Weekly Pac-5: Freshman Efficiency

Posted by RJ Abeytia on January 9th, 2017

It’s very much a Year of the Freshman in college basketball and the Pac-12 has followed suit. As we now find ourselves through two weeks of conference play, it’s a good time to check in on the headlining freshmen in the Conference of Champions. Washington’s Markelle Fultz is the Pac-12’s leading scorer and the front-runner as the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but there are a number of other high-scoring freshmen in the league. In fact, we could probably just list the top five scorers in the Pac, slap the top five freshmen label on them, and call it a day. Here’s what the list would look like if we did just that.

Markelle Fultz is the Presumptive #1 Pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (USA Today Images)

  1. Markelle Fultz, Washington – 22.1 PPG
  2. TJ Leaf, UCLA – 17.4 PPG
  3. Lauri Markannen, Arizona – 15.9 PPG
  4. Charlie Moore, California – 15.2 PPG
  5. Lonzo Ball, UCLA – 14.7 PPG

Pretty good, right?  Those are your top five freshmen by scoring average. They’ve all played enough minutes for us to trust in the validity of their averages, but what happens when you rank these five players based on offensive efficiency?  Here’s where things start to get interesting.

Player ORtg
TJ Leaf, UCLA 134.3
Lauri Markannen, Arizona 132.3
Lonzo Ball, UCLA 131.0
Markelle Fultz, Washington 119.4
Rawle Alkins, Arizona 107.7


Well then.  First, we see that Markannen, whose shooting splits are insane, vaults to the top of the group. California’s Moore gets voted off the island altogether; Arizona’s Rawle Alkins jumps into the picture; and Fultz slides down to fourth in our rankings. This is why efficiency is important to consider when judging players. Does Offensive Rating make Markannen a better player than the others? No, but it does clearly identify him as the most
efficient offensive player regardless of draft potential. That’s all well and good, but what about defense? For that we turn to defensive efficiency, an admittedly noisy statistic compared with individual Offensive Rating, but still a useful and informative metric. Limited strictly to defense, here’s how the top five freshmen scorers in the conference.

Player DRtg
Rawle Alkins, Arizona 90.7
Lauri Markannen, Arizona 91.7
Charlie Moore, California 94.2
Kobi Simmons, Arizona 94.8
TJ Leaf, UCLA 96.2


Now things are getting intriguing.  First, Arizona’s three freshmen dominate the list, Fultz is nowhere to be seen, and Moore is back on the island (replacing Ball). However, no college coach would choose the Pac-12’s top freshmen this way, so we need to do something to contextualize the metric. Let’s combine Offensive and Defensive Rating to come up with a Net Efficiency rating. Here are the league’s top five freshmen in terms of Net Efficiency.

Player Net Efficiency
Lauri Markannen, Arizona 40.6
TJ Leaf, UCLA 38.1
Lonzo Ball, UCLA 33.0
Rawle Alkins, Arizona 17.0
Kobi Simmons, Arizona 15.4


Markannen is back on top now; Alkins remains but slides to fourth; and Arizona’s Kobi Simmons rounds out the top five. Shockingly, Fultz remains on the outside looking in here, and that’s insane, because he is amazing and brilliant and draft potential and talent and… reasons!!!! While I remain a big advocate of advanced metrics, there is one other factor that needs to play a role in this analysis:  context.

With more emphasis placed on defense, the three Wildcats dominate the list. For our final, definitive ranking, we need to factor in the teams for which these players are toiling. Arizona is outstanding on the defensive end while Washington clearly struggles. There is therefore no way that Fultz can be expected to put up individual defensive numbers at the same level of Alkins, Markannen and Simmons, who have each other not to mention a team culture that that emphasizes defensive intensity.  So what to do?  It’s not perfect but let’s massage the net list to factor in which players’ Defensive Ratings are actually exceeding (read: lower) their respective teams’ Defensive Rating.

Player Net Efficiency Plus

Defensive Rating Relative to Team

TJ Leaf, UCLA DRtg Lower
Lonzo Ball, UCLA DRtg Lower
Rawle Alkins, Arizona DRtg Lower
Markelle Fultz, Washington DRtg Lower
Lauri Markannen, Arizona DRtg Higher


And there you have it. UCLA’s Leaf and Ball are the two most efficient freshmen in the Pac-12. Including Alkins, three players stand above Fultz in the pecking order, even after adjusting for the putridity of the Huskies’ overall defense. Markannen gets dinged for his individual defense as well, as he is a lesser individual defender than his team overall. Ball may not have necessarily dazzled anyone defensively with the eye test, but he has outperformed his team overall. If the season ended today, Leaf would be my vote for Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12 and this would be my All-Freshman Team. Luckily for everyone, there are eight more weeks for players to move up and down accordingly.

Richard Abeytia (41 Posts)

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One response to “Weekly Pac-5: Freshman Efficiency”

  1. J spehn says:

    Whaaat. You should have left your analysis alone. You lost me when you stated to massage… Maybe for a desired result. I would ask, so Alkins and Simmons get dinged for coming from a culture of playing excellent defense? So, why isn’t the inverse also true. Shouldn’t Fultz also get “messaged” ad wash runs up and down and Fultz is the focus of that offense. Fultz is expected to score, create shots, and get up plenty of shots himself, as part of the culture. As for UCLA, they also have an up and down style, shouldn’t their propensity for offense also be massaged? Also, because of injuries, Markannen has been playing majority of his time out of position, having to guard threes and sometime two,s. Leaf and Markannen most impressive freshmen to this, ahem, obvious Wildcat fan. Bear Down!

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