Mining the Nonconference Stats

What better way to pass the time during this week's MSU basketball hiatus than overanalyzing MSU basketball stats?

Nonconference stats are, of course, notoriously unreliable, as teams play opponents with widely varying ability levels and players adapt to differing roles and rotations.  In MSU's case, though, the numbers they've posted to date have actually come against a pretty solid slate of opponents.  KenPom doesn't count stats posted against Division II opponents, so the Chaminade game is out.  Of MSU's 9 remaining opponents, 6 are ranked in the KenPom top 100.  You can, therefore, take MSU's tempo-free numbers with at least two grains of salt.  

Explanations of individual tempo-free stats are here. The big-picture concept is deceptively simple: times someone did something divided by the number of opportunities they had to do that thing.

Bullets:

  • Kalin Lucas has been up and down as he works his way back from the Achilles' injury.  He's scored 25 or more points in 3 games, but failed to get to double digits in 3 others.  Overall, the shooting numbers are very good: .493/.432/.756 (2pt/3pt/FT).  But his assist rate is down 5 points and his turnover rate is up over 3 points.  The assist rate may stay down if Korie Lucious can continue to play relatively error-free at the point.  (That's the ideal situation, since Lucious is actually a much better pure passer than Lucas is.)  The turnover rate should come down as Lucas regains his full level of quickness/coordination.
  • Draymond Green does everything.  Last season, he ranked in the top 400 nationally in 6 of the 10 offensive categories KenPom tracks.  This season, that's up to 8, as he's taken an even more assertive role in the offense, consuming nearly as many possessions as Lucas (24.3 vs. 25.0).  He's shooting .520 from beyond the arc and has an 11-percentage point lead on the second most assist-prone forward in the Big Ten (Luka Mirkovic). He's also bumped up his steal and block rates, ranking in the top 200 nationally in both--not bad for a guy listed at 6'5" and 235 pounds.  His rebounding percentages (10.3/25.1) haven't dropped a lick despite playing more on the perimeter this year.
  • Durrell Summers hasn't had a full-on breakout performance, at least compared to where he left off in the NCAA Tournament last season.  But he has been pretty consistent, scoring in double digits in all but one game (the Chaminade game, of all games).  He's shooting the ball fine from everywhere except the free throw line (.465/.420/.607).  He still creates baskets through passing almost not at all (assist rate of 3.5) but does lead the team in turnover rate at just 13.1.  Overall, his usage rate is right where it was last season (21.4), leading to complaints about a lack of assertiveness.  Given the lack of passing ability, though, I'm not sure you want him forcing things in the paint too much.  Summers' rebounding numbers are down a couple points on both ends (5.6/11.2).

The rest of the players after the jump.

 

  • Korie Lucious has now pulled his turnover rate just slightly below last season's number (26.9 vs. 27.7).  The trend is moving in the right direction, as he's given it up just 5 times in the last 3 games.  And he's dishing the ball off with abandon, leading the team with a 30.7 assist rate.  His shooting numbers are passable: .417/.333./1.000.  He's still far from perfect in terms of his decision making but he's looking more and more like a legitimate starter on a national contender, which is exactly what he has to be (even if he's not technically starting).
  • Keith Appling's offensive rating of 103.4 and usage rate of 19.4 is right in line, if not better than, the numbers posted by other freshmen guards under Tom Izzo who are not named "Chris Hill" or "Kalin Lucas."  He's shooting the ball well enough (.417/.476/.933), passing it with decent frequency (assist rate of 17.4), and turning it over too often (28.7).  The Oakland game, in which he scored 12 points, was something of a breakout game.  His two previous double-digit outbursts had been against MAC opponents, while he'd scored just 13 points in the previous 5 games against quality foes.  Somehow, his offensive rebounding percentage is just 1.4; must be the two offensive rebounds he has grabbed have been of the very-impressive nature since I would have told you he's made some great plays in that department before I looked at the numbers.
  • Adreian Payne can rebound the ball.  He leads the team in offensive rebounding percentage (16.4) and ranks behind only Green on the defensive end (22.1).  While he's played very few minutes against MSU's top-flight opponents, he has posted 16 rebounds in 40 total minutes against the 6 quality foes.  What's keeping him off the floor is defense (5.6 fouls/40 minutes) and ball-handling (a miniscule 3.9 assist rate vs. a whopping 34.6 turnover rate).  If he can just keep the ball high and make the simple passes out of traffic, he can be a major factor on the boards (and blocking shots: 8.7 block rate).
  • Delvon Roe's rebounding the ball well on defense (18.4) but not so well on offense (5.8).  His 2-point percentage is down from .553 to .500.  He's been perhaps a little too assertive with the ball in the post at times and may need to refocus on playing a more traditional Izzo power forward role.  On the upside, both his free throw rate and percentage are above 70--a far cry from the free throw shooting issues he had as a freshman.  Roe's block rate is up slightly from last year at 5.9.
  • Garrick Sherman is rebounding the ball at acceptable rates (8.4/15.2).  He's been very efficient around the basket, converting almost 70% of 2-point attempts.  His turnover rate is high (24.4), although not really that high compared to most of his teammates.  He's doing some nice things, he just needs to do them with a higher level of consistency within games.
  • Austin Thornton has done the one thing he absolutely had to do to stay on the floor this season: shoot the ball with confidence.  The shots haven't always fallen, but they've gone in frequently enough: .533/.308/1.000.  He's also gotten his turnover rate down under 25 (22.8) and is passing the ball effectively (assist rate of 16.1).  Further, he's posted an offensive rebounding percentage of 10.0 almost entirely based on pure hustle.  Unfortunately, he still looks overmatched against really athletic opponents; he's been held scoreless against 4 of MSU's 6 quality foes, with 19 of his 32 points coming against Eastern and Bowling Green.  As well as he's played, I think his minutes will decline significantly as Appling gets up to speed.
  • Derrick Nix has a MONSTROUS free throw rate of 325.0.  That is, he's attempted 13 free throws vs. just 4 field goals.  Having missed the Maui games, he's played way too few minutes to draw any hard conclusions off, but he has certainly looked like a potential factor in the last couple games (and sounds like he's ready to be all-in mentally down the stretch).  He takes up space in the middle in a way no other Spartan player can, as evidenced by the 5 rebounds he grabbed in just 9 minutes against Keith Benson and company.
  • Mike Kebler's turnover rate is a hefty 42.5.  That'll come down if/as he sees significantly playing time down the stretch, but he should be needed less and less as Appling gets comfortable with the ball in his hands. 

Big picture, the team's struggles have mostly been on offense.  Green and Thornton are the only two players with offensive ratings above 106.  Lucas will almost certainly be up around 110 by the end of the season if he stays healthy.  Beyond that, it's really a matter of everyone bumping their efficiency up a couple points--mainly by reducing turnovers.  Even after the Oakland game, 8 of 11 MSU players have individual turnover rates of 23 or higher.

Going back to my three preseason statistical keys, MSU is doing one thing very well (3-point shooting: 39.9%), one thing very poorly (turnovers; 24.0%), and one thing well below the team's historical standards (defensive rebounding: 68.6%).  Free throw shooting has also been an issue (64.0%).

I think the rebounding issues will work themselves out to at least get back to last year's performance levels--although becoming a truly elite defensive rebounding team may not be in the cards.  Five of MSU's six quality opponents (everyone but Duke) have ranked in the top 50 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.  On an individual basis, nobody's defensive rebounding numbers are down dramatically.

The free throw thing should work itself out, too.  The two biggest culprits in terms of number of attempts have been Green and Summers, both of whom have solid strokes.  For the younger big guys it's just a matter of getting over the confidence hump the way Roe (and, to a lesser extent, Nix) eventually did so that at least half their freebies are dropping in.

MSU's 3-point shooting percentage is likely to come down a couple points, but so is their opponents' (35.7%).  The team is taking a very non-Izzoesque 34.8% of its field goal attempts from beyond the arc (up from 26.3% last year).  That may come down a bit as Lucas gets more aggressive and the big men develop some, but this MSU team will be much more reliant on 3-pointers falling than past editions have been.  As long as the team's shooting percentage stays north of 36% or so, I think that's A-OK.

That leaves turnovers.  And that topic's already been overanalyzed to death by this particular blogger.  So we'll leave it there for now.

P.S.  Speaking of statistics, I'm pleased to announce that long-time commenter and unofficial contributor SpartanDan has agreed to become an official TOC contributor.  He'll be chipping in with his brand of wonky goodness as we move through basketball season and beyond.

[ADDED] P.P.S.  Oakland beats #7 Tennessee--on the road, no less.  Saturday's squeaker of a win suddenly looking quite a bit better.

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