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:
Just a handful of numbers, but lots to analyze.
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.
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.