The art of passing: Derrick Wilson

Can Derrick Wilson get to the lane more in a premier role? (USA Today)

Can Derrick Wilson get to the lane more in a premier role? (USA Today)

As a high school sophomore Derrick Wilson was a dual-sport athlete, being recruited by Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Stanford to play running back. At the same time, the 6-foot, 205-pound bulldozer was making a name for himself on the hardwood, drawing high-major interest while running the point for The Hotchkiss School (Conn.).

And when he made the decision to pursue basketball in college, Marquette — ironically the only school on his shortlist not to offer football — was waiting for him. The Hotchkiss point guard averaged 19, 23 and 17 points per game his final three seasons, respectively, and his scouting report read as a scoring combo guard who, per, was “probably most naturally suited to play off the ball. He also was labeled as a ready defender who “[uses] his upper body strength and physicality to keep his man from getting to his sweet spots.”

Through two seasons the latter portion of the scouting report has been spot-on. Per, Wilson was Marquette’s best defending guard in 2012-13, and the seventh best Big East man-to-man defender (min. 90 possessions) of all Big East guards. He has used that running back-like frame to check opposing point guards, and his fouls-per-40 minutes, which were astronomically high at 7.0 as a freshman, dropped to 3.6 as a sophomore.

But the high school senior who was able to, per, “put points on the board both by overpowering defenders en route to the rim or also from the perimeter with a much improved skill set” has been invisible at Marquette.

In 749 career Division I minutes, Wilson has attempted just 71 field goals, one shot per 10.55 minutes. To put that number in perspective, Jamal Ferguson (one shot per 7.22 minutes), Jake Thomas (one per 4.9 minutes) and even Erik Williams in 2009-10 (one per 4.8 minutes) were more aggressive.

And while as a will-be junior his field goal attempts undoubtedly will increase, there won’t be any major changes to his scoring. Where Wilson can improve — and must improve — is how he moves about the court on offense, how frequently he gets to the paint and where his assists come from. Those three three factors combine into Wilson needing to become a more efficient passer and leader for the Marquette offense.

Last year this was one of Junior Cadougan’s best traits. Of the senior’s 130 assists (we were unable to find three on tape), 52 came inside or around the paint. In other words, 40 percent of his assists came off Cadougan either beating his individual defender or outrunning the opponent’s transition defense. Extending the analysis, 72 of his 130 tracked assists resulted in Marquette layups or dunks (13 resulted in jumpers; 45 resulted in 3-pointers). If Wilson had potential to play running back, Cadougan very well could have been his fullback the way he relentlessly attacked the paint.

Given the time and resources a comparison could be made to how high (or low) that number was compared to other Big East point guards; Cadougan’s 4.1 assists per game were 10th in the Big East, and few could argue he wasn’t one of the better passers in traffic and transition.

What is possible is to compare Cadougan’s percentages and assist chart to next year’s presumed starter, Wilson. Say what you will about freshman Duane Wilson — and we’ve said a lot — but Derrick will get the first nod.

Fourteen of Derrick’s 56 tracked assists (we were unable to find 1) last season came in or around the paint, where Wilson either beat his individual defender or outran the opponent’s transition defense. That 25 percent mark was much lower than Cadougan’s. Further, 25 of his assists (45%) resulted in layups or dunks, lower than Cadougan’s 55 percent mark.

In the case of Wilson, his description as a pass-first point guard was as a distributor rather than a facilitator. More times than not he was a product of Marquette’s offense as a passer, rather than making plays happen within it.

Those percentages happened, in part, because of his role last season (and as a freshman). As Cadougan’s reserve, Wilson was in the rotation for his defensive productivity and was the fifth option on offense, meaning aggressiveness to the paint wasn’t the top action on his mind. Marquette ran its offense out of the post more with Wilson running the point.

That will have to change this year. The offense is now Wilson’s, and while the Golden Eagles have players who can produce on their own — Gardner, Todd Mayo, Jamil Wilson top that list — a point guard who can get to the lane, earn valuable paint touches and create for others is a necessity in any offense.

One of the most important trends to watch early in the preseason will be Wilson’s tendencies. Does he let the defense come to him and then react, or does he create his own mismatches? Can he play with that running-back mentality of not waiting for the hit, but rather taking it to defenders? Spurts of this were seen at times — even against Big East defenses — and now it’s time for him to do this regularly. He may not get to Cadougan’s 40 percent clip, but improving on his 25 percent mark last year is a must for the Golden Eagles to reach their full offensive potential.

If his defensive prowess has taught us anything, Wilson has football tendencies. He’s physical, quick laterally and has stellar conditioning that allows him to play as well in his first minute as he does in his last. Now it’s his turn to finally do the same on the offensive end and keep Marquette one of the most efficient groups in the country.

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Categories: Analysis, Home, Offseason, Synergy


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