I was minding my own business while working last month, getting ready to pick up my kids and scrolling through Twitter a bit. As is usually the case, I ran into something that stuck with me the rest of the day.
I’m a sucker for homemade statistical formulas, having spent a 3 hour train ride from Milwaukee to Macomb unsuccessfully trying to copy a collegiate PER statistic. So the first thing I did at work the next day was take this baby for a test drive. I’ve been noticing Traci Carter’s assist rate numbers reaching heights not seen since Dominic James, so this was a relatively quick, bias free method of digging into that.
Using KenPom’s data, I plugged in the stats for Marquette point guards netting at least 50% of available minutes to get the following results, sorted from best to worst:
As you can see from the table, Travis Diener’s injury shortened 2004-’05 season was a smidge better than Dominic James’ 2008-’09 season. Seeing these two titans put up 5 of the best 6 seasons was no surprise. Seeing Traci measure so well, was. As much as I like him and as well as he has played at times, it’s hard to believe a player who turns it just under 30% of the time can be in the same class.
So the rankings are garbage right?
Well, those results surely do align with what I would consider reality, so maybe this formula isn’t complete trash. Instead, it is important to define what is actually being measured.
We, as a basketball community, are obsessed with scoring. Our definition of a good player starts with being able to score as a baseline. Yes, there are outliers like Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace, but in general, the best players in our minds are those that can score.
Diener and Dominic were great scorers. They could get to the rim with ease, knock down open jumpers, and in general create offense by themselves. They were also great facilitators. Not only could they prod the defense for weak spots, they were also able to use that to create easy shots for others.
This particular metric leaves shooting and scoring completely out of the equation. It doesn’t stick to our strict definition of what is good on offense. Instead, it weights how many baskets does a particular player create and minimizes if they are scoring the baskets themselves.
Which gets us to Traci Carter. To date, he has put up the third best assist rate for a Marquette player in the KenPom era (since 2003). Currently at 33.7, he has bested all but one of Dominic James’ seasons and trails two other-worldy seasons from Diener. Yet, Traci also boasts the third-highest turnover rate for a Marquette PG in the KenPom era with a whopping 29.0%.
But even there, Traci’s improvement has been clear. Whereas he was sloppy with his handle and a liability when feeding the post early in the season, he has improved both by leaps and bounds. Since upsetting Butler at the end of January, Carter has recorded 48 assists to only 18 turnover in just over 26 minutes per game.
His vision and assisting acumen is undeniable and by far the most natural since Dominic James. I’ve raved multiple times about it on Twitter already, but it bears repeating. Carter’s pass to Luke Fischer in the closing seconds of Tuesday’s game against the Hoyas was as good if not better as any you will ever see. Look at this before and after of where Traci starts the pass, where Luke is at that time, and where both Luke and the ball end up.
That’s a 40-foot pass that hits the runner in stride in a position where all he has to do is turn and shoot. If it’s too low, the rhythm is thrown off and Luke wouldn’t have the momentum to continue the shot. Get to the 1:55 mark of the video below and watch it a few times. It gets more and more incredible every time.
Alas, one pass does not a season make, and this post is meant to look at hard facts, not a subjective interpretation of how great that one pass was, though it was great. Way back when I began tracking this formula as it related to MU guards, I realized that a large chunk of the composite score was due to Traci’s high steal rate. So I asked the creator Nathan Walker why it was given so much importance.
It turns out steals are one of the most important indicators. And it makes sense, how many times does a JJJ, Duane or Traci steal turn directly into 2 points? The defense is usually off balance when the guards intercept a pass or pick a pocket. So while I’m not smart enough to say whether the formula I’m using is being weighted improperly, if someone as knowledgeable as Nathan stands by it, it’s good enough for me.
But, there’s always a but, no matter how many easy baskets a players creates, scoring is still an integral part of the game. I was on Team Derrick the last two years, but will definitely concede that his absence of any and all offense was a direct detriment to the team, as defenses didn’t have to even pretend to guard him. In these cases, a measurement like the one I’m using wouldn’t fully capture the overall picture.
As it relates to Traci, defenses do leave him unattended often, but not to the same level as Derrick. He has proven to be able to hit the open 3 semi-regularly and gets to the basket with ease. Once there, finishing is a different story, but the point stands. Traci is nowhere near the level James or Diener showed, but I would hazard a guess he’s already shown much more than Junior Cadougan did in their respective first full years.
All that is to say, Traci Carter is already in some elite company using cold hard facts, with flaws that should be correctable with age and experience. He has the tools to be one of the best pure Marquette point guards of the last 25 years.