Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The sophomore breakout formula Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn has been using over the past few seasons to highlight players expected to dramatically improve in their second years is not like any old fuzzy, subjective, qualitative preseason guessing game. It is grounded in a precise statistical methodology, designed to identify players who evince star potential in limited sample sizes and, in turn, realize that potential over more minutes by putting up big numbers in the coming season. Here’s his explanation: “To qualify, a player cannot have averaged much more than 20 minutes per game as a freshman. But while he was on the floor, he had to use a go-to-guy’s share of his team’s offensive possessions (around 24 percent or higher) with a respectable level of efficiency (an ORating of at least 100.0, or one point per possession). The underlying theory, as first proposed byBasketball Prospectus, is that go-to-guys tend to act like it from the start of their careers, even in limited playing time. “Players who are not very involved in the offense,” Ken Pomeroy wrote for BP in 2007, “tend to stay that way.” Winn’s track record is terrific; most of the players he highlights make good on their breakout promise – from Malik Waayns at Villanova in 2010-11 to Terrell Stoglin at Maryland in 2011-12 to Andre Hollins at Minnesota last season.
This year’s No. 1 breakout candidate, according to Winn, is Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski. Last season, Karnowski averaged 5.7 points per game, posted a 102.5 offensive rating while using 27.0 percent of his team’s possessions, and logged 26.1 percent of available minutes. Karnowski’s minutes and shot opportunities are expected to increase next season – a fundamental criterion in Winn’s predictive method – largely because last season’s dominating frontcourt duo, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk, are now playing in the NBA. The Zags need a dominating frontcourt presence to help make up for their lost production and Karnowski, a highly-touted international recruit last season, is the perfect candidate. Picking him as college basketball’s biggest breakout candidate doesn’t just pass the tempo-free smell test; it makes intuitive sense. Karnowski is in excellent position to make the proverbial sophomore leap.