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Northwestern basketball 2017 player reviews: Sanjay Lumpkin

The senior’s offensive efficiency and defensive versatility helped guide the Wildcats to the Big Dance.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Northwestern vs Vanderbilt Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Collins often referred to Sanjay Lumpkin as Northwestern’s “heart and soul.” Lumpkin embodied that role more quietly than others might have; he led by example, Collins says. He led by understanding and accepting his role, mostly with his strong defense and versatility. What Lumpkin did in his four years in Evanston didn’t always show up on the stat sheet, but it was important nonetheless, helping guide Northwestern to its best season ever.


These numbers are taken from

Lumpkin had the lowest usage rate on the team (10.7 percent), but he made the most of his opportunities, though they were mostly dunks or layups. Lumpkin scored a career-best six points per game in his senior season, and was the most efficient offensive player on the team. His improvements on that end of the floor this season were in large part due to his crazy-high shooting percentage on two-pointers.

He shot a scorching-hot 70.5 percent on twos in 2016-17, which was the sixth-highest mark in the country. This, coupled with his low turnover rate (14 percent), helped his overall offensive rating skyrocket to 125.4, the 51st best nationally and the highest of his career. This higher efficiency came despite his three-point percentage dropping from 36.1 percent in his junior season to 30 percent in his senior season. Lumpkin’s numbers dropped off slightly in Big Ten play, but not significantly.

Shot Distribution

Stats via

Name FGA TS% eFG% % shots at rim FG% at rim % assisted at rim % shots 2pt J FG% 2pt Jumpers % assisted 2pt J % of shots 3pt 3FG% % assisted 3s FTA/FGA FT%
Sanjay Lumpkin 138 63.2 61.2 55.8 74 70.2 8 45.5 40 36.2 30 100 50% 68.1

The numbers clearly indicate how Lumpkin fits into the Northwestern offense. Just under 56 percent of his shots come around the rim, and around 70 percent of his makes at the rim were assisted. Catch-and-shoot threes are also a significant part of his offense — they account for 36 percent of his shots — but, again, these attempts don’t come from Lumpkin creating offense for himself.

The Good

Lumpkin knew his role, and played that role well. He did a lot of the dirty work for the Wildcats, often guarding multiple players defensively and making significant contributions on the glass; for a team that lacked depth in the frontcourt, Lumpkin’s 5.4 rebounds per game and ability to guard bigger players — he defended 6-foot-10 NBA prospect John Collins admirably in the Wake Forest game, for example — was invaluable for Northwestern. He plugged lineup holes whenever Chris Collins had them, especially during Dererk Pardon’s eight-game absence.

Offensively, Lumpkin wasn’t a non-factor by any means, as he often was in past seasons. Though his usage numbers were extremely low, he was uber-efficent when he was used. He also showed the ability to put the ball on the floor on occasion (sorry, Thomas Bryant):

The Bad

While he was efficient on the offensive end, Lumpkin was also limited. He couldn’t create his own shot, and struggled from three-point range, even though many of those looks were open. He also disappeared offensively for long stretches — he scored zero points in five games this season. Opponents could get away with helping off Lumpkin at times, which clogs the lane and likely contributed to some of the stagnant periods the Northwestern offense dealt with. Defensively, Lumpkin also has a tendency to foul. A lot. He averaged 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes, and fouled out of four games.

The Bottom Line

As a leader on the team, the Minnesota native posted the best offensive season of his career. His defensive versatility and toughness helped the Wildcats become one of the better defensive teams in the Big Ten, which, in large part, propelled the program to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Lumpkin has gone through a lot in his five years in the program, and he’s also come a long way as a player. He’ll be remembered as a captain and glue guy on the Northwestern team that made history.

Grade: B