This is part of Paint Touches’ series breaking down each players’s 2011-2012 campaign and looking forward to next year. A big thank you to assistant coach Aki Collins, who provided exclusive, in-depth analysis on each player.
What he did well: Vander played more than 18 minutes twice in the last 13 games last season, and was often seen as a liability when on the floor. This season saw a completely different player. Blue played 18 or more minutes in the final 13 games and was a mainstay in the final minutes due to his penchant for hitting clutch free throws. Blue raised his free throw accuracy by ten percentage points (70.8%), transforming into an 85 percent free throw shooter since the game at Villanova.
Defensively, Blue was once again a stalwart perimeter defender, often drawing the toughest assignments. More impressively, Blue was an asset on the glass, averaging just under five rebounds per game this season, third best on the team. When Gardner went down for a stretch of games, Blue became even more aggressive and helped fill in the gaps.
As a scorer, Vander was no longer a liability and raised his points per game average from 5.1 points to 8.5. He wasn’t a great perimeter shooter but did hit a few big threes this season against Wisconsin and Seton Hall. Blue attacked the rim much more frequently and got rewarded with 120 trips to the line, 54 more than last year. Oh yea, he also threw down some ridiculous dunks this year. Overall, Blue showed great improvements in his all around game.
What he could have done better: When Vander drove into the paint, you could almost guarantee one of two results: he’s turn the ball over or clank a lay in off the rim. For all of the progress he has made, and its considerable, Blue still is unable to finish at the rim — dunks not withstanding. His touch is not soft enough, his english not effective enough and his feel not natural enough. Stepping out a bit further, Blue’s jumper, while not as alarming as last year’s, was still ugly. Blue has to continue improving his shooting form until he can start hitting shots on a consistent basis. With his speed and athleticism, a decent, not even great, jump shot would make him absolutely unguardable.
His turnover percentage was still too high for a guard at 20.7 percent. He averaged 2.2 turnovers per game this season. This really hurts him because Vander has terrific court vision and is a great passer. He was third on the team in assists with 91 and that number will significantly rise as he continues to improve his ball handling skills.
Aki’s analysis: “Van takes a lot of criticism, but he has matured at a phenomenal rate, on and off the court. And you just look at how poorly he shot his free throws at the beginning of the year, and at the end of the year everybody was like, ‘Hey, put Vander in. He’ll make his free throws.’ It shows what kind of kid he is and what kind of competitor he is.”
Vander has worked on his jumper. It has gotten better, but he still has some room for improvement. But Vander is a legitimate double-figure scorer next year with a simple adjustment. When Vander finishes at the rim, you can’t stop him. He has one of the quickest first steps in the game. He gets there and he learns how to finish with contact, he’s gonna get to the free throw line and knock down his free throws. There’s no reason why Vander shouldn’t average 10 and 5, 10 (points) and 6 (rebounds) next year.”
“It’s understanding, ‘This is what I am as a player.’ So I’m always going to find myself in the same position, I’m going to be really quick to the rim, there’s going to be a big guy there trying to block it. Now, I need to slow my mind down and focus on finishing. And I think what happens is you go so fast, and you’re there, and you just want to get rid of it. No, you’re going to be there every day, you’re going to be in that same position 100 times a week. What are you going to do in that moment?”
“And that’s what Vander has started to figure out is, OK, when I’m there and the defense collapses on me and I’m going to get a shot off, how do I focus on not my defender, but focus on finishing the play. And as he does that with maturity, he’s still only 19 years old. He’s a baby. He finished his sophomore year and he’s just 19. So with maturity and age, I think he’ll figure it out. He figured it out at the free throw line, which shows that he has the ability to do it.”:”
“We just have flexibility. And the more we can play guys at multiple positions, the more it can help our team. We put Van at the point sometimes with Todd and D.J. because it gives us a better defensive team. Whoever you put at the 4 and the 5, it gives you more length. When Derrick was in there he wasn’t looking to score, so it keeps you in attack mode. It’s a combination, but as a coach you want guys to play multiple positions because it gives you more flexibility. You don’t want to take a guy off the court to improve your offense or your defense. You can move him over, so Van is going to play some point, some three on the wing, because he can defend.”
Best performance: Jan. 31 vs. Seton Hall (16 points, 8 rebounds, 29 minutes)
While his breakout performance may have come earlier in the season against Winthrop, when he dropped a career high 26 points, his best all around game was against the Hall. In Marquette’s first game without Gardner, Blue went bananas on the glass, sucking in 8 boards, 5 coming on the offensive end. Just as importantly, Blue sparked the Golden Eagles on offense with an 7-0 run of his own in the second half off a a three, a deuce and an alley-oop that got LeBron and D-Wade on their feet.
Worst performance: Mar. 8 vs. Louisville (8 points, 4 fouls, 6 turnovers)
With Junior Cadougan having one of his worst games as a Golden Eagle, Marquette needed a stabilizing presence at the point to break the Louisville press and get the offense rolling. That presence was not Vander. He was just as ineffective as Cadougan, turning the ball over six times and getting trapped way too easily. Vander looked nervous and could never get the offense to kick start. While he did score 8 points, Blue was also victimized by Peyton Siva and could not keep in front of him.
2012 outlook: With two years of game-play under his belt, this looks to be the year Vander breaks out once and for all. He showed his potential in spurts, posterizing Washington at the garden, dropping 26 on Winthrop at the Paradise Jam and hitting a three in the hostile environment of the Kohl Center. The name of the game will now be consistency. With no DJO to bail the team out at the end of the shot clock this year, Vander will see his usage rate skyrocket. The key will be whether he can continue improving his efficiency with added possessions. His O-rating jumped up by 6.4 points this season. A similar jump will have people finally believing in the five-star hype.
Vander will also have a much heavier leadership burden upon him. He will be one of five upperclassmen and the returning player who saw the second most minutes. Will he be able to become a leader both on and off the court? Will his jumper ever look prettier? Will he hit with more consistency when around the rim? These are the questions Vander will have to answer in the upcoming season.