Kamar Baldwin’s Point Guard Play is Driving Butler’s Resurgence

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 4th, 2018

Just one short week ago with Big East play very near on the horizon, LaVall Jordan‘s Butler squad was sitting on a 10-3 non-conference record that was noticeably lacking in signature wins. Other than a victory over a likely bubble team in Ohio State, the Bulldogs had failed to enhance their resume over any of the other three likely NCAA tournament squads (Maryland, Texas and Purdue). Needless to say, given Butler’s ongoing shooting slump and iffy ball movement, there was cause for concern in Indianapolis around the Bulldogs’ postseason hopes.

And Then This Happened (USA Today Images)

But on the heels of a thrashing comeback win over Georgetown and a words-won’t-do-it-justice shooting performance over then top-ranked Villanova, the Bulldogs have quickly gotten right back on track. The notable turnaround can be attributed to a number of things: senior leader Kelan Martin’s consistency; Paul Jorgensen’s streaky 41.9 percent outside shooting; and, the return of stretch forward Sean McDermott. But most of all, Kamar Baldwin’s over-thinking tendencies at the point guard position have seemed to evaporate, resulting in quicker ball movement and less hesitation in shooting or driving. It’s worth noting that the sophomore guard played the vast majority of last season off the ball, generally delegating point guard duties to one of the team’s two senior guards. But given their departures and freshman Aaron Thompson‘s unfamiliarity with the system, Baldwin has slowly assumed the role this year. While Butler started the season in a time-sharing situation at the position, the below table shows that Baldwin’s minutes without Thompson on the floor have slowly ticked up.

(Per HoopLens)

While Thompson may be a better pure (pass first) point guard and long-term prospect at the position, Baldwin poses a much greater scoring threat. Over the last three games, Butler is scoring 1.26 points per possession in the Baldwin on/Thompson off lineups, compared to 0.99 in the others. Despite being just 6’1″, his quickness in attacking the rim has manifested in either a plethora of points or assists, as teams are forced to devote help in ball-screen situations to keep him out of the paint. More importantly, he has proven increasingly adept in his pass vs. shot decision-making. Against Georgetown and Xavier, he poured in 31 and 28 points, respectively. Against Villanova, he demonstrated vision in correctly judging help defender positioning on his way to tallying seven assists.

His turnover rate is an appalling 6.4 percent in conference play despite commanding a 28.3 percent possession share, amassing just four turnovers over the last 122 minutes.

The other significant driver of improvement in Baldwin’s offensive play has been a reversion toward his style of play last season: attack first, shoot second. Whether through coaching adjustments to his game or his own work in the offseason, Baldwin began the season settling for outside jumpers at an increasingly frustrating rate. While his 37.2 percent clip last year was above average, that accuracy has dropped to 29.9 percent this season. Part of that decrease is certainly correlated to an increased offensive burden that leads to more contested looks, but it’s also no coincidence that three of his best offensive performances have come in games where he focused on penetration into the lane. His KenPom Offensive Rating, a measure of personal offensive efficiency, was 99.0 over the first 13 games of the season — it has since ballooned to 118.0 over his last three games.

The conference sample size thus far remains small, so it remains to be seen whether Baldwin’s recent diversion away from long-range attempts is happenstance or intentional. But numbers aside, it’s hard to ignore the notion that Baldwin’s increased penetration has created better shots for everyone, improving Butler’s offensive rhythm as a result.

Justin Kundrat (175 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com

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