To put it lightly, this season hasn’t quite been what many thought it would be. Tuesday night’s loss to Rutgers might have been the coup de gras to Northwestern’s chances to make the 2018 postseason, but if Wildcats fans know anything, it’s that there’s always next year.
On Monday, our Will Ragatz provided an excellent update on Northwestern’s incoming freshman class. There’s a lot of promise and potential to look forward to, but let’s not forget that the Wildcats will be returning two starters next year in Vic Law and Dererk Pardon. Not only that, but both of those players have made significant offensive strides this season, which bodes well for their senior years.
The departure of Bryant McIntosh leaves some uncertainty as to who will run Chris Collins’ offense at Welsh-Ryan Arena, but in Law and Pardon, he’s got two mainstays to lead the way. Here’s how the duo has grown and what to expect next year.
All statistics are courtesy of hoop-math.com.
Last season, nearly a third of Law’s shots were two-point jump shots. He only made 28.1 percent of his attempts, second-worst on the team. In short, Law’s efficiency did not justify the volume of attempts.
That’s not to say that Law was a bad offensive player last year. Among perimeter players, he had the second-highest free throw attempt rate and shot a strong 39.9 percent from three. When he was aggressive, Law was liable to pull up from beyond the arc or occasionally bulldoze his way to the rim, but without that in-between game, he wasn’t as dynamic of a scorer as he could’ve been.
He must’ve worked on that part of the game this past offseason, because Law has been tremendous from the midrange. He’s up to 40.6 percent shooting from that area, third-highest on the team, while decreasing his volume slightly (down to 29.2 percent). He’s also doing it more by himself. Last year, half of his made two-point jumpers were assisted; this season, only 17.9 percent.
Law’s decrease in midrange attempts has contributed to his three-point attempt rate ballooning; almost half of his total field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. The fact that he hasn’t seen a substantial dip in percentage despite increasing his three-point attempt rate from 0.405 to 0.492 is indicative of his improvement as an overall jump shooter.
One area of concern is Law’s lack of shots at the rim. Again, Law showed last season that he’s capable of getting there and to the line, but this season, the percentage of his shots there has dropped from 26.3 percent to 21.6 percent. His free-throw attempt rate has also dipped from 0.334 to 0.275.
Part of this can explained by how Law was getting these shots. Last year, 63 percent of his shots at the rim were assisted. While Sanjay Lumpkin had the reputation of making great cuts to the rim, Law (and to an even greater extent, Scottie Lindsey) found great success doing this, as well. This season, just 42.9 of Law’s makes in that area have come off of helpers from teammates.
The silver lining is that Law’s shooting percentage at the basket hasn’t significantly decreased from last year and his free throw percentage has increased nearly 10 percent. With Aaron Falzon likely to see extended minutes next year, Law should have ample space to attack the rim and get to the charity stripe more often.
Speaking of getting to the line...
The first two games of this season were pretty eye-opening (Aside from the fact that, you know, Northwestern proved incapable of blowing out either Loyola Maryland or Saint Peter’s) in that the team seemed hell-bent on feeding Pardon on the block. It was the first and only time in his career that Pardon took at least nine shots in back-to-back games. On top of that, it was the first of two instances when Pardon has taken at least eight free-throw attempts in back-to-back games.
In short, Pardon was getting a lot of touches. He shot 10-of-18 from the field and 11-of-18 at the line, both encouraging numbers for a player who sported a usage percentage of just 13.8 the season before. While he’s had some rough shooting games, none more futile than his 6-of-18 shooting performance against Nebraska in early January, Pardon appears to have settled into his larger offensive role rather nicely.
Once a one-dimensional offensive player, Pardon has diversified his game. Nearly 30 percent of his shots at the rim last season were putbacks; this year, that number has dropped to less than 20 percent. Despite that, Pardon’s finishing at the basket has hardly changed (improving from 70.1 percent to 71.7 percent). In other words, he’s been able to get buckets outside of gobbling up offensive boards.
Pardon’s increased load in the post has led to a significant uptick in free throws. His free-throw attempt rate has risen from 0.407 to 0.510, and his free-throw percentage has increased to over 60 percent. No longer a liability to be hacked, Pardon could become an even bigger problem for defenses if his proficiency at the line continues to grow next season.
He’s also improved his jump shot. Last year, just 47.6 percent of his midrange jumpers were assisted, evidence that some of those shots weren’t coming from the rhythm of the offense, but rather at the end of the shot clock when the Wildcats just needed to get a shot up and Pardon happened to have the ball. This season, two-thirds of his makes in that area come off assists and, as a result, he’s seen his shooting percentage increase from 42 percent to 49.1 percent. His two-point jumper rate hasn’t changed, but Pardon’s 5-for-5 performance from that area against Purdue hints at the possibility of that becoming a larger part of his game next year.
With a heavier load on the block and an expanded range, Pardon has built himself into an effective offensive player. With an influx of new faces next season, it will be nice to be able to throw the ball to Pardon and let him go to work when the offense bogs down.
There’s no question that Northwestern will miss the contributions of seniors McIntosh, Lindsey and Gavin Skelly. Those three all proved to be excellent offensive weapons for the Wildcats. While it will be sad to watch them go, it should be exciting to see just how much better Law and Pardon can become as they lead the transition to a new generation of Northwestern basketball talent. As this year has shown, the pair is well on their way to having terrific senior seasons.