Northwestern’s college basketball season is over, but before we officially close the book on the 2021-22 campaign and start looking towards next year, it’s time to review the individual performances of each Wildcat over the past five months. This is the penultimate edition of this series, and it covers the scoring phenom who isn’t without his flaws: junior Boo Buie.
After being in-and-out of the starting five his first two seasons on campus, Buie made the starting point-guard position his own this past season. Chris Collins clearly trusted the New York native to be the floor general, and that’s reflected by his team-high 26.6 percent usage rate. Sometimes a benefit, sometimes a consequence of Buie shouldering so much responsibility in the offense was the ‘Cats, as a team, often only played as well as he did.
On the nights where the 6-foot-2 guard was in rhythm on offense, conducting a symphony of basketball excellence, it seemed that his teammates played their instruments beautifully. On the flip-side, however, the nights where Buie would occasionally lose his spot in the conductor’s score and miss giving his orchestra the appropriate cues, everything unraveled.
That is just what happens when a player with Buie’s skillset is a major contributor to a team. The Buies of the world can take good teams to a different level, but whether that level is better or worse than where the team was before varies from game to game. As Northwestern in all likelihood prepares for life after Pete Nance this offseason, the onus is going to be on Buie to become even more productive, especially with his creativity. With that in mind, it’s important to look back at his 2021-22 campaign to get a good picture of what the Wildcats will look like next season.
The following numbers are from KenPom.com.
Buie’s minutes have steadily increased over his three years at Welsh-Ryan, with the past season’s minutes percentage of 73.5 being both a career high and a team high. The guard’s usage rate and shots taken percentage are both near, if not at, the top of the team leaderboard, which is reflective of the role he played last season.
Based on these numbers, it would be logical to assume that Buie is a great on-ball decision-maker who isn’t the most efficient shooter. For the most part that carries through, but there are a lot of actions that assist and turnover rates don’t track — notably shot selection and impact of passes that don’t directly lead to a shot — and those are times where he doesn’t cover himself in a lot of glory with his play. Additionally, Buie is almost certainly a better shooter than a 47.7 effective field goal percentage suggests, as misses off of poor shots drag that figure down.
The following stats are taken from hoop-math.com.
Even without the stats, it’s pretty easy to describe Buie’s shot selection. He loves to shoot threes, with 48.8 percent of his shots coming from behind the arc, but his 34.1 percent conversion rate on them isn’t all that impressive. He also likes to create his own looks, with nearly 60 percent of his shot attempts not coming off of a pass from a teammate. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Buie is willing to shoot from anywhere on the court at anytime, and that gunslinger mentality is a major reason as to why both his effective field goal and true shooting percentages are below the team average.
Buie is talented. He’s a solid ball-handler and that paired with a quick first step enables him to get to the rim. He also is a gifted shooter, and can really score from anywhere on the court. Really, Buie is just a natural bucket-getter, and when a couple of shots in a row fall for him, it spells trouble for whoever had the misfortune of facing him at the peak of his powers, because he has the confidence and ability to keep taking and making them.
The Northwestern fanbase didn’t get to see the top-of-his-game Buie as much this past season as they did two years ago, but he still had some outstanding performances. He showed out at the Legends Classic, with his game against Providence — a highly efficient 23-point display — being even more impressive now given the success the Friars experienced. His season high in points came in late February in Lincoln, Neb., where he shot 10-for-15, scoring 27 points, and added three rebounds and a pair of assists on top of that.
Although he thrives in the physical aspect of the game, the same can’t be said for a lot of his mental attributes and intangibles. His decision-making leaves a lot to be desired, and his confidence in his own ability can often get in the way of getting his teammates involved in the offense. Additionally, consistency and efficiency, two attributes which were synonymous with Nance this past season, don’t apply as much to Buie. The turnovers and missed shots can start to pile up for him, and it has a massive impact on the team’s ability to win games.
The junior guard also left a lot to be desired on the defensive end of the floor. There’s a reason why Collins settled on a starting backcourt of Buie, Chase Audige and Julian Roper II halfway through the year: he had to minimize the trade-off of having Buie’s offensive prowess at one end with having Buie’s lack of defensive acumen at the other end.
It seems that he’s very close to his potential in terms of his skillset, so most of his work needs to hone in on how he utilizes that skillset. Within his role in Chris Collins’ offense, he needs to learn how to distribute the ball better and become more of a quarterback. The possessions where he holds the ball at the top of the arc and lets the shot clock run down before taking a contested three have to be kept to a minimum. There’s not just improvement to be had in the half-court offense either. Northwestern seemed to really struggle in offensive transitions last year, and if Buie can become more of a reliable presence spearheading those fast breaks, there’s some easy buckets ripe for the taking. It wouldn’t hurt if he improved his defense or became an even better shooter, but given what he’s going to be asked to do next year, he has to be able to perform in the context of that role.
The Bottom Line
Buie has shown flashes of brilliance, despite the ups-and-downs, throughout his career, and if he wants to play meaningful basketball in March at some point in college, next season might be his last chance to do so. With the departure of Ryan Greer and likely departure of Nance, he is going to be tasked with doing a job that may not fit his skillset naturally next year, but he does have an entire offseason to adapt and mold to a modified role.