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Northwestern basketball 2017 player reviews: Gavin Skelly

Skelly provided valuable energy off the bench, though he experienced extended shooting struggles.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Northwestern vs Vanderbilt Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

When you picture a sixth man for a basketball team, you probably don’t picture Gavin Skelly.

You probably picture a player who generates offense as soon as he enters the game or a sharpshooter, someone in a Jamal Crawford or a Jason Terry mold. You probably picture a guard or a wing.

Gavin Skelly is not that. What Skelly is, though, is an instant burst of energy off the bench, a combination of hustle, enthusiasm, size and skill that can impact the game in a number of ways. Some games it’s his shooting, some games it’s his interior defense and some games its his effort on the glass that affects games. Some games his contributions are positive, and some games they aren’t. What remains every game is Skelly’s activity, his tireless workrate on both ends of the floor.


These numbers are taken from

Skelly’s minutes increased from 12.5 per game in his sophomore season to 17.7 per game in his junior season, and, in turn, his efficiency fell (his effective field goal percentage went down from 64.8 in 2015-2016 to 52.3 in 2016-2017). He scored 5.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, but his production dropped significantly in conference play; his offensive rating was 106.1 for the season, but just 92 in conference play.

The Westlake, Ohio native was a high-energy contributor off the bench, as is evident in his above-average offensive rebound and block rates (9.2 and 7.5 percent, respectively). Skelly’s energy didn’t always work to his advantage, though: He averaged 6.3 fouls committed per 40 minutes. He also fouled out four times this season.

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%
Gavin Skelly 155 57 52.3 40.6 65.1 70.7 20.6 40.6 100 38.7 30 100 44.5% 75.4

Skelly doesn’t operate a whole lot in the midrange — nearly 80 percent of his field goal attempts come at the rim or from three-point range. He also doesn’t create most of his own looks. All of his made jumpers were assisted and over 70 percent of his makes at the rim were assisted.

The Good

When Northwestern needs a spark off the bench, Skelly can do the job. His energy and passing ability as a big are what make him valuable, and he can stretch the defense with his shooting (at times). His two late threes helped the Wildcats stave off a potentially costly late-season loss to Rutgers, and he played big minutes in several games while Dererk Pardon was out with a hand injury.

He does a little bit of everything as a big, and he’s versatile enough to play as a power forward or be a small-ball center. He’s difficult matchup for most centers because they have to respect his shot, at least to some degree. When Skelly’s shot is falling, he adds a pick-and-pop element to the offense that isn’t there otherwise (at least it wasn’t while Aaron Falzon was out). He’s also a good shot blocker — he averages 1.2 rejections per game — especially for someone who’s 6-foot-8.

The Bad

When things aren’t going well for Skelly, they really aren’t going well. There are just some games when the matchups just don’t suit his game. He had a high turnover rate this past season (22.1 percent), and it seemed like he forced his three-point shot at times (see the Minnesota game). Defensively, he’s prone to fouling a lot, which really hurt Northwestern in several games, especially the loss against Michigan State Though he can hold his own as an undersized center, it isn’t ideal for him to guard Big Ten-Caliber centers, and he also has trouble guarding stretch-fours or more perimeter oriented players (see the Purdue road game and Illinois home game).

Offseason Focus

Improving his three-point shot has to be priority No. 1 for Skelly. If he can shoot close to 40 percent from three, which is a big ask given he shot 30 percent this past season, he becomes a much more difficult cover offensively. Having another reliable outside shooter, especially a big, would make the Northwestern offense more diverse and less prone to long stagnant periods. Another shooter would open up the floor and make things easier for Bryant McIntosh & Co.

On the defensive end, Skelly should work on his lateral quickness. Being able to cover more mobile players out to the perimeter will help keep him on the floor next season. Though he likely won’t ever be as good of a defender as Sanjay Lumpkin was, being able to fill a similar sort of role in the defense will be important next season once Lumpkin is gone.

The Bottom Line

Skelly was a solid contributor off the bench this season, and proved important in several games. He plays with incredible energy, and can impact the game in different ways, depending on the game and the matchup. When things aren’t always going well for Northwestern, Skelly can often give the team a jolt with by taking a charge, blocking a shot or grabbing an offensive rebound. It’ll be interesting to see how Aaron Falzon being back and Sanjay Lumpkin being gone next season affect Skelly’s minutes.

Grade: C+