More Than A Big Stiff: Forwards With A Little Extra Something in Their Skill SetPosted by KCarpenter on January 18th, 2013
In Duke’s win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Mason Plumlee put up 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks while playing all 40 minutes. That’s excellent production and exactly the kind of statistics you would expect to see out of your star big man. What you might not expect to see is that Plumlee also tallied three steals and a couple assists. In fact, the 6’10” Plumlee managed to tie starting point guard Quinn Cook in steals and placed second behind him in assists. That’s an impressive demonstration of Plumlee’s versatility, but it’s also a huge boon for his team.
Generally, folks underrate the importance of steals, but with a moment of consideration it’s easy to see why they are so important. Like the obviously important offensive rebound, a steal gives you an opportunity for a shot you wouldn’t normally have, and like an opponent’s unforced turnover, it ends your opponent’s possession without a shot. Steals are very valuable to a team, and if your guards are wracking up steals at close to the average rate, getting above average production in a category like steals from your forwards and centers can lead to a team gaining a big advantage. When the biggest guy on your team can earn your squad extra possessions? It’s nothing but a good thing. So who in the ACC contributes in these unusual categories?
Well, this season, the list of thieving big men is topped by Travis McKie who averages 1.7 SPG. Of course, McKie is really a small forward who plays at the power forward spot. Without running afoul of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, let’s take a look at only the “real” big men. The top of this list is James Michael McAdoo with 1.4 SPG, not unexpected considering the many times ACC fans have watched McAdoo overplay the perimeter passing lines to give himself a one-man fast break ending in an emphatic dunk. Other big men averaging over a steal per game? Akil Mitchell and Milton Jennings both contribute and the tandems of NC State’s Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie and Florida State’s Okaro White and Terrance Shannon all are reliable contributors. Of course, accounting for pace, Shannon becomes all the more impressive, posting a 3.25% steal percentage, good for eighth-best in the conference, leaving him ranked just below Durand Scott and amazingly enough, above Quinn Cook. Also notable: Mitchell’s 3.01% steal percentage is a better mark than steal-happy Dexter Strickland.
The other guard skill that’s unusual to see in big men is passing. Interestingly enough, the list of excellent assist man could easily be confused with simply a list of the best bigs in the conference. Plumlee, Jennings, Mitchell, Howell, and Daniel Miller round out the the top five post men in assists per game. Accounting for pace, Jennings is the best of the bunch with an assist percentage of 16.3% followed by Georgia Tech reserve Kammeon Holsey, who stands at 15.6%. Interestingly, after point guard Mfon Udofia, Holsey and Miller have the next best assist percentages on the Yellow Jackets.
Jennings, Mitchell, and Howell probably represent the best of the bunch who rack up both steals and assists regularly. Jennings’ multi-faceted game points to his talent and versatile skill set that he has flashed throughout his career at Clemson. For Mitchell and Howell, these contributions showcase that these guys do a lot more for their team than rebound and score. Shannon and McAdoo’s high rate of steals helps their respective teams with extra positions and the passing ability of Plumlee and Miller represent an extra facet of the offensive game of two fairly traditional big men. Taken altogether, the ACC has a host of talented big men with a nice set of skills that traditionally are the province of guards.