Behind the Numbers: Considering Point Guard “Purity”

Posted by KCarpenter on November 10th, 2011

Kellen Carpenter is an ACC microsite staffer and an RTC columnist. Each week, BTN will take an in-depth look at some interesting aspect of college basketball’s statistical arcana.

The phrase “pure point guard” is loaded. It implies that there is a Platonic notion of point guard which all mortal players can only aspire to. We are just fools in a cave looking at a shadow on the wall, but that is all we have when the purest conception of the point guard is beyond our field of vision. I can only assume that this unknowable figure looks something like Bob Cousy. It also implies that outside of “pure point” play, there exists a realm of impure play where the division of basketball labor isn’t as orthodox as it is inside Plato’s basketball cave.

This is What a Pure Point Looks Like

In a point guard, “purity” is code for being a pass-first lead guard. To the traditional school of thought, the roles on a basketball team are strictly regimented: The point guard passes, the shooting guard shoots, but not as much as either forward. The center, near-immobile but Mikan-like in his hunger for loose balls has a single task: rebound the basketball and get it to the point guard. Of course, this idea of the traditional division of labor in basketball hasn’t really held since the days of Mikan himself. Modern basketball, by which I mean basketball since the mid-sixties, has embraced the hybridization of positions. Basketball has for years acknowledged the idea that team roles are mutable and that positions are flexible.  While few have embraced the full-on positional revolution explicated by Bethlehem Shoals and the NBA-heads of the dearly-departed Free Darko, most of us have made peace with the idea that it’s okay for point guards to score occasionally. Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette were the break-out stars of the past college basketball season and both undoubtedly play point guard in a thoroughly impure way. If those guys aren’t pure then shouldn’t we all hope to be dirty?

In all seriousness, the concept of the purity of the lead guard is a silly concept to dwell on. Still, like all sports cliches, the idea persists because it’s a convenient way to sum up the play of pass-first point guards, who somehow pay homage to a golden era of basketball which is more than ancient history. Still the idea of the pass-first point guard is an intriguing one in this era of high-scoring combo guards. Like the crocodile, the pass-first guard is a relic of a by-gone epoch, a living fossil and a reminder of the dinosaurs who ruled the earth during that time. Is the crocodile a better predator than the tiger? This isn’t a debate that I’m interested in. The pass-first point guard, by mere value of their odd, antiquarian style is a unique species worth studying.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Deep South Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2010

It’s October.  The leaves are starting to turn colors.  Halloween candy is already in the stores.  There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat.  Midnight Madness is imminent and RTC is full bore into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials headfirst.  For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Deep South Region (GA, FL, AL, MS, LA)

  • Chris Warren – Sr, G – Ole Miss. Returning from a torn ACL he suffered just 12 games into his sophomore season in 2008-09, Ole Miss’ Chris Warren had some folks concerned after his first game back last season when he played only 27 minutes, scored just nine points, and struggled with a 3-11 shooting night against Arkansas-Little Rock. Six days later, though, he and his fellow Rebels cruised down to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, where Warren scored 16, 27 and 24 points, respectively, in wins against Indiana and Kansas State and a loss in the final to Villanova. He averaged just under 32 minutes over those three contests and shot a combined 23-45, and, perhaps more importantly, put to bed any remaining fears about the status of that knee. Warren would go on to start all 35 games last year, average 32.9 MPG (tops on his team) and put up only two other single-digit scoring efforts for the whole season. His 17.2 PPG from last season means he’s the second-leading returning scorer in the SEC, trailing only Georgia’s Trey Thompkins by half of a point. When you hear numbers like this, it’s easy to forget that the guy’s doing all this as a 5’10 point guard, another testament to his toughness. Despite his role at the point, ignoring his outside shot isn’t recommended, either; he finished 14th in the nation with 3.4 threes per game, and led the SEC in three-point shooting in league games at 43.8%. Warren’s achievements earned him an all-SEC second team slot last year and we’re certain to see him on the Bob Cousy Award nominee list (again), and wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a finalist. If Mississippi is to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years, head coach Andy Kennedy will need that kind of final season from his floor leader.

You May Not Yet Know Thompkins, But You Will

  • Trey Thompkins - Jr, F – Georgia. After toiling behind Florida and Kentucky for years in the SEC, Mark Fox has the Bulldogs poised for a resurgence. While many Georgia fans are focused on the recruitment of Kentavious Caldwell and Julian Royal this year, Thompkins along with Travis Leslie (below) could lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Tournament. After an exceptional sophomore season where he averaged 17.7 PPG and 8.3 RPG and briefly considered leaving Athens to enter the NBA Draft, Thompkins has a legitimate chance at being a 20/10 player this year, which is something that only Artsiom Parakhouski and Omar Samhan did last year and neither Radford nor St. Mary’s play in the SEC. Most NBA Draft experts already had Thompkins pegged as a borderline first round pick after last season and he should only improve on that as he continues to refine his game. With his combination of a solid outside game to match a developing inside game Thompkins has more than made up for his primary weakness—his relative lack of explosiveness—to become one of the top power forwards in the country. Unfortunately that was hidden from most of the country as the Bulldogs were buried on regional coverage as they managed a meager five SEC wins last season. If Leslie learns to translate some of that athleticism into a more complete overall game and Fox is able to get production out of freshman Marcus Thornton and transfer Gerald Robinson, the Bulldogs could be in the second tier of SEC teams this year just being UF and UK, but still in the spotlight enough that we get to see much more of Thompkins. Although you will probably see more of Leslie on ESPN’s highlight reel-laden recaps on television, if you look at the box score you will end up seeing that it is more likely that Thompkins did the majority of the hard work. Now that Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins have left Kentucky, Thompkins should be the top inside player in the SEC (at least until the NCAA figures out what to do with Enes Kanter) and has a chance to contend for SEC Player of the Year.

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RTC Conference Primers: #30 – MEAC

Posted by rtmsf on October 5th, 2010

RTC is still seeking a MEAC correspondent.  If you are interested in covering this league, email us for further information at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Morgan State (13-3)
  2. South Carolina State (12-4)
  3. Norfolk State (10-6)
  4. Delaware State (9-7)
  5. Bethune-Cookman (9-7)
  6. Maryland-Eastern Shore (8-8)
  7. Hampton (8-8)
  8. Howard (7-9)
  9. North Carolina A&T (6-10)
  10. Coppin State (4-12)
  11. Florida A&M (2-14)
  12. Savannah State (*provisional member — ineligible for postseason and league awards)
  13. North Carolina Central (*provisional member – ineligible for postseason and league awards)

All-Conference Team

  • CJ Reed (G) — Bethune-Cookman
  • Hillary Haley (G) – Maryland-Eastern Shore
  • DeWayne Jackson (F) — Morgan State
  • Kyle O’Quinn (F) – Norfolk State
  • Kevin Thompson (F) — Morgan State

6th Man

  • Darnell Porter (G) — South Carolina State

Impact Newcomer

  • Dominique Sutton (F) — North Carolina Central.  NCCU isn’t yet playing a complete MEAC schedule nor is it eligible for postseason play this year, but the Eagle program is already making noise on the recruiting trail with the announcement of high-major transfer Sutton returning to Durham to suit up for his hometown team.  As of this writing, the 6’5 junior forward who averaged 7.2 PPG and 5.8 RPG as a full-time starter last season for Kansas State was practicing with the team and awaiting an NCAA decision on whether he can play this season.  He moved back east to be closer to his girlfriend and two daughters in Durham, and the wing player who terrorizes the glass on the offensive end (especially given his size) will automatically become one of the best players in the MEAC as soon as he is eligible.

Bozeman is Building Quite the Program in Baltimore

What You Need To Know

  • All Morgan, All the Time. Todd Bozeman has built a powerhouse in Baltimore to the tune of three straight regular season titles, two straight NCAA bids, and a 46-6 record against MEAC teams the last three seasons.  But like all consistently great programs, Morgan doesn’t re-build anymore as much as re-load.  From Jamar Smith to Marquis Kately to Reggie Holmes to the next generation (Thompson and Jackson), Bozeman continually has high-mid major talent playing for him.  The Bears’ strategy is clear — play a tough non-conference schedule to build up their RPI (beating DePaul, Maryland and Arkansas in recent years), dominate the MEAC, and get back to the NCAA Tournament.  Morgan State earned #15 seeds the last two seasons, but they haven’t yet been matched up against the right team in order to pull off the upset — #2 seeds Oklahoma (2009) and West Virginia (2010) were simply too powerful inside for them to handle.  Could it come this season?

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