Not a Stat Geek- The Evolution of a Point Guard


To the uninitiated, that low, resonating intonation might sound like a Carrier Dome crowd voicing its displeasure with its starting point guard. Quite the opposite. It's more likely that he's knocked down a clutch three, dropped a pretty dime or simply walked onto the court during player introductions.

He's probably the most polarizing player Syracuse has had in the last decade. One minute he's executing a fast break to perfection, the next he's attempting a difficult lob that doesn't quite connect. The Orange haven't had a player recently who so consistently made the fans say, "No, no, no, no, YES!" He's a coach's dream and nightmare all wrapped into one. He's Antonio Jardine, but you can just call him Scoop.

Inspired by the upcoming Senior Day tilt against Louisville and fellow Nunesian Mike I's blind comparison of Big East guards, Not a Stat Geek will look at Scoop's career to see just how much the oft criticized point guard has improved over his fives years on the SU hill. Scoop is a high risk/high reward type of player willing to attempt a dangerous play, often with spectacular results. Sometimes, the results aren't so great. The question is, has Scoop learned to see when the risk is worth the potential reward. That, after all, is what makes for an elite point guard; having the confidence to make a risky play and the smarts to know when the risk isn't worth it.

This Week: The Evolution of a Point Guard.

Scoop's progression as a player is tough to track over a career because his role on the team was different during every season. As a freshman, he was forced into action when both Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf went out with knee injuries. Jonny Flynn got the lion's share of the minutes at PG and Scoop was there for spot duty, though he did start 10 games. We all know the story of the 2009-10 team and how Scoop and KJ were Syracuse's super subs. Scoop's junior season was probably the most trying as he was forced into a ton of minutes as the team's only consistent playmaker. The current season sees him as much more a facilitator, scoring when he needs to, but often deferring to a plethora of talented teammates.

In an attempt to account for not only the changing number of minutes played over the years, but the different roles Scoop has played over his career, I decided to use assists and turnovers as the measure of his improvement. Regardless of if the team needed him so score or distribute, he's always played point guard and those metrics are a big part of what define that position. To adjust for the varying amount of minutes played, I used assist and turnover percent rather than ratio. Ratio metrics are still dependent on the total amount of assists and turnovers tallied and, therefore, swayed by playing time. Percentage metrics, though, are PT neutral and a better way to gauge the improvement of a player whose court time has varied as widely as Scoop's has.

Looking at the numbers, it's clear to see that Scoop is a much better player now than when he arrived in Syracuse. As a freshman, it wouldn't be a stretch to call him downright awful. He turned the ball over 29% of the time and only was credited with an assist 21% of the time. 19 minutes a game is more than generous for a player who performed so poorly. If not for the backcourt injuries that season, chances are he wouldn't have played at all.

After a year off for a medical redshirt, Scoop made dramatic strides in his play. His assist rate leapt more than ten points to 32% and his turnover rate plummeted to 21%. It's not an exaggeration to say that the extra year was the best thing that could have happened to him, allowing him time not only to improve his physical skills but gain the maturity that has built him into the team leader he is now. It had to be a trying year for Scoop. His performance was markedly improved, but it didn't result in a drastic increase in his playing time. A freshman Brandon Triche started every game instead, though it was almost always Scoop in during crunch time.

To me, Scoop's junior season is the most interesting. It really shows Scoop's diversity as a player. That season he averaged the most minutes of his career by far but only saw moderate increases in his assist and turnover rates. Further examination shows that this is due to the fact that this was also his career high season in shot percentage. Not only did Scoop have to make plays for others, but the team required him to be a scorer as well. This, in turn, led to the perception that he's a selfish player prone to taking "Scoopid" shots. True, this season was also his second worst in terms of offensive rating, so there is some truth to the sentiment that Scoop has been mistake prone. But when combined with the fact that his assist rate also improved during that season, it lends credence to the argument that the mistakes that were made were due more to the fact that Scoop shouldered the load of being the team's only real playmaker rather than him being a bad or unsmart player.

Finally, the current season. Scoop is playing the best, most efficient ball of his career, as we should expect from a fifth year senior. His assist rate and overall offensive efficiency are high while minutes and shot percentage are down. He's making the most of his possessions. His 23% turnover rate is the highest it's been since his freshman campaign, but the improvement in his assist rate has outpaced the increase in turnovers every year. The effect has been a player than can be counted on to make the right play at the right time, whether it's to pull up for a 3pt shot or to drive the lane for a layup or a dish. It's the result of five years in a top program under the tutelage of a hall of fame coach and putting in the work required to get better over that time.

So, what does it all mean? For one, Scoop is among the best point guards in the Big East, if not the nation. If he weren't, he wouldn't be a finalist for the Cousy Award. The metrics support this no matter what sort of orange tinted shine our fanhood puts on him. Second, Scoop has learned from his mistakes. Fortune smiled on him early on, affording him the chance to play quality minutes even though his level of play didn't merit it. He seized that opportunity and, instead of resting on his laurels, used the chance to give himself a baseline for improvement. And improve he has.

Scoop is far from a perfect player. His confidence is both his greatest attribute and his biggest weakness. The same swag that allows him to launch a late pull up three with no hesitation is the same thing that causes wild passes intended to end in spectacular play but never connect. Through it all, though, his play is a net positive and one of the cornerstones of Syracuse's success. For all the improvement of those around him, Scoop's willingness and ability to go out and make the play is the key reason why Syracuse has been able win games under any circumstances against any type of opponent. He might not be the best player on the squad, or even the most important. But without him, this Orange team wouldn't be anywhere near as good as it is with him.

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