Why Trent must Lock-ett up at the rim

Trent Lockett arrived in Milwaukee as the assumed top scorer at Marquette, a team with question marks on offense after the departures of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, expectations were high. He wasn’t going to replicate either of the two seniors’ numbers, but as a proven scorer was expected to fill up the box score as en efficient shooter and finisher. And while the results have been mixed thus far, there’s more than just said box score to look at when breaking down Lockett’s contributions, and where he can improve.

Lockett was the go-to scorer his last two seasons at Arizona State — an assumption I base solely on numbers; I did not see Lockett play as a Sun Devil, so comments on his time in Tempe come from numbers and nothing else — and was second on the team in points and field goal percentage last year as a junior.

But the area where Lockett set himself apart as the true leading scorer was at the free throw line. His 5.1 attempts per game easily were highest on the team, and his free throw rate (FTA/FGA) was 91st highest qualified in the country, 59.5. It was fifth in the Pac-12, and second of all non-post players, trailing only Oregon State shooting guard and current Dallas Maverick Jared Cunningham (61.3).

Trent Lockett was one of the best wings in the Pac-12 finishing around the basket. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Trent Lockett was one of the best wings in the Pac-12 finishing around the basket. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Lockett not only drew fouls and got to the free throw line at will, but also finished on those plays where he wasn’t sent to the line. As a junior, Lockett made a blistering 73 percent of shots at the rim. The best comparison to give the number substance is that Jae Crowder last year made 72 percent of his shots around the rim, and Jimmy Butler 65 percent from the same spot in 2010. Both those Golden Eagles were seniors, whereas Lockett did it as a junior.

Since arriving at Marquette, Lockett’s first 11 games have been underwhelming from what most expected, including myself (though, again, specifically on a numbers basis). His minutes per game are down, as he played an absurd 32.6 minutes per game his final two seasons in Tempe. Buzz Williams wasn’t going to play him the essentially the same number of minutes Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom played last season (32.9 minutes per game each) with the entire roster returning, and depth on the wing.

But computing the numbers, the same areas which made Lockett an offensive threat in Tempe are the same ones holding him back in a Marquette uniform.

To date, 49 percent of Lockett’s field goal attempts are coming at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com. Last year he took 46 percent of his shots at the rim. But the major difference is that Lockett, who made 73 percent of those shots last year, is connecting on just 50 percent this year. That may seem like an above-average number, but it is tied with Steve Taylor for the worst mark on the team. In fact, four teams are making 50 percent of their shots at the rim, which ranks fourth worst in the country.

From a qualitative perspective, Lockett appears to be a step-or-two behind the speed of the Marquette offense, which may have been expected after playing three seasons in Herb Sendek’s painfully slow offense. But the numbers suggest otherwise; he’s averaging more field goal attempts per-40 minutes (11.0 vs. 9.8) compared with last season, meaning in the minutes he’s playing for Marquette he hasn’t gotten to the rim less than he did last year.

He has crashed the offensive glass well this season, grabbing 8.5 percent of missed shots while on the floor (ranked behind only Davante Gardner’s 14.6 percent on Marquette) and unofficially is likely second on the team in second-chance points. The issue may be aggressiveness, as getting to the rim does not necessarily mean beating a defender off the dribble. Lockett rarely takes a poor shot, but that’s not to say he doesn’t take contested shots.

He has been forced to play more on the perimeter without Todd Mayo (and T.J. Taylor) in the lineup, but perhaps Mayo’s return will push him inside more. The Sun Devils played one of the bigger rotations in all of college basketball last year –sixth tallest according to KenPom.com — and Lockett usually was listed as the shooting guard in the starting lineup (and, from limited film, played up-top on most zones) but lived inside, where he was as efficient as any wing in the Pac-12.

That potential move inside should help his free throw attempts, the second area of this breakdown. In 11 games, Lockett has been to the free throw line 31 times. His 4.6 attempts per-40 minutes are more than one less (5.8) from a year ago, and his free throw rate is at 41.9, down from 59.5 a year ago. He’s drawing almost one less foul per game than last year (4.8 vs. 4.0), another potential byproduct of not being in position to beat his man off the dribble.

More aggressive attacks at the basket will mean more free throws for Lockett. (Photo by A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor)

More aggressive attacks at the basket will mean more free throws for Lockett. (Photo by A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor)

With a move inside on the Marquette offense, similar to how Jimmy Butler played a senior, that number could improve. Butler’s free throw rate in 2010 (62.8) was similar to Lockett’s 59.5 as a junior at Arizona State. When Lockett committed this offseason, we said that he could play a similar role that Butler had, but that hasn’t been seen. Perhaps it will now that Mayo makes Marquette deeper on the perimeter.

The refuting argument is that Lockett is no longer the main scorer on the floor and plays fewer minutes. Vander Blue, Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Junior Cadougan have all attempted more shots than Lockett’s 74, but consider that Lockett is “using” 21.8 percent of possessions this year, essentially the same as his 22.7 percent mark a year ago (“using,” as in the percentage of possessions that end in something Lockett did). Furthermore, he is “using” 20.1 percent of shots when on the floor, almost identical to his 21.2 percent last year. Lockett’s drop in minutes at Marquette isn’t an argument for why his numbers are lower.

Lockett’s outside attempts are almost identical to last year, as he’s averaging the same number of 3-pointers per-40 minutes as last year, and 32 percent of his shots are 2-point jumpers, compared with 29 percent last year at Arizona State.

The Minnesota native has proven well worth the investment defensively, as he’s a capable man-to-man defender and his numbers are up on a per-40 minute basis. His steal and block rates, per KenPom.com, are down just slightly. That hasn’t been the issue with Lockett, and it won’t. He’ll continue to see time as an above-average defender who rebounds well. His personal fouls per-40 minutes are the highest on the team, but as he gets more comfortable playing man instead of zone, those numbers should average out.

What Lockett must improve is finishing at the basket while drawing more fouls than he has been. He’s already getting there, so that isn’t the problem. It may or may not be an easy fix, as only time will tell, but it’s one that will improve his field goal percentage and, subsequently, his playing time. Marquette will need contributions from everyone as the Big East season opens, and Lockett can make his dent in the Marquette offense at the rim.

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