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Stat Session: The Northwestern Point Guard Conundrum

This is the first edition of Stat Session, a feature that we'll use to analyze Northwestern's advanced stats throughout the season.

In football, there's a common saying that when you have two quarterbacks, you really have no quarterbacks. Northwestern football, ironically, did quite well for itself with a two-quarterback system when both were healthy, but when it comes to NU basketball, there's a similar question: when you have two point guards, do you really have no point guards?

Theoretically, the Wildcats have three point guards this year in Dave Sobolewski, Tre Demps and JerShon Cobb. Effectively, that isn't the case. Cobb is almost entirely a shooting guard and still plays that way during the rare times he runs the point. Demps is usually the backup point guard to Sobolewski, but he'll play shooting guard if he and Sobolewski are on the court at the same time. Sobolewski is a full-time point guard.

Despite its plethora of seemingly available point guards, NU has had trouble finding someone fill the role it needs at point guard — a distributor. Instead, it has three quasi-shooting/point guards, all three of whom have had different degrees of success. Simply put, NU needs to figure out how it wants to use its point guards in order for the offense to get rolling. Using Synergy Sports, we break down the play so far of the Wildcats' two main point guards: Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps:

Dave Sobolewski

Heading into the year, Chris Collins said that Sobolewski's role in the NU offense would change. He would be a distributor, as opposed to a scorer  — a role he was forced to take on last year due to all of the Wildcats' injuries.

However, Sobolewski's role hasn't become what Collins had hoped, as displayed by the chart of his play types:

Play Type % of Time PPP aFG% Score%
Spot Up 35.20% 0.816 37.10% 31.60%
P&R 18.50% 0.9 36.40% 45%
P&R  Inc. Passes 32.10% 0.93 48.20% 44.20%

Sobolewski's most frequent play type is spot up. That's not a good thing, considering 1) He's not a good shooter, and 2) That's not the role Collins wanted him to play in the offense. (Interestingly, he was actually a very good spot up shooter as a freshman, but has struggled to re-gain that form.) Digging deeper into the stats, a majority of his spot up shots are no-dribble jumpers, and he's shooting just 25.9 percent (38.9 percent adjusted FG%) on those shots.

Sobolewski's second-most frequent play type is the pick and roll, and we've split it up into two sections — when he shoots, and a combined section of when he shoots or passes. He keeps the ball on 46.5 percent of those possessions and passes it out on 53.5 percent. Sobolewski's FG% shots is just 36.4 percent on pick and rolls. The aFG% is better on his passes (55.9 percent), he still has a 17.4 percent turnover percentage and rates in the 49th percentile as a passer on the pick and roll.

For NU to run a more fluid offense, Sobolewski must 1) Stop trying to be a shooter, and 2) Do a better job of distributing the ball when he does pass it out on pick and rolls.

Tre Demps

Tre Demps loves to shoot, and in the eyes of NU fans, that was his greatest downfall. For much of last season and in the first few games of this year, Demps shot far too often, leading him to receive a "go-to guy" rating on KenPom, along with one of the top usage rates in the country. So tweets like this, though harsh, were pretty fair:

However, while he's still fighting the "erratic shooter" label, Demps is actually putting up pretty good numbers. He's lost his KenPom usage title, but he's been one of NU's better offensive weapons so far. Let's take a look:

Play Type % of Time PPP aFG% Score%
Spot Up 35.30% 1.2 64.80% 46.70%
Isolation 14.10% 1.083 64.30% 58.30%
P&R 12.90% 1.091 35.70% 54.50%

Demps's second most frequent play type is transition, but since we're focusing on half court offense, we'll look at his first, third and fourth most frequent play types. (Side note: Demps has been pretty bad in transition, while Sobolewski has been very good at it, but that's a post for another day.) A couple things jump out about this:

1) Demps has a really good spot up shooting game. 1.2 points per possession is very good. He's not great when he's guarded, but when he can get an open shot, he's been solid.

2) NU doesn't go ISO very much, because the Wildcats don't have the players to do it. However, Demps has actually been effective on isolation plays. Who knew?

3) Demps doesn't shoot that well on pick and rolls, but he draws a foul a whopping 36.4 percent of the time on those plays. That gives him a good scoring percentage.

The biggest problem for Demps is his passing, particularly on pick and roll plays. He passes the ball 56 percent of the time on the pick and roll, but on those passes, NU is only scoring .714 points per possession — that gives him just a 19th percentile ranking.

What do these numbers suggest? When Demps is asked to play like a shooting guard, he does pretty well. When he's asked to play like a point guard, he struggles, and in many games we've seen him revert back to playing like a shooting guard.

So what's the solution?

It's pretty clear that NU's offense is at it's best when Cobb and Demps act like shooting guards, while Sobolewski needs to become more of the distributor that he was supposed to be heading into the season. If all three players can lock into their roles, rather than having to be hybrids, the Wildcats should have more success offensively.