With the departure of Vic Law and Dererk Pardon, Northwestern lost its two top scorers heading into the 2019-20 season. Miller Kopp, a former four-star recruit from Houston, was coming off a rather disappointing freshman campaign and needed to take a major step forward if the ‘Cats wanted to compete in a deep Big Ten.
The sophomore forward made strides offensively, developing into a lethal shooter and more importantly, the most consistent player on the roster. In a season full of blowout losses and second-half collapses, Kopp’s scoring was one of the few constants on the roster. Let’s take a look at the forward’s impressive progression and what more he can do to put the ‘Cats on a winning path in the upcoming season.
The following numbers are taken from KenPom.com
Kopp took a massive leap in terms of efficiency this season from all over the floor. He ended the season with the second highest true shooting percentage on the team behind only center Ryan Young. Unsurprisingly, the two also led the team in offensive rating and offensive plus/minus.
The sophomore forward managed to improve his TS% by 8.7 percentage point, the biggest improvement among all returning players. To put things into perspective, if he attempted the same amount of field goals and free throws but his percentages remained the same as his freshman year, he would have scored 57 fewer points throughout the season, or nearly two fewer points per game.
Kopp ended the season as the best free throw shooter and a top five three-point shooter in the Big Ten. His 65 made three-pointers ranked third in the conference behind Minnesota’s Gabe Kalscheur and Michigan State’s Cassius Winston.
Though Kopp led the team in scoring and field goal attempts, his 20.7 percent usage rate was far behind that of Boo Buie and Pat Spencer, whose usage rates were at 27.0 and 23.8 percent, respectively. Naturally, he didn’t handle the ball nearly as much as the two primary guards, but his next step should focus on becoming a better playmaker in order to assert himself on offense. Kopp averaged only 1.2 assists per game, with an assist:turnover ratio below one. Right now, he’s a scorer.
Only 11.5 percent of Kopp’s shots came at the rim, and his conversion rate was about 50 percent, which is eight percentage points lower than the team’s average. Although his offensive game revolves around spot-up jumpers, the ability to drive to the rim would diversify his scoring profile and get him more open looks from the perimeter. If the sophomore forward wants to take another step on offense next season, the driving ability will be crucial.
Kopp’s splits from anywhere else on the court are well above average. Both his two-point and three-point jumpers are eight percentage points higher than the team average. While the wing led the conference in FT%, his FTA/FGA was six percentage points below the NU average which could be further explained by the low percentage of Kopp’s shots coming at the rim.
Consistency, consistency, consistency. Kopp’s reliability proved to be a huge plus for Northwestern’s inconsistent offense, as he scored in double figures in 23 of his 31 games. He had three games with 10 or more points during his freshman campaign.
.@Miller_Kopp's point totals in the last nine @NUMensBball games:— Northwestern On BTN (@NUOnBTN) January 27, 2020
| #SlowMoMonday pic.twitter.com/8CaEk0kjjs
Even in a season filled with second-half collapses, Collins’ go-to scorer was pretty clutch throughout. The sophomore forward hit many timely buckets despite Northwestern’s propensity to drop close games.
Stay hot, Miller!@Miller_Kopp gives @NUMensBball the late lead. pic.twitter.com/Keo1zYRlWP— Northwestern On BTN (@NUOnBTN) December 29, 2019
It is hard to criticize Kopp for what he does on offense. While his skillset could use some diversifying, as was covered above, he knows his strengths. His shot selection may be questionable at times, but he is definitely capable of making the tougher ones given his high percentages.
Kopp’s main problems stem from the other end of the court. Despite having the physical tools to be an above-average defender, he is the worst defender on the team alongside Boo Buie, according to his defensive rating and defensive plus/minus. This can be chalked up to a combination of missed assignments and an ineffective defensive scheme. It is up to both he and head coach Chris Collins to solve this problem as it is much more difficult to point at specific things with fewer defensive statistics.
The soon-to-be junior is expected to be a leader for Northwestern, especially with the departure of Pat Spencer. Anthony Gaines will be back, but Kopp is the next most experienced player on the roster. He’ll be called on to set an example for his teammates, whether that is using his sharpshooting skills to create open looks for them, communicating and showing intensity on defense or coming up with late-game heroics. He has established himself as a scorer, the question is if he can excel beyond that.
The Bottom Line
Kopp’s impressive season felt under-appreciated, mostly due to the lack of winning. The sophomore forward is already one of the best shooters in the Big Ten and a serviceable first option on offense. Maybe a better offensive scheme and an improved all-around game can push Kopp into becoming a star, but he already is close to being one without it.