Marquette: Better or worse on offense with Derrick Wilson?

How has Derrick Wilson affected the Marquette offense this season? (USA Today)

How has Derrick Wilson affected the Marquette offense this season? (USA Today)

It’s easy to cheer for Derrick Wilson if you know him. The junior point guard is mature beyond his years, willing to speak with the media whenever asked, has a smile on his face around campus and has earned Buzz Williams’ trust, something that doesn’t come easily. He’s the kid of a military man, loves to joke about time he spent living in Alaska and had his choice of basketball and football as a rising preps star. He’s pretty good at basketball, too.

Yet 18 games into his third season in Milwaukee, it’s also become easy for some to knock Wilson. He doesn’t score like he should. His defensive worth isn’t enough to justify how much he slows down Marquette’s offense. He’s undersized, with a talented 6-foot-4 freshman waiting in the wings behind him. Take your pick.

This publication has been forgiving of Wilson’s play for much of the season, in part because of who Derrick Wilson the person is.

The basic statistics show that Wilson, in 18 games (17 starts), is averaging 5.2 points on 38 percent shooting, 4.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 turnovers in 30 minutes per game. He logged 10 assists against Grambling State, scored a career-best 14 points at Arizona State and hit his first collegiate 3-pointer last month against Ball State. With Duane Wilson redshirting and John Dawson still more of a project at this point, Wilson has logged the lion’s share of the minutes at point guard.

His position is a tricky one. More so than any other spot on the floor, Wilson’s performance is evaluated not only in how he plays, but how the Marquette offense does, too. Wilson’s play, good or bad, can’t be made responsible for all of the Golden Eagles’ struggles on offense this season. There’s a laundry list of reasons as to why they’re shooting 44.5 percent from the field and averaging 70.3 points per game.

At the very least, however, Wilson must make the Marquette offense better when he’s on the court than when he isn’t. If Williams is going to allocate 30 of the 40 point-guard minutes to Wilson, it’s Wilson’s responsibility to make sure he and the four other players on the court are making plays that lead to victories.

Marquette has played five Big East games, struggling to a 2-3 record (10-8 overall) that has many questioning whether its streak of eight NCAA Tournament appearances will end this March; it very well may if things don’t turn around in a hurry.

Stepping back to the raw numbers for a moment, Wilson has averaged 5.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 31.2 minutes per game. Those waiting for him to become a stat-stuffing guard in the mold of a Dominic James shouldn’t hold their breath, and he may never transform into a top-tier Big East point guard like James, Mo Acker and Junior Cadougan (yes, Junior Cadougan) before him.

But is he helping Marquette?

That’s where the advanced statistics come into play.

Here’s how the Golden Eagles offense has fared with Wilson on the court vs. off it in conference play:

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 2.31.44 AM

Marquette’s Big East numbers with Derrick Wilson on and off the floor. (Paint Touches)

Just a handful of numbers, but lots to analyze.

TURNOVER RATE

The number that should pop out first is the turnover percentage. This season Marquette’s turnover rate is 19.8 percent, third worst in the Big East. Jamil Wilson, Chris Otule, Juan Anderson and, to an extent Wilson, all have contributed to the cause. That number is better than it was last year, yet is still the second-worst mark in Williams’ tenure at Marquette. They’ve averaged 13.2 turnovers per game, and if you take out their six-turnover performance at Xavier that number jumps to 15 per game in the other four contests.

But that hasn’t been Wilson’s fault. As the graphic shows, Marquette’s enormous 26.5 percent turnover rate with Wilson off the floor is far too high. Dawson has logged just 26 total minutes in five Big East games, so don’t mistake the second row of numbers as an indication of how the freshman has played in his limited minutes. In fact, Dawson has turned the ball over three times.

The turnover numbers indicate that the Jamil Wilson-led offense has struggled mightily. Williams hasn’t had many options at point guard past Derrick, and he’s tried out Jamil in an attempt to keep his best athletes on the floor while not sacrificing possessions. That hasn’t happened. Jamil’s sup-par season has been documented, and it’s not helping that he needs to handle the ball ~5 minutes per game.

Derrick Wilson had five turnovers against Butler, but the numbers clearly show that Marquette takes care of the ball far better with him on the court. That shouldn’t be surprising, despite some outsiders’ claims.

FG PERCENTAGE/PPP

Wilson is shooting just 37.5 percent in Big East play. If someone wants to do the legwork, there’s a good chance that number is worst among conference point guards. The fact that he doesn’t shoot 3-pointers hurts his cause further, meaning he’s among the least versatile scoring point guards in the Big East.

As a whole, Marquette is shooting a shade under 40 percent.¬†And the Golden Eagles are nearly six percentage points better from the field with Wilson on the floor. Even though his Big East assist rate is a dreadful 18.1 percent, the Golden Eagles seem to function better, find better shots and average more points. Wilson doesn’t create much, though it’s safe to assume Marquette can open up its playbook, run a bit more and keep players in their natural positions (AKA, not Jamil Wilson at the point) when Derrick is on the floor.

The points per possession are another story. With Wilson on the floor, the Golden Eagles have scored 240 points in 251 possessions; without him they have totaled 78 points on 83 possessions. Though they’re shooting 41 percent with him compared to 35 percent without him, at the end of the day it’s about scoring points, no matter how you get them. And that’s where the final statistic looms large.

FREE THROW RATE

Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Otule have accounted for 206 of Marquette’s 421 free throws, nearly half. That number has jumped to 55 percent in Big East play (73 of Marquette’s 100 attempts), and the vast majority of those come from receiving paint touches on the block. And that’s where Wilson’s biggest perceived weakness comes into play, and this is the statistic that may prove it.

With Wilson on the floor, Marquette has attempted 69 free throws in conference play. That comes out to a free-throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 32.4, which would rank 327th of 351 Division I teams. With Wilson gone, that number skyrockets to 47.7 percent (31 FTA/65 FGA), which would rank 49th in the country.

More in-depth analysis would be required to pinpoint why Marquette attempts more free throws without Wilson, but a good bet is that he simply hasn’t been able to locate those interior players who get to the charity stripe. It’s perhaps Wilson’s biggest flaw, and something he’ll need to improve.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS

No, this analysis won’t end the debate as to whether Wilson helps Marquette’s offense. The answer is yes, seeing as the Golden Eagles are averaging a slight uptick in points per possession (the only stat that truly matters) in more possessions. That, in itself, is reason enough to say that the defensive-oriented Wilson is good for the offense. That may have been expected, seeing as someone who plays 30 minutes per game should be doing more good than harm.

Marquette turns the ball over on fewer possessions and makes a better percentage of their shots with Wilson running the point, two numbers that are more cemented and less likely to fluctuate than free-throw rate, the only mark where the Golden Eagles are better without Wilson.

The detractors will still argue Wilson should be doing more, that Marquette’s points per possession should be more than 0.017 better than when he’s sitting on the bench. That’s probably a fair argument, and one reason that this analysis isn’t meant to convince one way or the other if Wilson is doing the job.

What it may prove, in fact, is that Marquette needs a more stable option when Wilson is out of the game. The near-exact points per possession are nice, but the turnover rate and paltry field-goal percentage are serious issues. Jamil Wilson isn’t the answer, and it’s tough to rely on Dawson this late in the season.

Regardless of what Derrick Wilson is, isn’t, may be, could be or won’t be, these are the numbers. It’s only half the game, too, as his defensive numbers always are going to shed him in a positive light. Use them wisely or don’t use them at all.

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3 Comments on “Marquette: Better or worse on offense with Derrick Wilson?”

  1. Chris Columbo
    January 20, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    Derrick is a great kid for sure. He works hard and is a great teammate. Unfortunately, he cannot shoot from the field or make free throws. This is why he is not effective as a guard of any type at a Major D-1 program such as ours.. I feel that Buzz is doing a disservice to this young man by putting him in this position. He is much better coming in for brief periods as a defensive specialist. We have plenty of alternatives at guard.

  2. John Osgood
    January 20, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    I’d be curious to know if there are any other point guards in the country who play 30 minutes per game, shoot under 40% from the field, 10% from 3, and under 50% from the free throw line. Maybe those are the simplest numbers needing to be looked at. They are terrible. I still cringe when Derrick is the one trying to make entry passes and his man is essentially fronting the post. The low point for me was when I was at the Seton Hall game, and with MU up by 2 with the ball and about 20 seconds left, we had to take our point guard out of the game. So on the most important possession of the game, when you need a point guard to break the press the most, our point guard has to sit on the bench because he’s such a free throw liability. Luckily we got the ball into Mayo, Seton Hall decided to foul right away instead of play a few seconds for the steal, and Mayo was able to seal the game.

    Don’t get me wrong, Derrick is a great kid with a tough attitude and big heart. But at this point, we have only underwhelming performances in key games and zero significant wins. As your previous article seemed to indicate, the upperclassmen simply aren’t doing enough. Everyone keeps calling Dawson a project. I agree. So let’s work on that project and at least get him 15 minutes a game. All 3 frosh should be getting 15 minutes a game at this point. It can’t get any worse, and who knows…maybe with more playing time we’ll learn more about what they are capable of earlier in their careers. I just don’t see Wilson getting any better, or Thomas, or Anderson, for that matter.

  3. robert matijevich
    January 21, 2014 at 4:21 am #

    Mark, Love your analysis at Paint Touches, but with my 20/20 hindsight post Georgetown, i take issue with your “John Dawson is more of a project” comment. I know, I know, you did qualify it with an “at this point in time.” Well, after last night’s stellar play from JD, I’d like to propose a new nickname for him…”PNM” PROJECT NO MORE!!!! Huge fan of Derrick’s character, D, and great care he takes of the ball, but it was obvious tonight how valuable the “KiLLA from CLOVIS” can be going forward, he adds a new dimension, the ability to drain an outside shot, coupled with strong passing skills, while holding the reigns to a higher horsepower MU Offense. I’d love to see those split time at the point from here on out. “Project New Mexico” is now “Project No More” and it looks like MU’s O is no longer in AREA 51!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Couldn’t resist that one)

    Robert J. Matijevich Marquette ’92 ps. No cite needed for any references Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2014 19:14:44 +0000 To: rob2tapin4eagle@hotmail.com

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