Grading Marquette players to date: Bigs

The 2021 season has had a little bit of everything for Marquette, and while we did touch on some of the defensive issues at length in Monday’s post, I thought it would be good to get more granular and focus on each individual player’s performance to date.

We’ll start with the guards and go to wings before finishing with bigs.

As a preliminary caveat, grades are always subjective, and I personally do grade on a curve, where expectations coming into the season do affect the overall assessment.

Theo John: B+

Key Stat: 0.945 PPP on Post Ups

Rationale: For most of Theo’s Marquette career, he’s been the 6th option on offense, rarely getting a touch unless he grabbed an offensive board himself. And it made sense to have it this way. He was ok on post ups, didn’t show much vision and couldn’t hit anything outside the paint.

But this season, Theo has displayed a soft touch and deft footwork around the rim, making him a legitimate threat in the post, and one of the best bigmen in the Big East. He has logged 55 post up possessions (2nd most in the league) and a 0.945 PPP on those post ups, 2nd best for those with at least 30 opportunities.

But wait, there’s more. Theo is hitting a really nice 69% of shots on post ups, good for 8th best in the entire country, on a minimum of 30 possessions. For reference, his best year was in 2019, when he shot 55% on post ups, but only averaged around 2 per game, compared to the 5+ he’s now getting. For even more reference, Davante Gardner never topped 55% from the field on post ups, though he drew a ton of fouls to draw level on PPP with John’s current pace.

The one and only reason John hasn’t cracked an A is that he’s currently got a huge turnover problem, particularly on said post ups. Of those 55 post ups we’ve already discussed, 15 have ended in a turnover. It’s something he has to address if he wants to be getting fed inside as much as he has.

And to be clear, that 29% TO Rate is the worst in the conference of any player getting at least 50% of minutes. It has to come down.

Part of the reason he has turned it over as much as he has is not offensive fouls, though that’s obviously a big component, but he’s actually passing at a better clip than at any point in his career, posting a 9.3% Assist Rate. I like the vision, I like the unselfishness of passing out of doubles, he just needs to take the easy pass more often, even if it means missing an open shooter outside the arc.

As for the defense, it’s still the best of any big on the team by a wide margin. Per Hoop-Explorer teams are only shooting 51% at the rim with Theo in the game versus 60% with him off the floor. His block numbers are down a tad but his defensive rebounding is at a career best. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Best Moment: You know I wasn’t going to pass up Theo’s elite shooting ability.

Justin Lewis: B+

Key Stat: 15.5% OReb Rate

Rationale: I’ve written at length about Justin Lewis before, but I will continue to do so as long as the newly projected first round pick of the 2022 draft is at Marquette. I thought he’d be impactful, I didn’t think he’d be nearly as good as he’s been this soon.

You can go back through that post to get a good idea of where I’m coming from, but I did want to touch on one more thing here. He’s been getting worked a bit more defensively in Big East play, and Villanova in general caught him snoozing a few times. And yet, even when his mistakes are clearly evident, the overall picture is still quite positive with Lewis in the game.

Take this screenshot from Hoop-Explorer, breaking down the advanced stats for the two most common lineups Marquette has used this season against top-200 opponents.

The first one, with Dawson at the 4 has an adjusted rating per 100 possessions of +6.4. The raw numbers are ugly (-12.7), but it is important to adjust for quality when looking at stats like these. Now look at the second one, with Lewis replacing Dawson. The adjusted net number is now +19.4, a full 13 points better than the starters.

This caught my eye because it’s a direct comparison with all other things being equal. Lewis deserves more time with the starters, and I would even go as far as saying he should be starting now. That’s not a knock on Dawson, just trying to interpret what the data is telling us.

Lewis has seen his 3-point shot abandon him, going 1/8 over the last 6 games, and hasn’t been able to impact the conference games as much as he did in the early games, which is why he’s off the A line, but he’s still blown away the decent expectations and turned the question from how quickly can he adapt to how long will he stay.

Best Moment: Was there any doubt?

Dawson Garcia: B

Key Stat: 13.3% shots blocked

Rationale: This is a tad harsh of a grade for the best freshman in the conference and one of the best in the country and I can easily be convinced that all 3 bigs should share the A-/B+ line. They have been tremendous collectively and have provided the most potent frontcourt that I can remember at Marquette.

But the key stat is one that just sticks out like a sore thumb. For a 6’11” guy, Dawson gets blocked a ton. In fact, I can’t remember anyone outside of Markus’s early career with this kind of at-the-rim volume getting blocked so often. Only Sy and Dex are over 10% this season, and they have 29 attempts combined, compared to Dawson’s 114.

The shot looks good, and you’ll take 38%+ shooting any day from a guard, let alone your stretch 4. He’s able to take bigs off the bounce and shoot over smaller defenders. The only thing missing at this point is consistent physicality to play through contact. If/when he adjusts the level of physicality, and leans into it, rather than shy away, we’ll see his good ORtg of 106.1 hit another level. The pieces are all there.

Defensively, he’s in a bit of no-man’s land, not quick enough to catch up to guards but bossed around inside by some bigs. I’m not overly concerned about a true freshmen playing 70% of minutes on a top-75 team, just noting that it’s an area where there is a lot of improvement to be had.

Finally, he’s cycled between really good and then really bad offensive games, which is common for all freshmen, I just hope to see a little more consistency from game to game.

He’s been an integral part of this team, and as he grows, so will Marquette.

Best Moment: I had trouble picking one, so why not just post a video with all of them?

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Categories: Analysis, Player Review


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