The biggest story line at this season’s media day was Derrick Wilson. Buzz Williams spoke at length about how important it would be for him to trust Wilson on a daily basis. His spot in the starting lineup was secure, as were his 25 minutes per game. But, as always, that wasn’t going to be enough for the perfectionist head coach; it was crucial that Williams felt comfortable putting the ball in Wilson’s hands each night, knowing that a core of talented playmakers was only as good as the player bringing the ball up the court to get the ball to them.
Wilson, taking on the true colors of his head coach, said that his transformation may not be complete by November, or even January. He told Paint Touches that he needed to be more aggressive, take chances and expand on his role while also maintaining the efficiency he had as a reserve freshman and sophomore.
Twelve games in, the verdict is still entirely out.
Wilson has progressed in his junior year. His 5.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists are all up from a year ago, and his per-40-minute offensive numbers are all career-bests. He’s scored in double digits three different times, has tallied 10 assists in a game and has only turned the ball over more than two times in a game once. His rebound numbers are among the country’s best for point guards — like assistant Isaac Chew said he would be — and he’s seemingly gaining the trust of the Marquette offense while expanding his game.
Wilson is making good on one part of his preseason goals in expanding his game.
But the other half, allowing the Marquette offense to run fluidly, has been highly questionable.
It’s too easy to heap the Golden Eagles’ offensive struggles on one player, especially one known for his defense. There’s a laundry list of reasons why Marquette’s offensive efficiency rating of 109.0 is the lowest it has ever been under Williams (and the Golden Eagles haven’t even gotten to Big East play) as he tries to figure out a rotation that still has little stability — though it is gaining clarity.
So while we can’t blame it all on Wilson, we can include him.
At that same media day, Wilson noted that he’d need to improve his outside shooting. In his words, “as far as the scouting report goes for different teams, if you look at (my) numbers and the film, opponents are like, ‘This guys’s not a scorer, so sag off him.’ In order to get everybody else opportunities and to get the offense flowing, I think I do have to attack a little bit more.”
Through 12 games, it’s been Wilson’s worst trait. Per Synergy, he is shooting 18.2 percent on outside jumpers (2-for-11). Worse, he’s just 1 of 5 on unguarded jumpers. For reference, Marquette is shooting just 26 percent on outside jumpers, in the 12th percentile for all Division I teams. Even on an awful shooting team, Wilson is below average and has attempted less than one jumper per game.
He’s getting the looks, and he isn’t taking them. Perhaps the attempts are a good sign, seeing as if the jumpers aren’t going in he may as well not take them. Still, for someone who wanted to be a better shooter, he’s done nothing to show he’s capable of it. Last season he was 3-for-16 on jumpers (18.8 percent), so he hasn’t even improved here.
It’s an easy cliche to say that Marquette is “playing 4-on-5 on offense” with Wilson on the court, though it’s also an accurate one. As far as scorers go, Wilson simply isn’t getting it done. But as point guards go, scoring is only half the offensive battle.
His assist totals are solid (4.1 per game) and slightly below Cadougan’s mark of 5.1 assists per game through 12 non-conference games a year ago. On the plus side, 24 of his 39 assists in the half court have produced 3-pointers, a blistering 61.5 percent mark. That ability to find outside shooters has helped him produce 2.51 PPP+assists, which has him in the 91st percentile of all players.
Diving into those numbers deeper reveal something more, and it’s not as rosy. Marquette is shooting less than 30 percent as a team on 3-pointers (268th in the country). And the Golden Eagles receive just 19.2 percent of their 73.1 points per game on 3-pointers (14 points per game via 3s; 315th in the country). Marquette isn’t an outside-oriented team; on the contrary, three of its four top players work inside. So while Wilson is doing well finding outside shooters, that isn’t the Marquette offense.
Consider this: of Wilson’s 49 assists, only three have been to Davante Gardner, who has made 63 field goals this season. While this doesn’t account for possible possessions where Gardner earned a trip to three throw line via a pass from Wilson, it’s a pretty remarkable stat. Wilson’s passes resulting in 3-pointers are nice, just not for a team that doesn’t revolve around a bevy of 3-point shooters. Gardner is averaging a career-high in field goal attempts per game, but it’s in spite of Wilson’s passing, not because of it.
One aspect of Cadougan’s game the last three seasons that made him so crucial to the offense was initiating Marquette’s offense through entry passes to Gardner and Chris Otule (Wilson only has three assists to Otule). That hasn’t happened in 2013, and it’s no coincidence that Gardner’s and Otule’s respective field goal percentages are down from a year ago. Again, Wilson isn’t the sole problem, but he hasn’t been a help.
Individually, Wilson is performing well. We haven’t even dipped into his defensive numbers, where he’s third on the team in PPP-against behind Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule. His defensive rating is up from a year ago and his rebounding numbers can’t be overstated.
But Marquette is struggling on offense, and Wilson is one player who could help with his outside shooting and entry passes. That hasn’t happened to date, making it difficult to figure out how much Wilson is or isn’t helping the Golden Eagles. The start of the Big East season will be crucial for Wilson; his outside-shooting numbers seem capped, though more attempts at the rim (he’s taking 55 percent of his shots at the rim, up from 48 percent a year ago) and becoming more comfortable finding Gardner and Otule, where the Marquette offense is started most possessions, will go a long way.