Since the graduation of current Assistant Director of Basketball Operations Bryant McIntosh two years ago, Northwestern has struggled to fill the gaping void left behind by the playmaking guard, who always seemed able to score when it felt like the team needed it most.
Last season, fans watched a point-guard-by-committee approach flare out early, with natural wings A.J. Turner and Anthony Gaines struggling to take over ball-handling duties in the defensive-minded Big Ten. Ryan Greer helped as much as one could’ve hoped, considering he should’ve been a senior in high school at the time, but ultimately, Northwestern’s offense was often stagnant and uninspiring due to the lack of a player that could be relied upon to consistently take players off the dribble or create scoring opportunities when plays broke down.
Enter Boo Buie. The freshman guard, who started the year slow, was ranked 42nd at his position by 247sports.com coming out of high school. While that mark isn’t completely credible, as scouting services usually don’t take too much time in ranking kids past the top 20 in their position or top 100 nationally, what can be taken from it, along with his offers list, is that Buie was not considered a blue chip prospect by any means.
Don’t tell him that, though, as after a slow start to the season, he’s gone on to eclipse the 20-point mark in three of the team’s last five games, including a 26 point performance against 15th-ranked Michigan State and Bob Cousy award favorite Cassius Winston, and a 25 point outburst against a DePaul squad that’s now 12-1 atop the Big East.
What exactly has Buie been doing right over this five game stretch against some of the nation’s best? Let’s take a look at some stats before diving into the film.
Currently, Buie holds a 55% true shooting percentage and 51% effective field goal percentage (per kenpom.com). For those unfamiliar, these numbers incorporate the value of free throws and three pointers to give a more indicative statistic of how a player’s shooting is contributing to their team.
Needless to say, both these numbers are pretty good for a freshman point guard, and are second on the team as a whole, trailing only Ryan Young. So far, Buie has been efficient while putting up these monster performances. Now, let’s take a look at how he’s accumulated those counting stats.
Pick and Roll Savvy
Likely one of the first things that jumps out when watching Buie is his ability to change speeds at will. As one of the smallest players on the court, the Albany, New York native exploits pick and rolls with tremendous change of pace, allowing him to put defenders off balance with dribble moves that create driving advantages.
This has led to a remarkable 1.182 points per possession for Buie as a pick and roll ball handler this year, placing him in the 96th percentile nationally (per Synergy Sports Tech). While some players put defenders off balance with spectacular ball handling like Kyrie Irving or by playing with head fakes and footwork like James Harden, Buie largely does it with a deep arsenal of hesitation moves and a tremendous stop-start speed.
Additionally, once he gains the slightest advantage, he’s able to show off his impressive touch around the rim, converting at odd angles, through contact, and over bigger defenders. While we’ll touch on his floater, quickly developing into a signature shot, later, here are some clips for reference:
In this first sequence, Buie comes off a pick and roll which, honestly, DePaul plays pretty poorly. The big man only stunts briefly, with the guard struggling to get through the screen. However, once his man does get through it, Buie freezes him with a quick hesitation, which gets the guard to stand up just enough for Buie to turn the corner and leave him behind.
If the point guard were to have driven in a straight line, the guard would likely have taken an angle and met him near the elbow, resulting in Buie getting knocked off his line. Instead, the guard is now way behind the play, and can only make an ill-advised attempt to block the shot, leading to a soft foul and an easy and-1.
Here, Buie uses his wiggle to shake some hounding BC defense late in the game. You can see him stop on a dime at the half court logo, creating separation with his defender that he quickly exploits, darting by him with the use of another setup dribble. Once he gets into the lane, Buie takes the contact and somehow finesses the ball out from under his left arm to get into an impossible-to-block right-handed float finish.
After watching the clip upwards of ten times I’m still trying to figure out how exactly he switched hands here, but that move wipes away any chance the defender had for a block, as Buie essentially ends up shooting the ball from behind the guy he’s bumping hips with. The craftiness exemplified here is the main way in which he exploits the advantages set up by pick and rolls, but not the only one.
Despite only hitting 33% of his threes as of this article, Buie has clearly shown that he’s unafraid to take deep shots and is capable of hitting them. Specifically off of pick and rolls, his underrated ability to hit threes off the dribble forces defenses to adjust and makes it that much easier for him to create off of ball screens.
Right now, even with the small sample size of 10 possessions, there’s a lot to glean from Buie’s 1.4 PPP on jump shots off the dribble, which puts him firmly in the 99th percentile nationally. Yes, you read that right — Boo Buie’s current points per possession number on shots off the dribble is better than, well, almost everybody in the nation. With a quick, compact release, good arc and rotation, and a strong follow through, there’s no reason to believe Buie can’t continue to shoot at a high level.
Like I said, the sample size is small, but if the newcomer is able to keep up a portion of what he’s shown so far with his shooting ability, Chris Collins has certainly found his offensive catalyst going forward. Below is an example of what Buie’s shooting does for his scoring ability overall, not even considering the security it provides for the offense.
In the first clip, as discussed, Buie uses his quick release to pull a deep three over a sagging defender. Having hit one the possession previous, DePaul, if they hadn’t until this point, likely realizes Buie’s three ball is something they have to respect.
In the second clip, which comes just a couple possessions later, Buie again uses a change of speed to blow by his defender. When Robbie Beran comes to set the pick, the on-ball and roll man defenders, having seen Buie knock down two in a row, sit higher. The on-ball defender in particular has to worry about his shooting ability, and works to get over Beran’s top leg so that Buie can’t just pull again. Once he does, Buie shows the ball in his left, quickly rips it back over to his right, and blows by the off-balance defender for the layup.
Between his shiftiness and shooting ability, Buie has proved incredibly difficult to stop in the pick and roll without a trap. Once defenses tune into this, they’ll likely send both guys at him, as the youngster is yet to prove himself as a real passing threat thus far, averaging only 2.3 assists per game. While he’s shown he can spread it at times, garnering six helpers against DePaul, I’ll be curious to see how he exploits doubles if teams choose to take that route with him.
Buie’s signature floater has been special to watch both due to its inherent beauty and the alarming rate at which it works for him. Right now, he is scoring 1.12 PPP purely on runners, squarely in the 90th percentile amongst all division one players. He pulls it out at all angles and varying depths once he gets inside the arc, which is in large part why it’s so impressive.
Buie’s use of the floater is tied closely to his aforementioned knack for dropping the ball in the hoop on tough shots around the rim, and reflects how much true control he has on his finishes near the key. Let’s watch it in action.
These two clips are a microcosm of why the runner is such an asset for the freshman. In the first clip, Buie beats his defender off the dribble but immediately runs into a crowded key. With his ability to make the runner at such a high clip, he’s able to stride into a high percentage shot from just behind the free throw line, something not many college players have in their arsenal. He’s able to get it over longer, more athletic players, and can make it from a distance most players aren't used to having to defend against.
In the second, Buie uses the shot to create something out of nothing at a time when the ‘Cats desperately needed a basket. With Cassius Winston draped on him, Buie fails to get something going in the key and is forced away from the hoop. Despite this, he manages to lob up a shot while moving away from the rim and drop it through to make it a two possession game in the middle of the second half.
The touch displayed in both these clips, which allows Buie to get shots when nothing else is working, is a huge asset not only for the young lead guard, but also for a Northwestern offense that, as we know, struggles to create clean looks at times against staunch Big Ten defenses.
While this hot streak is possibly just that, there’s a decent body of film that leads me to believe this emerging offensive threat for the Wildcats won’t be going away any time soon. While Northwestern’s upcoming game against Hartford shouldn’t provide us much evidence for or against this, the following away matchups at Indiana and Minnesota, two top 50 teams according to KenPom, will serve as intriguing data.
Again, we’re pulling from a limited sample size, but from what Buie has shown over the past 5 games, there’s good reason for the optimism surrounding the productive freshman. Continued production at the All-Big Ten level he has recently displayed for the rest of the season would certainly be a bright spot in a year with otherwise relatively dim expectations.