The transformation of Jamil Wilson

When Jamil Wilson arrived on Marquette’s campus three seasons ago, the physical specimen—all 6-foot-7, 210 pounds of switchable—was unlike anything Buzz Williams had ever had at his disposal.

Jimmy Butler, Joseph Fulce, Erik Williams and Jae Crowder before him provided Marquette different particulars of the skill set Williams looked for in his face-up forwards. But not until Wilson arrived did Williams have a player who could shoot from the perimeter, post up, defend multiple positions and play off the dribble like the Oregon transfer could.

Jamil Wilson is becoming a complete switchable. (USA Today)

Jamil Wilson is becoming a complete switchable. (USA Today)

And for two seasons that versatility allowed Williams to plug in Wilson where needed. The jack-of-all-trades began his redshirt-sophomore season in 2010 behind a then-senior Crowder. But eight games in, center Chris Otule suffered a torn ACL in his left knee, and fellow big Davante Gardner missed eight games in February to a knee sprain. That left Wilson as the de facto center—all 6-feet-7-inches of him, quite possibly the shortest center in high-major Division I basketball.

One year later, 2012-13, with Crowder out of the picture and incoming transfer, perimeter-oriented Trent Lockett set to take over at small forward for Darius Johnson-Odom—saying goodbye to Marquette’s true three-guard offense—Wilson was slotted in at power forward. The implementation of Williams’ lineup with Otule (C) and Gardner (PF) at the same time allowed Wilson some time at small forward, but it only was used in the second half of the season and for short spurts at a time.

And while next year Wilson will be a wildcard defender—defensive versatility is at the core of Williams’ definition of “switchability”—the biggest question facing Marquette’s most talented player is where he fits in the offense. There’s no question he’ll be called upon to pick up some of the scoring left behind by Vander Blue, but where has he changed the last two seasons to show what kind of scorer he will be in 2013? We offer some insight:

Sophomore year

After sitting a year, Wilson had enough talent to start as a sophomore. His athleticism and versatility made him a perfect fit for what Williams was trying to accomplish in Marquette’s fast-paced offense, and his skills easily made him a top-five talent on the roster.

But there was no room for him in the starting lineup. With Junior Cadougan and Johnson-Odom manning the two guard positions, Williams opted to start a third guard—Blue—instead of Wilson at “small forward.” With eventual Big East Player of the Year Crowder at power forward and the combination of Otule and Gardner at the five, Wilson, perhaps Marquette’s most talented player, was relegated to the bench.

It wasn’t a problem, though, as Williams admitted wanting to “hide” Wilson in the early going as he acclimated to the Golden Eagles’ system after 20 months away from live-game action. But the season changed eight games in after Otule’s injury, and it thrust Wilson into the lineup at a position he hadn’t played since high school.

All things considered, Wilson performed admirably in his brand-new role. He both picked up the slack for the defensive-oriented Otule—Marquette finished the year ranked 14th in defensive efficiency—and also helped the Golden Eagles pick up the pace—their 71.4 adjusted possessions per game was 16th fastest in the NCAA.

With Johnson-Odom and Crowder manning the perimeter, Wilson saw the majority of his time in the post. He began most possessions against man-to-man defense on the low block, and at the free-throw line the 30 percent of the time he played against zone. Johnson-Odom’s propensity to drive to the lane freed up room for Wilson, who attempted 50 percent of his field goals (107 of 212) at the rim. Only five of those attempts came off dribble-drive and 27 came from offensive rebounds; that means 75 of his 107 shots at the rim came from his own moves inside. That year he was Marquette’s most consistent post-presence, given Gardner’s late-season injury.

Jamil Wilson's post numbers as a sophomore.

Jamil Wilson’s post numbers as a sophomore.

Since he wasn’t a true center by any stretch, it’s no surprise Wilson sprinkled in a few dozen attempts from beyond the arc. He saw some time as a trailer, with Crowder posting up as the makeshift “center” in such situations. But the majority of his 3-point success—six of his 10 makes—came from the corners when he flanked out from the low block after a Johnson-Odom, Cadougan or Blue dribble-drive.

Here are two prime examples of Wilson’s role in the offense in 2011-12. In both situations Crowder acts as the trailer with Wilson, the “center,” posting up. The plays aren’t complicated: Wilson finds his spot on the low block against two of the better post defenders in the conference, Seton Hall’s Herb Pope and Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody. In both instances Wilson uses finesse post moves to score, much like he did all season.

Junior year

When a healthy Otule returned to Marquette’s lineup, no one was happier than Wilson. A player who told Paint Touches his sophomore season he felt far more comfortable on the perimeter, Wilson was finally going to get that chance. Kind of.

Lockett’s decision to attend Marquette for one year of graduate school plugged him at small forward, a player with excellent rebounding and defensive skills. That pushed Wilson, thanks to his flexibility and year of interior work, to power forward. He proved his worth as a switchable, playing multiple positions—much like Crowder did the prior year—and really began to show off his natural talents.

With Otule and Gardner each playing in all 35 games, Wilson was freed up to play the perimeter as the trailer in Marquette’s offense. Gone were the post restrictions and lurking around the basket like he did as a sophomore. Instead, Wilson played primarily from 17 feet-out, leading to increased 3-point shooting, more open mid-range looks and higher percentage attempts inside.

Going in reverse order, Wilson attempted 82 shots at the rim (down from 107 as a sophomore), which constituted 31 percent of his total field goals (down from 50 percent as a sophomore). He shot slightly better as a junior from inside—59 percent compared to 58 percent in Year 1—but the way in which he got to that number was the impressive feat.

Of the 82 shots at the rim, 16 came off drives and only 16 were offensive rebounds, both significantly down from his sophomore numbers. Subsequently, 50 of his shots at the rim were his own moves, down from 75 the previous season.

Jamil Wilson's post numbers as a junior.

Jamil Wilson’s post numbers as a junior.

The dribble drives were one factor in the overlying theme of his improved mid-range game. After shooting 30 percent (23-of-76) on jumpers as a sophomore, he improved to 41 percent (35-of-86) as a junior.

But Wilson’s biggest jump as a junior was easily from beyond the arc. The percentages won’t show much—he only improved from 34.5 percent as sophomore to 36 percent as a junior. But consider that Wilson attempted just 29 3-pointers as a sophomore, and that his 30th 3-pointer last year came on Jan. 12.

His 100 attempts from beyond the arc were second on the team (Blue, 132) and he was deadly from the trailer, top-of-the-key location, making a blistering 44 percent (18 of 32) of those attempts. As a sophomore, 3-pointers made up 13 percent of his total attempts; as a junior that number exploded to 37 percent, akin to Crowder’s 41 percent (177 of 436) as a senior.

Here are two examples (Example 1; Example 2) of Wilson’s role as the trailer.

Comparing his shots

JamilWilsonHexChart (1)

Take a second and glance at each of his two shot charts. The most noticeable change was from the top of the arc. The trailer position meant Wilson was bound to see more attempts from beyond the arc, and he made the most of it by making it his most frequent AND hottest spot. His midrange game was almost identical—though he shot better from the baselines—and while his numbers inside were down, his percentages were up.

Senior year

So what does it all mean? Natural progression meant an athletic specimen was going to improve from his sophomore to junior year, but Wilson showed off his truer talents by improving from beyond the arc while increasing the volume of attempts he took.

In 2013-14 Wilson is slotted to move positions again, taking over as a small forward while the Otule/Gardner duo fills in at center and junior-college transfer Jameel McKay and sophomore Steve Taylor hold down the power forward role. It remains to be seen whether Wilson will continue as the trailer in Williams’ offense, but the odds are likely. Taylor and McKay, slotted in the role, are better interior players at this point and Wilson proved last year, he is deadly from the top of the key. But with the ability to post-up and finish at the rim, he quickly is becoming the definition of an offensive switchable.

Next year, for the first time in Williams’ tenure, the starting lineup will have a center, a power forward and a small forward all playing his natural position. Assuming Taylor and McKay see most of their time in the post, Wilson will have options at the top of the key. It may look something like this, but what is known is that Wilson is going to score from everywhere in 2013. The last two years have proved that.

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Categories: Features, Home, Offseason, Synergy

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