Tyler (Kolek), The Creator

Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches

Marquette’s starting point guard Tyler Kolek is the most inefficient offensive player in the Big East. That’s not a meatball opinion muttered at the TV as he misses yet another 3-pointer, it’s a statistical fact. With an ORtg of 84.5, no other player in the conference getting at least 50% of minutes this season is below him.

And yet I can honestly say he’s my favorite player since Markus and probably already in my top 5 of the past decade. As someone who is definitely too obsessed with advanced metrics, this is not a scenario that I ever saw coming.

In my defense, no one, not even Tyler’s mother, could have foreseen that Kolek would become one of the best distributing pick and roll point guards the Big East has ever seen.

That’s a bold claim, I know, but I keep checking the data waiting for the small sample theatre to evaporate and his performance to come back down to Earth, to no avail. Let’s dive in.

Marquette’s Offense

Coming into the season, I was pretty worried Marquette’s offense would be bad to really bad. Nevada Smith, MU’s “offensive coordinator” and general stats maven, had helped transform Texas’ offense the prior season behind one of the most prolific (in terms of volume) P&R systems in the country. Its 909 P&R possessions on Synergy (including passes) was the 2nd most in D1, and 146 more than the 2nd highest Big 12 squad, national champion Baylor.

But looking at the incoming Marquette roster this summer, there was no established or even promising P&R guard and even fewer prolific shooters.

I think the worries have been pretty spot on. Marquette currently boasts the 2nd worst offense in the Big East, per Ken Pom, barely inside the top-100 and No. 99 overall. Focusing specifically on P&R, it gets even dicier.

Per Synergy, Marquette boasts a 0.618 PPP on possessions where the ball handler in the pick and roll situation keeps it and completes an action by either shooting, turning it over or getting fouled. To put that number in context, it ranks in the 16th percentile of all D1 teams, 301st overall. It’s not good.

What makes it significantly worse is that these low efficiency possessions make up 22.4% of all offensive possessions this season, 233 overall, the 2nd most common play type this season for MU. And even that doesn’t do it justice. The volume is in the 1% of all D1 teams, with only 2 other squads (NC State, Denver) having more and only 12 teams even crossing the 200 possession threshold.

And once more, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Last season, Texas finished with 425 P&R Ball Handler possessions, 5th most in the country and the 2nd most common possession type for the Longhorns. This is exactly the offense we thought Shaka and Nevada would bring.

Of course, P&R ball handler isn’t the only outcome from a P&R, and it turns out Marquette is quite good at the other stuff. When you include the possessions that end directly after a pass from a P&R as well (P&R+Pass), MU’s PPP rises to .826, a much more respectable average, ranking in the 41st percentile. And if you filter for just the passing possessions from P&R, the PPP shoots up to a robust 1.011 PPP, a really good top-60 number.

Basically, passing from P&R leads to offense that is 63.7% more efficient than the ball handler keeping it. The reason for that? Tyler (Kolek) the Creator.

What makes Tyler Special?

The crush started from the 1st half of the first game:

I’ve now seen this clip about 35 times over the past month+, because it’s such a great distillation of who Tyler is: a willing distributor with tremendous vision and abundant talent. That he sees Joplin for the kickout on the first drive is tremendous. That he then fits that bounce pass to Kur blows me away. Add in the hustle plays, and it’s still the reference point for everything that’s come after.

But don’t take my biased opinion as gospel.

I mentioned at the beginning that Kolek has the worst ORating in the Big East, but the important thing to know about ORating is it does not account for passes. It only takes individual box score contributions like shots, free throws and turnovers.

And by nearly any measure, Kolek’s passing contributions are bountiful.

Kolek leads all Big East players in straight up assists with 77 this year, 16 more than the next closes player. That’s the same gap as from 2nd to 7th, so a pretty big disparity. If you want to adjust for games played, Kolek is still the clear leader with 5.9 assists per game, 0.6 more than the next best average. If you would rather deal in rates to adjust for minutes played, Kolek is still ahead of the competition with a 36.5% assist rate, meaning over 36% of possessions when he’s on the floor end with a Kolek assist. No Marquette player since Diener in 2005 has finished with an Assist Rate over 35%.

If you want to get even fancier, the site Shot Quality has a stat that measures not just the passes that go in, but both the quality of the shot created from a pass and the expected number of points. This helps account for some of the open shots that don’t go in, like the fact MU players are shooting 29% on unguarded 3s from his passing this season. In this metric, Kolek also leads the Big East in SQ passing points created per game, averaging 10.7 a contest.

So basically any way you slice it, Kolek is the best distributor in the conference.

Picking and Rolling

While all of those stats are great and indicative of his point guard skills, it doesn’t quite convey his special value for Marquette in particular.

I broke down just how pick and roll heavy a Nevada Smith offense is a few paragraphs ago, and it needs guards that can read the court from those P&Rs to both attack the rim as well as find the open players. On the first, Tyler struggles mightily.

Kolek is in the bottom 6th percent of all players in terms of P&R Ball Handling points per possession. When Tyler keeps it off a screen and tries to score himself, it’s one of the least efficient forms of offense Marquette has ever seen, averaging .351 PPP.

Which makes the passing portion that much more incredible. When Tyler passes out of the P&R, MU averages 1.206 PPP. On it’s own that is phenomenal, but the context really drives home how special it is.

Kolek is tied with Alabama’s Jahvon Quinerly for most P&R passes this season with 126, one of only 14 players to cross the 100-pass mark, and Kolek’s 1.2 PPP is the best of the bunch. Again, Tyler Kolek is the most efficient high usage P&R passing PG in the country.

Nothing in his time at George Mason screamed that he had this in him. In fact, he only had 67 possessions of P&R passing all of last season, and his teammates only scored 0.776 PPP. So he’s doubled the volume in less than half the games and increased the efficiency by 55%. This is wildly impressive and speaks highly not only of Kolek, but of the staff that both identified this potential and has helped develop him from a shooting guard to a point guard.

But I don’t think the impressiveness of his current play at that volume has sunk in yet. Synergy’s database goes back until 2004 and the number of players who have averaged 9 or more P&R Pass possessions in a season can be counted on a fist. None. There is still a long way to go, but Kolek’s current 9.7 average would beat the current record by over a full possession.

If we move the threshold down to 7, we get 8 Big East players crossing it since 2004, all of them post 2014. You can clearly see which one he is in this chart even without labels.

As we pointed out over and over with Markus, the higher the volume, the lower the expected efficiency. When you see stats like these, it’s important to contextualize the PPP is impressive, but when you combine it with the volume, it’s mindblowing.

Value to MU

Those stats on pretty much any team in the country would be highly valued, but the fact that he’s doing it at Marquette ups the ante. We mentioned the middling offensive ranking, but the shooting in particular is a tremendous sore spot. The 31.8% average from distance is 231st in the country. If you take away Kolek’s lowly average, it does go up to 33.8%, still in the mid 100s. It isn’t like he’s passing to a team filled with snipers.

And despite the shooting limitations, spot up shooters are hitting 47.9% of their shots from Kolek’s passes, an eFG of 66.2%, good for a 1.25 PPP. That’s the best efficiency of anyone in the country with at least 60 possession. Kolek has 80.

He’s also been tremendous inside the arc, finding rollers off the P&R frequently end effectively. His 42 P&R possessions that end with the roller are tied for 4th most in the country, with the 3rd best efficiency at 1.095 PPP.

Put it all together and it’s fairly clear why Marquette’s offense is 8.7 points better per 100 possessions (adjusted for quality) against top-100 teams outside of garbage time with Kolek on the floor (442 possessions) than when he’s off (109 possessions). And again, that’s with all of his shooting and scoring issues we already noted.

It’s a long season and this is Kolek’s first season in a high major conference, so I do expect some of these numbers to taper off from their current historic highs. But what’s clear is that Kolek has a feel for the passing game unlike any Marquette player over the last 10-15 years. He’ll need to become at least acceptably bad with his scoring this season to keep defenses from completely ignoring him, but even as opponents have dared him to shoot or drive by clogging passing lanes, he’s been able to be a creative force.

I can’t wait to watch him for years to come.

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