I’ve been meaning to do a post on Travis Walton’s defense for a while. Joe Rexrode’s excellent blog entry on Walton finally pushed me to do it. Here’s (some of) what Rexrode had to say:
And Travis Walton, once again, turned it. If you’ve watched Iowa much this year, you know that Jake Kelly’s playmaking drives this team. He’s 6-6 and gangly, gets into the lane, gets defenses out of position, gets a lot of hockey assists with a kick-out pass, followed by one more to a wide-open shooter.
Walton absolutely took Kelly out of this game. Add this to a season resume that includes great defense on A.J. Abrams, Jon Diebler and even Talor Battle (even though Battle ended up with 20), and Walton should be in the discussion for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Measuring individual defensive performance is, of course, the one great weakness of basketball statistical analysis. But I thought we could take a look at how well the opposing players Walton has guarded have played offensively in recent games. Here’s such a game log, going back 11 games:
This approach is clearly imperfect. As Rexrode notes, MSU switches a lot on the perimeter, so Walton usually ends up guarding a number of players on the opposing team. But I think I’ve managed to identify the primary perimeter player Walton has been assigned to in each of these games. And, to the extent those players have matched up with other MSU defenders for parts of games, that only makes the numbers even more remarkable (assuming we all agree Walton is our best perimeter defender).
To sum up the table: Over the last 11 games, Travis Walton has turned some of the the best perimeter scorers in the Big Ten, along with three very good guards playing for nonconference opponents, into a player averaging 12.5 points per game on 25.7% 3-point shooting. This imaginary player is also a pretty mediocre ball-handler, averaging 3.4 assists and 2.7 turnovers per game.
And, despite how physically Walton plays on defense, only two of the 11 players have managed to get to the free throw line more than 4 times in a game. The 2-point shooting percentage is a little high, but he’s only allowing opposing guards to get off three and a half shots per game inside the arc.
These stats confirm what we already thought: Travis Walton is extremely valuable on the defensive end of the court. The question has always been what be brings offensively. While’s he’s been a little up and down this season in terms of his shooting stroke and ball-handing reliability, he seems to be settling into an efficient role on offense. Over the last six games, Walton has shot 18-35 from the field (51.4%) and posted a solid 19-7 assist-turnover ratio.
As I’ve commented in the past, I think Walton is at his best when he doesn’t have to play point guard. He can focus on defending the other team’s best perimeter scoring, knocking down open jumpshots, and making smart decisions with the ball as a secondary player in the offense. Tom Izzo seems to agree. After playing Walton some at the point late in the nonconference season, he’s now using Korie Lucious as the exclusive back-up to Kalin Lucas again.
Bottom line: Walton is one more player who seems to be fitting into the overall team puzzle exactly as we need him to.