It took Derrick Wilson all of seven games into his freshman season to earn him the label of defensive stopper. The box score didn’t tell the story — he grabbed two rebounds and committed three fouls in 20 minutes, and nothing else — but his determined defense on preseason All-American Jordan Taylor was perhaps one of the best individual performances of the season. Taylor committed a career-high five turnovers as Wilson, in his first career start, and Marquette celebrated a 61-54 win at the Kohl Center.
Wilson spent the remainder of his freshman season locked in on opposing point guards, finishing with a 3.7 steal percentage (3.7 of every 100 opp. possessions ended with a Wilson steal), the second best mark on the team. His propensity to hand-check resulted in foul trouble more often than not– he committed 7.0 fouls per 40 minutes — but his 8.8 minute per game average allowed him more aggressiveness on defense, and while he attempted just 16 field goals in 292 minutes, he filled his defense role as well as anyone not named Jae Crowder.
Eight games into his sophomore season, Wilson has kept his title as defensive stopper. His steal percentage is up to 4.3 percent, a top-20 mark in the country, he’s committing just 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes and, for what it’s worth, his rebounding numbers are even up from a year ago.
But what’s more impressive about the ever-improving Wilson is not that his offensive numbers have improved — though he has improved in every statistical category — but rather that the rest of the team also performs better when Wilson is on the court than when he is sitting on the bench.
In what can be mistaken for playing conservative, Wilson is almost never flustered and always under control with the ball. His 19-to-5 assist-to-turnover (3.8) ratio is tied for 24th best in the country, and in five games Wilson has recorded zero turnovers. He played his highest number of minutes in the three games he tallied giveaways, as increased minutes equals increased possessions. But it’s a rare sight to see Wilson make poor decisions, let along give up the rock.
That controlled pace Wilson shows has had an effect on his teammates, too. Wilson has played 126 of a possible 320 minutes this season, and Marquette has averaged 0.23 turnovers per minute with him on the court. The pace picks up with Junior Cadougan in the lineup, but the turnovers do as well, as the Golden Eagles average 0.38 turnovers per minute when Wilson is on the bench.
Furthermore, as a hat-tip to Wilson’s defensive prowess, Marquette has never committed more turnovers than the amount they force in a game during Wilson’s time on the floor. Even in the blowout loss to Florida, Marquette forced seven turnovers in Wilson’s 22 minutes while committing just five. When Wilson came out, Marquette lost the turnover battle to the Gators, 9 to 1. It makes it easier for Williams to go to his bench when he knows, led by Wilson, Marquette will add possessions off turnover margin.
It would be unfair to compare Wilson’s passing numbers directly to Junior Cadougan’s, as both the latter’s 4.8 assists per game and 33.4 percent assist rate are top-80 marks in the nation. But Wilson’s no slouch either. His 24.3 percent assist rate is second on the team, and the aforementioned assist-to-turnover ratio plays in here. Only two of his five turnovers this year have been stolen; the other three came on offensive fouls or out-of-bounds calls. Wilson doesn’t take too many chances, but he’s still aggressive and, as seen below, spreads his passes out to keep defenses honest.
Wilson has handed out 19 assists on the young season, with nine different players receiving those passes. Only Cadougan, who has just played a handful of minutes with Wilson, has yet to find an assist. Wilson has dished six assists to Vander Blue, three to Jamil Wilson and two each to Juan Anderson, Jake Thomas and Steve Taylor. Trent Lockett, Chris Otule, Davante Gardner and Jamal Ferguson have all scored once off a a pass from the Anchorage native.
There’s no direct correlation to it, but Wilson’s ability to spread the ball around when he’s in the game has had an effect on everyone around him. With Cadougan on the bench, Marquette’s passing numbers haven’t taken too big a hit. The Golden Eagles average .39 assists per minute when Wilson’s running the point, and .41 assists per minute when he’s on the bench.
And to complement that, Marquette is assisting on 61.7 percent of made baskets (50-of-81) when Wilson is in, compared to 60 percent when he’s not (81-of-135). To have one of the better passing point guards in the Big East sub out and not see a drop-off in assist numbers is a major asset for Williams’ offense.
Wilson made six shots on 16 attempts in 292 minutes last year (33 games), yet has already surpassed both numbers in eight games this season (7-of-18). He hasn’t created much for himself, but he’s continuing to take what his role in the offense will give him, which is much more than a year ago.
39 percent of his shots have come at the rim, where he’s hitting at a 57 percent mark. That’s better than Blue (50 percent), Lockett (47) and Cadougan (54). His 2-point jumper numbers (56 percent of all his shots, 30 percent shooting) leaves a bit to be desired, but he’s not forcing many looks, if any. Just six percent of his attempts have been 3-pointers, proving Wilson knows his role as a distributor. Just as he rarely looks flustered with the ball, he rarely puts up a shot he shouldn’t. He refuses to force anything, whether it’s a pass or jumper.
Time constraints didn’t allow for a look-up of effective field goal percentage, but Marquette is shooting three percentage points higher when Wilson is in the game than when he isn’t (50.3% to 46.9%). It’s worth noting that Wilson generally substitutes in with Gardner, the team’s most efficient shooter, and recently Jamil Wilson, but the numbers here don’t lie. Wilson’s getting the most out of every possession when he’s on the court.
Because pace is likely slower when Wilson is in — again, time constraints — than Cadougan, Marquette averages 1.84 points per minute with Wilson on the bench, and 1.66 points per minute after he checks in. Not a large discrepancy, and even smaller when considering Marquette averages 1.3 points per shot with Wilson, compared to 1.24 points per shot when he sits. Wilson won’t be mistaken for Kemba Walker any time soon, but he’s taking care of the offense.
What it means
This is not meant to be a comparitive piece. Williams said Saturday night he told Wilson the day before at practice that Wilson deserved to start over Cadougan, and until Cadougan’s 13-point flurry in the second half in the win over Wisconsin, Williams was correct in his assessment.
Cadougan is the starter, and that will be the case until the day he takes off his Marquette uniform for the last time. But what these numbers show is that Williams, who subs in Wilson as a defensive complement, isn’t losing much on offense when his trusted fourth-year point guard Cadougan exits the game.
Like any good bench unit, Wilson’s leadership at the point gives Marquette an efficient and careful initiator, rather than one who would otherwise force the issue that loses leads or widens deficits.
Williams may have said it best in his postgame press conference after a win over UMBC, speaking on the two-headed monster he has at the point.
“I think there’s more comfort with the team offensively when Junior’s on the floor, but Derrick makes so many winning plays.”
Williams is correct on the latter statement and, from what the numbers discern, that comfort level isn’t too far off when No. 12 takes over the offense.