Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Season Player Preview, Part II

#6. Henry Sims.

In The Hoya’s basketball preview, Joe Wooten, Jason Clark’s high school coach and son of the legendary Morgan Wooten, stated this about Georgetown’s recruiting style: “The thing I like about them is they know what they want and they go after what they want.”

Fit so far has been incredibly important in recruiting for the Hoyas. Some of the vital characteristics are less obvious to an outside observer – work ethic, team play, chemistry with other players – but basketball skills are easier to evaluate. Thompson's system is demanding in its required skills. Players like Tyler Crawford struggled because the perimeter players need to handle extremely well. Because of this, despite having guard size, he almost exclusively played small forward. Players like Vernon Macklin and Jeremiah Rivers played but were less effective because they could not shoot. Now, their struggles were so extremely that they would have struggled in most systems, but in Georgetown's offense, their inability to make shots hurt the benefits of effective spacing, a vitally important component of the offense.

Sims’ skillset is somewhat unique. He has typical big man defensive skills. He is mobile for a 6’10” player, can block shots and should be a decent defensive rebounder with potential to be very good if he can add some bulk. He may not be able to bang all that well with some of the wider bodies of the Big East this year, but he when he learns to use his height, he can offset that.

On offense, however, he’s a different player right now. He’s got range, and his shot may be his best offensive skill at the moment. That range allows Thompson to do some different things with the offense.

The offense this year, with Sims or Monroe in at center, will likely look more like Thompson’s first year than it did when Hibbert was getting significant minutes. Sims’ ability to hit a shot from the free throw line, wing, or even out to the three point line will allow Thompson to open up the lane for drives or backdoor cuts. Sims may prove to be a significant weapon against a team like UConn, where Calhoun will either have to live with Thabeet following Sims and Monroe on the perimeter or go zone.

Contrast that to last year. Hibbert’s perfect record on threes notwithstanding, he wasn’t likely to take an outside shot. Macklin was hopeless outside of a dunk and Rivers was just chucking up shots, except for a strangely accurate fade-away, fade left jumper from about 17 feet. Even Pat Ewing saw his three point percentage drop significantly, meaning we often only had two real shooters on the floor. We simply could not spread the floor as much as we liked for Roy down low.

There are downsides to pulling the center out, of course. A lack of low post play can hurt a team, especially when we’re used to a relatively automatic Hibbert. Offensive rebounding may suffer when we’re likely small at small forward. But over time, Henry will develop that low post game we’re used to seeing, and for now, he opens up the offense immensely, because unlike last year, we’ll have five shooters on the floor.

#5. Jessie Sapp.

Sapp’s the first of my expected starters, and he’s first not because he’s not important, but because his potential for improvement or regression seems fairly low. Below are the statistical lines for Jessie Sapp in 2006-07 and 2007-08. They illustrate both the fact that Sapp has already improved greatly but perhaps that he’s also beginning to hit somewhat of a ceiling.

Year% MinO Rating%PossOR%DR%FT Rate


From 2007 to 2008, Georgetown lost their primary playmaker in Jeff Green. Jessie Sapp was the man who stepped up into the playmaker role. (As we’ll see later, DaJuan Summers stepped up into the scorer’s role). His assist rate and usage rate both jumped four points as Jessie both controlled the ball more and tried to make more plays. Sometimes that resulted in an assist; unfortunately, Sapp’s turnovers rose as well.

When Chris Wright was out, Sapp was definitely the Hoyas’ best perimeter creator. So the decision for him to press the issue and create was probably the right one. The issue is that Jessie is primarily a combo guard, and not a PG. He’s fantastic at the tough play – but he’s not a traditional PG. A top PG – like Pitt’s Levance Fields – might assist on 30% of his team's made baskets while he's on the floors and only commit a turnover 15% of the time he ends a possesion. Sapp is simply more effective in the combo/2 guard role of taking what comes to him, big shots at ends of games notwithstanding.

It’s too bad, because his turnovers helped offset his fantastic improvement in his shot. Jumping 13 points in FT shooting and 11 points in three point shooting is an impressive improvement. While three point percent tends to jump around a bit, the fact that Jessie improved on his FT shooting lends credence to it being a more permanent shift.

Sapp can improve on his already effective contribution to the team. If he either improves his playmaking or other players step up to take that role, letting him become Ashanti Cook with more playmaking and better defense. A player with his kind of shooting percentages and smart play are immensely valuable. We’ve seen them in Ashanti Cook and Jon Wallace. While you can never count out a Hoya from significant improvement and Sapp in particular, the latter situation seems more likely. At the time, Sapp is unlikely to regress as a player. However, it’s going to be hard to duplicate his clutch play last year.

#4. Austin Freeman.

Is it fair to put Freeman in the four spot? He was an incredibly efficient player without ever appearing spectacular last year, and usually a player who scored well over a point per possession used has very real potential to be a star.

However, in some ways Freeman profiles as a complementary player. He can shoot and knows a good shot. But he was not particularly aggressive about taking or creating shots, which simply may be his disposition or could be attributed to the weakest part of his offensive game, his handle. Freeman wasn’t a big scorer in a similar system at DeMatha, so this style of game isn’t a surprise.

CO had a great post earlier detailing the reality that most role players stay role players in terms of numbers of shots taken. But there’s going to be shots to take, as Roy Hibbert is gone and it’s unlikely that Monroe will shoot at the same rate as Roy. No freshman under JTIII has shot anywhere near Roy’s 26% of shots; the highest was Summers’ 21.9% (Freeman took about 20% of the shots while he was on the floor). When Jeff Green left, the shots shifted to Summers; will Freeman pick up the mantle for a departed Roy Hibbert?

For the Hoyas’ sake, let’s hope so. Freeman’s offensive efficiency was the best freshman mark under JTIII, and the only player within shouting distance was Jeff Green.

Can Freeman pick up the scoring load without losing his efficiency? There’s not a lot of reason to think a minor increase in shots would affect him adversely, at least in respect to last year. It’s not as if Freeman is to the point where he’s taking every good shot he sees, or ever taking a bad shot. Add in the summer reports of him improving his handle and taking it to the hole, and Freeman seems likely to be able to absorb more shots without materially hurting his efficiency.

The next question is, will he? Aggression doesn’t seem to be something that is easily learned, but we’ve seen Jeff, Roy and now DaJuan all increase their frequency of shooting from somewhere around 20% of shots while they are on the floor to 25% or more. Given how well Austin shoots, he seems like one of the logical players to step up. I expect him to do so a bit, but I expect his backcourt mate, Chris Wright, to be more aggressive in taking those shots. However, if Austin does take more shots while keeping his efficiency, Austin could become the best 15 ppg scorer in the Big East.

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