During his first two seasons on the court as a Spartan, Goran Suton’s play was often a source of great consternation for MSU fans. He’d show glimpses of great basketball skill on one possession but then make a boneheaded error on the next. My summation of his play was, “At any given moment, he either looks like the best player on the floor . . . or the worst.”
This season, he seems to have reduced the number of bad plays so that the positive plays he makes now outweigh the negative. He has, however, not increased his scoring output, so he remains open to criticism from Spartan fans that he’s too inconsistent.
Let’s set the subjective opinions aside and look at the numbers. We’ll examine how his statistical output has changed in four areas from last season to this season. I’ve thrown in his freshman stats for good measure. Keep in mind he played about 12 fewer minutes per game as a freshman than he has as a sophomore and junior, since not all the stats below are tempo free.
2005-06: 3.0 PPG, 47.0 eFG%, 73.7 FT%
2006-07: 9.3 PPG, 50.9 eFG%, 64.6 FT%
2007-08: 9.2 PPG, 51.4 eFG%, 71.8 FT%
There’s no discernible difference in his scoring performance this season vs. last. 51% is a decent, but not great, shooting percentage for a college big man. It reflects, to some extent, that he’s the only MSU big man who takes a significant number of tough shots. The rest tend to wait for dunks (Gray) or wide open looks (Naymick)–not that there’s anything wrong with that.
In terms of consistency, Suton has scored in double digits in 8 of 18 games (44.4%) this season. He’s scored fewer than 5 points in 2 of 18 games (11.1%).
Last season, Suton scored in double digits in 15 of 35 games (42.9%). He scored fewer than 5 points in 5 of 35 games (14.2%).
So no big change there.
My take on Suton’s supposed lack of offensive consistency: To a certain extent, it probably is a function of Suton’s personality. When he’s confident, he can score in bunches. When he starts to struggle, he can disappear for long stretches.
But it’s also a function of the MSU offense. Izzo’s offense has always been guard driven. Nearly every big man who’s played for Izzo has been criticized at some point for being inconsistent offensively, the biggest example being Paul Davis.
The MSU offense is not designed to feed a big man the ball in the post on a consistent basis. It’s designed for big men to set screens and get open for easy baskets off set plays. Count the number of times Suton gets fed the ball in the post. In most games, my guess is this number isn’t any larger than 2 or 3.
One shift that doesn’t show in the numbers: I’d guess the percentage of Suton points scored off offensive rebounds has gone up (since the number of rebounds has gone up) and the percentage scored off low post play has gone down (since MSU is playing at a faster pace). It’s possible Suton’s scoring may go up as MSU plays more games against slower-paced Big Ten teams.
2005-06: 0.5 A/G, 0.9 TO/G, 0.6 A/TO ratio
2006-07: 2.4 A/G, 2.6 TO/G, 0.9 A/TO ratio
2007-08: 1.7 A/G, 1.8 TO/G, 0.9 A/TO ratio
Nowhere has Suton’s hot-and-cold play been more exemplified the last two seasons than in his ball handling. He’d make a brilliant pass one moment and then travel with the ball the next. (Example of a great Suton pass: Check out the third Neitzel three-pointer in the BTN highlight reel I linked to today. Suton passes out of a double team to Neitzel, who’s on the far side of the court. Not many college big men make that pass as quickly as Suton did.)
This season, both his assists and turnovers have gone down from last season. His assist-to-turnover ratio has stayed constant at 0.9, which is actually pretty good for a big man.
I think the reduction in his assists reflects that MSU is bogging down in the halfcourt offense less, so the offense isn’t running through him as much. The reduction in turnovers is probably partially him handling it less and partially him making fewer bad mistakes when he does have the ball.
2005-06: 2.8 Reb/G, 10.1 OReb%, 13.5 DReb%
2006-07: 6.7 Reb/G, 11.7 OReb%, 19.6 DReb%
2007-08: 8.8 Reb/G, 15.7 OReb%, 21.5 DReb%
This is where Suton has clearly stepped up and become a force on a consistent minute-by-minute basis. His offensive rebounding percentage ranks 15th in the nation. He’s the best offensive rebounder on the best offensive rebounding team in the country. Regardless of whatever else he does on the court, let us not forget that.
2005-06: 0.4 Steals/G, 0.5 Blocks/G
2006-07: 0.7 Steals/G, 0.7 Blocks/G
2007-08: 1.3 Steals/G, 1.3 Blocks/G
Let’s step back a moment into the larger realm of basketball statistical analysis. Mr. Pomeroy (it’s a long quote, but worth it):
If you pay attention to hoops analysis, you’ll notice it tends to focus on offense a lot more than it does defense. Whether the analyst prefers to watch games and ignore the numbers, watch the stats and ignore the games, or find some happy medium in between, the emphasis is on what happens with the ball, not without it. This is in part because the only defensive measures recorded are blocked shots, steals and defensive rebounds. Yes, I would argue that defensive rebounding should be included in the evaluation of defense, because it directly results in preventing scoring. I would also concede that defensive rebounding is a different kind of defense, since unlike the other two measures, it only matters after a shot has been missed. So that leaves us with just blocks and steals to tell us about a player’s ability to disrupt the opposing team’s offense before a shot is launched.
Complicating matters is that blocks and steals are so rare. Big-time shot blockers will record a rejection on about one in ten possessions. We don’t know their impact on the other nine. That’s just talking about the top shot-blockers in the nation. What about the less proficient big men who still rack up blocks, but on one in 20 possessions? It’s even more difficult to assess a player’s impact based on his steals. The best at forcing steals will do so on about one in 20 possessions. That leaves 95% of the player’s possessions unaccounted. What if a player is going for steals all the time, and putting himself out of position when he’s not successfully causing a turnover?
So it’s difficult to accept that block and steal rates are a foolproof way to identify who is making an impact on the defensive end. I am more than willing to accede to traditional scouting in this area. However, one thing I have noticed in the brief time I have been gathering tempo-free individual defensive statistics is that being proficient at both blocking shots and forcing steals is a strong indicator that a player is doing disruptive things on those possessions where he doesn’t get credit for doing either.
Specifically, the numbers I look for are a block rate of at least 6.0 with a steal rate of at least 2.5. In fact, these benchmarks are probably too lofty. I’ve been tracking these stats for the past three seasons, and only two players playing at least 24 minutes per game in power conferences getting have been able to reach these figures. Those players are Joakim Noah (who did it twice) and Shelden Williams, who were both among the best defenders in recent years.
Well, guess what Mr. Suton’s block and steal rates are this season? 5.3 and 3.0. That’s pretty darn close to meeting Mr. Pomeroy’s standard. That’s very impressive for a guy who has nowhere near the athletic ability of a Joakim Noah or Shelden Williams. In the games I’ve seen, he has indeed seemed quite active on defense, particularly for a big man playing 25-30 minutes per game.
Suton remains a solid scoring threat–but not a game-in and game-out performer. It’s unclear how much of the inconsistency is his responsibility, though. The number of baskets his passing has created has declined from last season, but so have the turnovers. He’s a force on the offensive boards–but we knew that already. What we may not have known is that the stats say he’s making a major contribution on the defensive end, too.
Suton tends to be either (1) criticized or (2) taken for granted. Arguably, though, he’s now MSU’s most indispensable player. He’s the leader in MSU’s greatest strength (offensive rebounding). He’s their only big man who can create any kind of offense. If he were lost to injury or foul trouble in a key game, his minutes would be the toughest to replace (particularly in light of Gray’s regression this season).
So the next time you’re imbibing an adult beverage while watching an MSU game, raise a quiet toast to Goran Suton.