Predicting the next breakout star by using offensive efficiency
Around 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies, according to a recent estimate by Psychology Today, swear by personality tests as a part of their screening process for prospective employees. Just as much as colleges rely on the SAT and ACT for admissions, some companies base a significant amount of their hiring on results of tests like the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), which illuminates an individual's psychological preferences.
An extrovert who gathers information through intuition and makes detached decisions may be considered more suitable for a management track than an introvert who feels his way through decision-making, for example. Because these personality traits are theorized to be static -- hard-wired rather than evolved over time -- companies use the tests to try to make smarter investments in management potential.
College basketball players, the under-compensated employees of our fair game, have offensive personalities that are generally perceived to be dynamic -- molded, over time, by the outsize sideline personalities in a coach-driven sport. The media helps drive this perception; the preseason magazines on racks this month are chock-full of quotes about returning sophomores and juniors and seniors getting smarter, savvier, more mature, more confident.
Development like this does occur, but one thing tends NOT to change: the offensive assertiveness a player shows as a freshman, even in limited minutes, tends to be an indication of how assertive he'll be for the rest of his career. Usage -- the percentage of a team's possessions a player uses while he's on the floor, either by shooting, assisting, grabbing offensive rebounds or turning the ball over -- is far more static than you'd expect.
Credit for this theory goes to Basketball Prospectus, which at the beginning of last season, examined usage data from 2005-07 and concluded, basically: that freshmen who acted like role players as freshmen (using around or below one-fifth, or 20 percent, of the available possessions) were likely to still be role players as juniors. High-usage stars (who used more than 25 percent of available possessions) generally acted like this from Day 1, even if they weren't given enough minutes to put up standard, star-like scoring averages.
Being aware of this makes it easier to spot star potential, such as in the case of Notre Dame's Luke Harangody. There were folks, last season, who had the impression that 'Gody came out of nowhere to win Big East Player of the Year as a sophomore. He did only average 20.6 minutes and 11.2 points as a freshman -- and wasn't a starter the whole year -- but the truth is, he was acting like a star the whole time. 'Gody was using a team-high 27.5 percent of the Irish's offensive possessions at a solid efficiency rate of 112.0. The transition to a 29-minute-per-game, go-to guy was easy for him, and he took on even more of the possession load en route to averaging 20.1 points.
What incoming sophomores, then, might be on the same track as 'Gody? The following three didn't get extensive time to shine as freshmen -- averaging only around 50 percent of available minutes -- but have psyches hard-wired for high-usage:
If you're looking for a Big East sophomore with breakout potential -- as Harangody had last season -- Tucker is the most promising candidate. He came to DePaul as a four-star recruit and wasn't exactly hiding as a freshman, averaging 23.6 minutes and finishing as the Blue Demons' second-leading scorer behind now-departed senior Draelon Burns. Tucker actually used a higher percentage of possessions than Burns (28.1 to 27.1) and they had almost identical offensive ratings (107.4 and 108.6), but Tucker played 8.5 fewer minutes per game. If Tucker, an oversized shooting guard, can get marginally better from beyond the arc (he shot 32.1 percent as a freshman), he could easily blossom into an 18- or 19-point scorer this season.
Baylor was so overloaded with backcourt talent last season that it could have fielded two winning teams. As a result, Dunn had to take on a supporting role to Curtis Jerrells, Tweety Carter, Henry Dugat and Aaron Bruce, and didn't get a significant amount of national exposure. Even though he played only 22.0 minutes per game, Dunn had a huge rookie season, averaging 13.6 points and finishing with an offensive rating that was almost equal to Michael Beasley's at Kansas State (119.8). Given that every guard but Bruce is still on the Bears' roster, Dunn may have to wait until his junior season to fully break out. But he's already Baylor's most high-usage and high-efficiency scorer, which is a strong indicator of future stardom.
The NBA knows that Daye, a stringbean of a small forward, has star potential. He's already projected as the No. 4 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by DraftExpress. Daye had limited opportunities to star as a freshman on a deep Zags roster, ranking seventh on the team in average minutes per game (18.5). Yet he was the team's highest-usage player while he was on the floor, and he will be their most-efficient returner in the frontcourt. If a sizable chunk of the minutes vacated by the departures of forwards David Pendergraft and Abdullahi Kuso go to Daye, and he's more forceful at drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line (where he's an 88.1 percent shooter), he could have a huge sophomore year.