.