The departure of Vander Blue to the NBA draft presented brand-new questions Buzz Williams must address this offseason. With their top scorer, best perimeter defender and locker-room leader gone, the Golden Eagles must once again–for the fifth straight season, in fact–find an identity while replacing their go-to player. Their best player.
In his junior season Blue made his mark as a slasher, pure jump shooter and respectable 3-point shooter. But where Marquette must replace Blue and his numbers and skill set is in transition, where Marquette is all of a sudden without a proven fast-break guard.
First we take a look at Marquette’s transition numbers throughout the Buzz Williams era. From Synergy.com, the last four years were available, so Williams’ first season (with the Three Amigos) is not listed. Here they are:
Surprisingly enough, last year was Marquette’s most efficient as a fast-break team. Aside from the 2009-10 season’s 10.7 percent turnover rate, the Golden Eagles posted their best numbers under Williams last season. They were far slower last year than they were two seasons ago, but led by Blue, Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett the Golden Eagles’ efficiency was stellar, ranking 14th in the country (based on points per possession).
Less of a surprise is that Blue led the way for Marquette in transition. His 1.295 points per possession (136 points on 105 possessions) ranked 39th in the country (min. 70 possessions) and third in the Big East. He also shot 69.9 percent on the break, which ranked him in the top-20 in the NCAA (19th). Of the 18 players ahead of him, only four turned the ball over less than Blue. For all intents and purpose, Blue was one of the best transition players in the country last year.
Not only that, Blue’s numbers last year also were the best of any guard in a Marquette uniform under Williams:
Despite Marquette playing in transition far less than a year ago–and every year but 2009-10–Blue’s transition numbers were similar to that of the top fast-break guard in each of the previous four seasons. The field goal percentage sticks out most–as does Darius Johnson-Odom’s slightly above-average marks. His skills were better than his numbers tell.
Blue scored like then-senior Wesley Matthews, took care of the ball like point guard Maurice Acker and got to the free-throw line at a better rate than the foul-magnet Johnson-Odom. He truly was a special player on the break last year, something that went largely unnoticed because of everything else he did well.
Since we’ve broken down Blue’s NBA prospects the last two weeks, we’ll add that these numbers prove Blue can make it in a fast-paced offense at the next level. Granted, he’ll be running the break as a point guard in the pros instead of doing so off-the-ball like he did at Marquette, but Blue’s speed and athleticism make him a true threat.
Regardless of how quick or (more likely, because of its frontcourt depth) slow Marquette plays next season, someone must step up on the break. Even when the Golden Eagles played slower than slow in 2009-10, Acker’s transition attempts made up 21 percent of his total shots. That team was stellar from beyond the arc, the main reason it ranked 302nd in pace.
Someone will step up; after all, Blue’s 11.9 field goal attempts per game must come from somewhere else. Who steps up is the real question. Incoming freshman Jajuan Johnson could very well be that player, as could fellow freshman Duane Wilson, who projects as a combo guard who does his best work on the break. If we’re talking current players, however, there’s a lot to prove. Here are the returning players’ transition numbers from last year:
Natural small forwards Jamil Wilson and Juan Anderson were thrown in, but the majority of fast-break attempts will come from one of Mayo, either freshman or even Derrick Wilson. Cadougan certainly helped Marquette’s (and Blue’s) numbers on the break and, as well as the PG Wilson may improve as a junior, it won’t match what Cadougan did.
But if a Mayo, Johnson or Duane Wilson can improve their transition numbers to near 20 percent of their total attempts–while also keeping similar efficiency–it will go a long way toward replacing Blue. The Madison native’s departure left questions, and this is one of the biggest that Williams and Marquette must answer.