[Part one of a four-part sponsored series.]
The hero for Michigan State was Kalin Lucas, though I for one do not want to hear one more person say that Lucas is starting to look like the Kalin Lucas of old. Frankly, that player has been around all season. In fact, Lucas is having his best year ever as a Spartan, even better than 2009, when he won the conference Player of the Year honors. No, really--he's consuming more possessions with more efficiency against conference foes than any of his prior seasons. Has he improved a lot since 2009? No, not really--he's still a shoot-first point guard who attempts too many two pointers (despite his 6-0 frame and his 37 percent accuracy from long distance). He still is capable of generating his own shot whenever he needs to. And he's still worthy of 1st team consideration. The offseason injury rehabilitation makes for a nice narrative to explain MSU's stumbles, but it's not very accurate. There's plenty of finger pointing to be had in East Lansing these days, but I don't think any of them should be directed toward Mr. Lucas.
Related chart after the jump:
I'm not quite on the same page as the Geeks in terms of whether the Kalin Lucas of old has been around all season. The numbers say he wasn't quite as good in nonconference play as he's been the last couple seasons. (Note: I didn't include the 2009-10 data on the chart to avoid cluttering it up and making it hard to read, but Lucas' junior season looked very much like his sophomore season graphically.) And the eyeball test says Lucas has finally regained his hold explosiveness in the lane over the last 3-4 weeks.
But the larger point remains--and is absolutely correct: Kalin Lucas is every bit as good right now and he's ever been as a Spartan. The Big Ten season begins at game 13 or 14 in the chart above. Lucas's game-by-game offensive efficiency marks have been right in the same range as they were during this conference-player-of-the-year campaign. If anything, he's been more consistent, avoiding any really bad off nights. And he's doing it with much less in the way of a reliable supporting cast on offense--none of the guards are currently consistent double-digit scorers, and, low post play has only recently become a significant factor. It's been Lucas, Draymond Green, and whatever miscellaneous contributions show up in a given game.
Lucas's high-level conference-only offensive numbers are almost exactly where they were two years ago: an offensive rating of 110.3 vs. 110.2 and a usage rate of 27.7 vs. 27.1 . He's scoring more efficiently inside the arc and turning the ball over less frequently. The only major offensive metric holding him back some is free throw rate, and that's been on the rise the last few weeks as he's regained full confidence attacking the basket.
As the Geeks point out, Lucas hasn't shown major improvement over the last two years, but that's partly (maybe mostly) a function of the fact that he got his game to a conference-star level more rapidly than most of the other players in that talented 2007-08 Big Ten freshman class did (all of them except the guy currently playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, in fact). Lucas won the player-of-the-year award in a somewhat weak year for offensive superstars in the Big Ten. But maintaining the level of performance it took to win the award even in a slightly down year for three seasons--with a major injury sandwiched in between two of those years--is no small feat.
More immediately, for all the issues this MSU team has experienced this season, we can at least be confident in the fact that Kalin Lucas is performing as well as we could reasonably hope for as the team makes its late push to keep the NCAA Tournament appearance streak alive. (Update: Every bracketologist and his brother has MSU in the field post-Saturday's win. Now, it's a matter of playing to at least baseline performance levels: beating Iowa at home, winning at least one of the three 30-40%-shot games left in the regular season, and--if they don't win two of those three games--taking the Big Ten Tournament opener just to be safe.)
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