As the 2015-2016 season approached, Northwestern had a few question marks. There was no doubt, however, that junior Sanjay Lumpkin would remain the "glue guy" in the Wildcats' starting lineup.
Although Lumpkin started every game, his season left many wanting a bit more from the junior. The defensive stalwart played sparingly in late game situations, and saw his points-per-game totals drop from last season. In fact, Lumpkin's numbers his junior year pale in comparison to those he put up his freshman year, although that's due to his significant decrease in minutes. His minutes varied drastically throughout Big Ten play, jumping between the 11 he played against Purdue, to the 37 he played in the overtime loss to Michigan. All in all, it was a tumultuous season for Lumpkin.
Our very own Henry Bushnell correctly predicted Lumpkin's minutes in the post-Vic Law era of our basketball projections, and Tristan Jung correctly assigned Lumpkin's role for the season. He wrote that as the season progresses, "[Lumpkin's] production and minutes may continue to dwindle as younger players step up" and that turned out to be the story of Lumpkin's season.
The following numbers are taken from kenpom.com
On Dec. 19, just three games before Big Ten play, Lumpkin played 35 minutes, grabbed seven rebounds, and shot five-for-seven from the field en route to a 14-point performance helping the Wildcats beat DePaul in overtime. It seemed that Lumpkin's rebound numbers and point totals were on the upswing heading into conference action.
However, a 32 minute, 0-point performance in the Big Ten opener against Nebraska provides a solid juxtaposition for Lumpkin's numbers, which did not change much from last season. Lumpkin's field goal percentage dropped four percent, his point-per-game numbers dropped half a point, but he averaged over one rebound and half an assist more per game. There was really no major flux in Lumpkin's numbers.
Lumpkin consistently takes roughly 50 percent of his shots at the rim, and he became more efficient at finishing in the paint. He rarely takes the midrange shot (only 11 percent of the time), preferring to shoot from beyond the arc--41 percent of Lumpkin's shots are from three, and increasingly so from the corner, with which he saw some success.
Channeling my senior high school self when I coached fifth grade basketball, these are some of the terms we used to describe a "coaches player": great glue guy, hustle player, high basketball IQ, has a good motor, plays with a lot of energy, knows his limitations, plays team defense, and high offensive awareness. All of that fits Lumpkin. He did play solid defense throughout the entire season and he did haul in five rebounds per contest. His rebounding percentages increased significantly from last season.
Interestingly enough, Northwestern was 11-0 in games when Lumpkin knocked down a 3 pointer, including 5-0 in Big Ten play. When Lumpkin scored seven points or more, the Wildcats were 7-0. Lumpkin was perhaps the most reliable and level-headed Wildcat, understanding his role within the offense and rarely forcing bad shots.
Some of Lumpkin's offensive numbers were slightly down, including field goal percentage, three point percentage, and points per game. He rarely shot the ball offensively, and frequently passed up on open shots. Numerous times he would pump fake at the three-point line and get called for traveling as he drove to the basket. His lack of shooting therefore caused him to disappear offensively in games, although this isn't his fault. Lumpkin was nearly invisible on offense, involved in less than 11 percent of possessions. The second to last Northwestern player was Jordan Ash at 15.2 percent.
The Bottom Line
It was far from an exceptional season for Lumpkin, but it was a season that we can come to terms with. Lumpkin was usually active on the glass, and was often given the challenge of defending a power forward significantly taller than him. To no surprise, his minutes dwindled in Big Ten play but he still remained the starter and a key part of the identity of Chris Collins' team. Lumpkin has a tendency to disappear offensively in games, but also has the ability to be a difference maker for the Wildcats (see the fact that Northwestern was 11-0 in games when he made a three). His increased success in the paint is encouraging, and if Lumpkin can improve his three-point shot just a little this offseason, he will play a key role as a senior next season despite the influx of young talent.