The 2016-2017 season is a crucial one for the Northwestern Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins. Collins enters his fourth year, and the general consensus is that his program has to show significant signs of progress in order to reach the ultimate goal of making the NCAA tournament by the target year of 2018, when his first recruiting class will all be seniors. Collins has high expectations of a talented bunch of players, and they’ll need to show his expectations are not unfounded. With that, we run through every player on the roster this season. Next up is Sanjay Lumpkin.
Who he is:
Senior | Forward | 6-foot-8 | 230 pounds | Wayzata, MN
The numbers (2015-2016 season):
Via Shot Analytics
Sanjay Lumpkin does not take many shots, making this shot chart rather useless. Lumpkin only shoots when he deems it completely necessary. When that happens, he normally makes shots at a decent rate. He’s worked on his corner three skills and has a decent finishing percentage at the rim.
When you sit down and name Northwestern basketball players off the top of your head, you may not have Sanjay Lumpkin in your first eight. That’s okay. That’s exactly what Chris Collins wants you to think. Sanjay Lumpkin is a no-nonsense “glue guy” who is on the floor to provide defense, rebounding and leadership, preferably all at the same time. He’s stuck around in this Wildcats team since his redshirt sophomore year, and there’s little reason to think that will change given the season-ending injury to Rapolas Ivanauskas.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that Lumpkin is an offensive liability. Sure, he shoots a very respectable 56.4 eFG%, can make wide open threes and can make some contested layups, but otherwise Lumpkin provides very little on offense. He’s only used on 11 percent of Northwestern’s possessions, which is staggeringly low for a player who gets more then 20 minutes per game.
Sanjay Lumpkin is a symbol of the Chris Collins work ethic. He works hard, slows the game down to a crawl on both sides of the ball, and fights for space on every possession. Lumpkin has a knack for getting rebounds you don’t expect him to get, or random open threes that keep Northwestern in the game, or even the occasional steal. He’s a veteran and a “gamer”, as they say, but he also knows who he is. Thus, he fits as a quintessential role player in this team.
Lumpkin, for all his ferocity, does not have the athleticism to compete with other forwards. He can hold his own against lots of lowly non-conference teams but when things get tough in-conference , he basically disappears from games. In Northwestern’s 10 games against Michigan State, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio State and Purdue, Lumpkin scored 12 points combined. While that’s not his job, so to speak, it does show that he suffers greatly when he faces elite opposition. Against Tier A+B teams (as ranked by KenPom), his defensive rebound rate, eFG% and assist rate all decline precipitously.
Lumpkin is a smart basketball player, and while that is a strength, Lumpkin’s intelligence also precludes him from doing anything outside of the limited role that Chris Collins gives him. Open shot? Lumpkin will often pass it away. He rarely gambles on defense, and as a result his steals per game have been declining throughout his Northwestern career. Meanwhile, he can still be beaten on defense by quicker and more physical wings and forwards, which leaves Northwestern vulnerable to any team with above-average talent.
Sanjay Lumpkin’s weaknesses are his strengths. His strengths are his weaknesses. He’s as neutral of a basketball player as you will see in the nation, and that can be good or bad, depending on the quality of the opponent. At this point, we’ve seen that Lumpkin is defined by what players are against him, rather than building an identity for himself. While he provides excellent on-court leadership and experience for this young team, there’s nothing he does on the court that jumps out at you.
He will start the game, grab a few boards, get subbed out when Northwestern needs offense, and then come back in as a defensive replacement. His complete lack of evolution during his time at Northwestern has been maddening to watch at times, but he’s also definitely the most reliable of Northwestern’s cast of options at small and power forward. You know what you’ll get out of him basically every night.