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The 40 Best Individual Offensive Seasons of the Tom Izzo Era

Once again, we find ourselves at that point in the calendar when the air is thick with the excitement/promise/nervousness/fear so often associated with the Michigan State football team and I forget that I'm actually a basketball blogger.  (Posnanski-esque annoyingly-redundant merchandising note: Have we mentioned that we did some basketball writing this summer for a real, live print publication?  It's being printed even as we speak.  I hope you've been saving your loose change.)  With the start of arguably the most promising MSU basketball season of the last decade now just 6 weeks away, though, it's time to shock myself back into basketball mode, while still keeping one eye firmly directed toward the football team.

And what better way to do that than with a little PORPAG?  Over the last two offseasons, I spent quite a bit of time looking at historical data on MSU basketball during the Izzo era.  (The capstone piece to that series will appear in the publication so subtly referenced above.)  The focus was on team-level indicators, though, without a lot of player-specific commentary.  To make up for that, I've run PORPAG numbers for all of MSU's major offensive contributors over the last 14 seasons.

Big picture description of PORPAG (Points Over Replacement Per Adjusted Game):

  • . . . this stat is an attempt to measure the marginal points per game a player contributes to his team on offense above what a "replacement-level" player would provide.
  • Major caveats: (1) Basketball is a team, not an individual, sport and (2) this stat tells you nothing whatsoever about defense.

Original post on the stat is here.  Technical notes after the jump:

  • Pace factor is set at 66 possession/game--roughly the average for MSU under Izzo.
  • I've left the "replacement-level" offensive rating at 88.0.  Going back to try to adjust it on a season-by-season basis is more statistical heavy-lifting than even I'm willing to do.
  • This stat is meant to measure cumulative, rather than average, offensive impact.  So missing time due to injury hurts you (Mateen Cleaves as a senior, etc.).
  • I ran the numbers for anyone who averaged 10 points or more per game in a season, as well as anyone under that threshold with a particularly efficient-looking offensive profile.
  • Data pulled from Technically, we're missing the first season of the Izzo era (1995-96).  Apologies to Quinton Brooks.

Without further ado, the 40 best MSU PORPAG performances of the last 14 seasons:

Rank Player Season Off Rtg Poss% Minute% PORPAG
1 Drew Neitzel 2006-07 119.2 25.4 89.1 4.66
2 Jason Richardson 2000-01 127.3 21.8 70.9 4.01
3 Paul Davis 2005-06 118.8 26.4 73.2 3.93
4 Chris Hill 2003-04 124.2 20.4 79.5 3.87
5 Paul Davis 2003-04 116.5 28.6 69.4 3.73
6 Drew Neitzel 2007-08 121.1 21.4 78.9 3.69
7 Morris Peterson 1999-00 117.3 26.3 72.3 3.68
8 Alan Anderson 2004-05 126.6 21.5 65.6 3.59
9 Andre Hutson 2000-01 126.3 19.7 72.1 3.59
10 Morris Peterson 1998-99 124.0 25.1 59.6 3.55
11 Shannon Brown 2005-06 112.2 24.0 86.0 3.30
12 Maurice Ager 2005-06 110.0 26.9 84.1 3.28
13 Kalin Lucas 2008-09 111.4 25.2 79.7 3.10
14 Maurice Ager 2004-05 118.0 24.1 64.9 3.10
15 Kelvin Torbert 2003-04 123.6 18.1 70.7 3.01
16 Marcus Taylor 2001-02 107.7 28.6 80.4 2.99
17 Mateen Cleaves 1997-98 106.5 29.2 83.0 2.96
18 Kalin Lucas 2009-10 111.6 25.0 75.2 2.93
19 Charlie Bell 2000-01 110.6 24.5 78.0 2.85
20 Adam Ballinger 2001-02 128.0 17.3 61.6 2.81
21 Chris Hill 2001-02 120.3 19.3 67.8 2.79
22 Charlie Bell 1999-00 114.9 22.6 68.6 2.75
23 Chris Hill 2002-03 110.9 22.9 78.6 2.72
24 Raymar Morgan 2007-08 110.1 25.7 69.2 2.59
25 Jason Klein 1997-98 120.6 17.7 67.1 2.56
26 A.J. Granger 1999-00 123.6 14.7 71.5 2.47
27 Zach Randolph 2000-01 116.7 26.1 49.3 2.44
28 Chris Hill 2004-05 119.2 19.8 59.5 2.43
29 Draymond Green 2009-10 114.2 21.9 63.6 2.41
30 Andre Hutson 1998-99 122.4 16.9 60.9 2.34
31 Kelvin Torbert 2004-05 122.1 18.6 55.8 2.34
32 Ray Weathers 1996-97 110.0 23.4 68.0 2.31
33 Paul Davis 2004-05 110.4 23.7 64.4 2.26
34 Andre Hutson 1999-00 113.0 19.7 67.2 2.18
35 Drew Neitzel 2005-06 113.0 16.2 80.5 2.15
36 Goran Suton 2007-08 113.8 18.9 66.5 2.14
37 Mateen Cleaves 1998-99 103.6 26.6 77.9 2.13
38 Goran Suton 2008-09 116.7 19.3 56.2 2.05
39 Jason Klein 1998-99 116.7 19.3 56.1 2.05
40 Raymar Morgan 2009-10 109.3 22.0 65.9 2.04


I think most MSU basketball fans know how great Drew Neitzel was during his junior season, but these numbers quantify just how good he was.  The gap between his PORPAG that season and the #2 performance on the list is larger than the gap between #2 and #11.  Simply put, Neitzel was the MSU offense that season.  No other MSU player posted an offensive rating above 106.  Neitzel posted a shooting line of .447/.412/.879 and posted a stellar 29.0 assist rate to go with a stingy 16.7 turnover rate.  (He did only pull down 3 offensive rebounds the entire season, but I think that can be forgiven).  From my Senior Day post on Neitzel on the old site:

So it’s that junior season that defines Neitzel’s career. Let us not forget how great that season was. Going into the 2006-07 season, there was every reason to think Izzo’s NCAA tournament appearance streak could finally end. Shannon Brown had bolted for the NBA, depriving MSU of its one potential returning offensive star. Beyond Neitzel’s 8.3 points per game, MSU’s top returning scorers were Marquise Gray and Goran Suton, each of whom had averaged 3.0 points per game as freshmen.

Neitzel stepped up beyond anyone’s expectations, leading the team in scoring in 23 of 35 games. He nearly single-handedly kept them in all four games against conference (and national) powerhouses Ohio State and Wisconsin, including the victory over the then-number-one-ranked Badgers in East Lansing. And the Spartans advanced to the NCAA tournament, beat Marquette, and played with #1 seed UNC for the better part of 40 minutes.

True then; even truer now.

Moving down the list, I was a little surprised to see Jason Richardson in the #2 slot.  I'd forgotten just how much he took off as a sophomore.  He was dominant going toward the basket, shooting .554 on 2-pointers, shot a very good .402 from 3-point range (with the hard work he put in on his jumpshot eventually leading to NBA stardom), and almost never lost the ball before getting a shot off (turnover rate of 12.2).

I've always thought Paul Davis got a bad rap.  He was about as dominant as any big man could be in Tom Izzo's guard-centric offense.  Two of the top five seasons on the list are Davis's.  Andre Hutson is the only other true big man to appear above #20 (Adam Ballinger) on the list.  In both his sophomore and senior seasons, Davis posted a field goal percentage above 56, a free throw rate above 50, a free throw percentage of 80 or more, an offensive rebounding percentage above 10, and a turnover rate below 20.  (His shooting numbers dipped a bit as a junior.)

I mentioned just last month how Chris Hill's Spartan career has been somewhat underrated.  He's the only player who appears on the list above for all four of his seasons as a Spartan.  To repeat:

He never posted an offensive rating below 110, with higher usage rates than you normally see from a 3-point specialist.  Even as a senior, when he went through the epic 3-point shooting slump that eventually led to Drew Neitzel starting at point guard, Hill posted a very good offensive rating of 119.2, thanks to a stellar assist rate of 31.6.

As a junior (the #4 season above), Hill posted an astounding .648 effective field goal percentage, shooting .454 on 3-pointers and .588 on 2-pointers, despite taking the 2nd highest number of field goal attempts on the team (just 5 behind the leader, Paul Davis).

Morris Peterson was very, very good as a junior and senior.  You knew that.  He shot the ball like a guard (.425 on a remarkable 200 three-point attempts as a senior) and rebounded it like a power forward (12.5 offensive rebounding % as a junior).

Alan Anderson posted a stupendous shooting line as a senior: .611/.385/.877.  His free throw rate that season, 48.5, was actually the lowest of his career, and he posted a very good 8.9 offensive rebounding %, having shifted from playing point guard part time as a sophomore and junior to playing mostly power forward as a senior.

I remember Andre Hutson as the ultimate Tom Izzo role player up front--someone who could rebound, handle the ball, and play solid defense.  But he was a very efficient offensive force as a senior, shooting .622 on 278 field goal attempts (all 2-pointers).  And he was a model of consistency, scoring in double digits in all but 4 games.

There's your top ten.  Honorable mention to Maurice Ager, who checks in at #12 and #14--just behind Shannon Brown's final season in green and sandwiched around Kalin Lucas's Big Ten POY season as a sophomore.  Other observations:

  • The best season from the undisputed #1 player of the Izzo era, Mateen Cleaves, checks in at just #17.  Cleaves was, of course, not a great shooter (.454/.312/.737 for his career), but I was surprised at how frequently he turned the ball over.  His sophomore season (the one that checks in at #17) was the only one in which his turnover rate was below 27 percent. On the other hand, his assist rate was never any lower than 39 percent.  Bottom line: I may be be putting my stat-head credentials at risk, but intangibles do count (as does defense).
  • An even more extreme example: Antonio Smith never posted a PORPAG of even 1.00, yet he still ranks in my book as perhaps the most important player of the Izzo era, being the first Flintstone to commit to MSU under Izzo.  As a statistical matter, Smith's PORPAG numbers are hurt by the fact that he was a more dominant rebounder on defense than on offense.
  • The most assertive offensive player of the Izzo era?  Cleaves as a freshman, when there were no other real offensive options around.  He posted a usage rate of 29.7 that year to go with a near-replacement-level offensive rating of 89.5.  The usage rate would hold steady as a sophomore (29.2), while the offensive rating jumped to 106.5.  As a junior and senior, Cleaves had other offensive options around him, and his usage rate dropped below 27.
  • The only other two players to post usage rates above 28 under Izzo are Paul Davis (as a sophomore) and Marcus Taylor (also as a sophomore).
  • I was surprised Taylor's sophomore season didn't rank higher on the list, as he led the Big Ten in both scoring and assists that season.  His shooting numbers were fairly pedestrian, though: .426/.361/.813.  And he didn't get to the line all that much (free throw rate of 30.0).  On the other hand, his ball-handing numbers were quite good: 33.9 assist rate, 19.7 turnover rate.
  • Three-year 2.00+ players: Davis, Hill (four years), Hutson, Neitzel.  (Charlie Bell just missed it, posting PORPAG of 1.94 as a freshman.)
  • Five teams have featured four players with PORPAGs over 2.00 (which gets you on the top-40 list): 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006.  The 1997, 2003, and 2007 were the only seasons with just one player above 2.00 (Ray Weathers, Hill, Neitzel).

On that last note, and looking ahead now: Going into the upcoming season, I'd expect Durrell Summers (with his 2010-11 breakout star status) to replace Raymar Morgan as the third 2.00+ player on the team, joining Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green; he was at 1.48 last season.  Green will hopefully move up toward the 3.00 level as he takes on even more of the offensive playmaking burden around the basket in Morgan's absence.  Delvon Roe is the best shot to be a fourth guy above 2.00 (1.17 last season); simply being able to stay on the floor for more than 15-20 minutes per game would go a long way there.