One of the biggest wins of the offseason for Fred Hoiberg and the Huskers was getting Keisei Tominaga back for an extra season of eligibility.
The Japanese Steph Curry’s breakout down the stretch of the 2022-23 season allowed the Huskers to right the ship after season-ending injuries to their defensive leaders, and it gave fans something to get legitimately excited about.
Tominaga’s season-long numbers were pretty impressive: 13.1 points per game on 50.3% from the field, 40% from 3 and 86.8% from the free-throw line. However, it’s what he did after the calendar turned to February to provides the real reason for excitement in 2023-24.
Over his last nine games, Tominaga upped that scoring average to 20.3 while maintaining his efficiency, shooting 55.7% from the field including 43.1% from deep despite seeing plenty of defensive attention. How was Tominaga able to elevate his play down the stretch? I watched all of his offensive possessions from those last nine games to find out.
Let’s dive into the film.
If you haven’t read one of my previous Film Study pieces, I use video and stats from the fine people at Synergy Sports. To show the difference in his finish to the year, let’s start by establishing some of his season-long numbers in various categories.
Tominaga ranked in the 98th percentile in scoring efficiency over the course of the full season, scoring 1.171 points per possession (PPP), considered “excellent.” Because of his versatility as a scorer, there isn’t any one category in which he saw significant volume — he didn’t hit triple digits in any play type. His most frequent play type is Handoffs with 86 possessions (24.1% of his offense overall), scoring 0.919 PPP (61st percentile, “good”). Not far behind was Spot Up at 20.4% of his possessions, and he was as elite as they come at an absurd 1.438 PPP (99th percentile, “excellent”). Third was Off Screen at 15.4% of his possessions and 0.964 PPP (58th percentile, “good”).
The last three we’ll mention here all saw him score better than 1.2 PPP. Transition made up 13.7% of his possessions at 1.245 PPP (82nd percentile, “very good”). Cut made up 10.4% of his possessions at 1.595 PPP (96th percentile, “excellent”); he shot nearly 80% from the field on those plays. And finally, though the volume is small at 6.7% of his possessions (24 in all), he showed promise running Pick-and-Roll at 1.375 PPP (100th percentile “excellent”).
With that baseline established, let’s dive into those last nine games and how they differed from the first 23.
Remember how I just said Tominaga logged more Handoff plays than any other? Well, more than half of those plays came in the last nine games.
In the first 23 games, Tominaga logged 47 possessions (21.8%) and scored 0.851 PPP. He shot 34.2% from the field (8-of-14 on 2s and a frigid 5-of-24 on 3s).
However, in the last nine, Tominaga ran 39 Handoff possessions, nearly twice any other play type during that span. He scored 1.00 PPP, shooting a much improved 44.1%. That includes 7-of-12 (58.3%) on 2s and 8-of-22 (36.4%) on 3s. The difference here really only comes down to a few more 3s going in, but then again, he shot the ball at an incredibly high rate down the stretch overall which is why Hoiberg had them running so many handoffs to actively get the ball in his hands more.
Handoffs typically result in more difficult 3s, but he’s a good enough shooter to hit them. If the defender gets stuck underneath the handoff, he’ll rise up and take the shot, even a few feet beyond the line. If the defender chases over the top, Tominaga is comfortable putting the ball on the deck to get into his mid-range pull-up. Or sometimes when he’s really feeling it he’ll just let it fly even if the defender gets over the top and is in his face, like in the last clip above.
We’ll look at Off Screen plays next as a close relative to Handoffs. The volume didn’t really change in the last nine, but his effectiveness did. In the first 23 games, Tominaga ran 35 Off Screen possessions (15.3%) and scored 0.886 PPP. He shot just 33.3% overall including 3-of-12 on 2s and 7-of-18 (38.9%) on 3s.
In the last nine, he ran 20 Off Screen plays (14.2%) and shot 42.1% overall (2-of-3 on 2s and 6-of-16 on 3s). He shot similarly on 3s running off screens as he did early in the season, but the difference is he didn’t force as many tough 2s if the initial shot wasn’t there. Of that 3-of-12 2-point shooting from the first 23, he shot 3-of-7 on contested shots at the rim and 0-for-5 on in-between shots (either jumpers or runners).
The difference between good and great shooters is the ability to hit shots off movement, and Tominaga definitely showed that ability last season. Those are some tough shots he made in that reel above.
Tominaga was terrific in transition all season, and the volume was pretty steady.
In the first 23 games, he logged 29 Transition possessions (13.4%) and scored 1.286 PPP, shooting 51.9% from the field (7-of-9 on 2s and 7-of-18 on 3s).
The last nine games saw 20 Transition possessions for Tominaga (14.2%) and he scored 1.200 PPP on them, shooting 50% overall (5-of-9 on 2s and 4-of-9 on 3s).
Tominaga wasn’t simply running to the corner and waiting for the ball in transition. He actually created most of his fast-break offense off the dribble, and it showed the level of confidence he played with down the stretch. While he’s not a dynamic athlete, he’s overcome that with craft and understanding how to use his body and change of pace and direction to get shots off around the basket.
The Derrick Walker-Keisei Tominaga connection was one of my favorite parts of the 2022-23 Nebrasketball season, and the duo really found their stride down the stretch. As Tominaga began to draw more attention for his perimeter shooting, he leveraged that into cutting opportunities, showcasing the IQ to exploit whatever coverages teams use on him.
In the first 23, he logged just 18 possessions as a cutter (8.3%), but he scored 1.444 PPP and shot 12-of-17 on those plays.
In the last nine, he ran 19 possessions as a cutter (13.5%) and scored 1.740 PPP, converting 15 of his 17 shots with a pair of trips to the foul line. Enjoy.
Tominaga became so good at reading his defender. If you overplay, he’s back-cutting you every time and Walker was always looking for it. He won’t have Walker there to find him this year, but Rienk Mast has already studied Walker passing tape and is looking forward to playing that role next season.
That it took us this long to get to spot-up shooting speaks both to how versatile a scorer Tominaga has become and how opposing teams defended him down the stretch. He’s one of the best shooters in the Big Ten, and other teams started to realize that.
In the first 23 games, spot-up was his most common play type at 25.9% of his possessions (56 in total). He scored a blistering 1.393 PPP and shot 55.8% (12-of-18 on 2s and 17-of-34 on 3s). You can’t leave him open, so teams stopped doing so.
Over the past nine, that volume dropped to just 12.1% of his possessions (17 of them). He remained elite on the opportunities he did get at 1.590 PPP and 56.3% shooing (2-of-3 on 2s and 7-of-13 on 3s), but he didn’t find nearly as many openings.
Notice the range on the first and last shot — I guess if they’re not going to leave you open at the arc, just move back further. He also made a few nice plays against closeouts to get all the way to the basket.
Some of those spot-up possessions were against a zone or on broken plays (loose balls, offensive rebounds and so on). Those aren’t really something you can game plan for, but he was ready to capitalize when they arose. Tominaga will remain near the top of every scouting report next season so long as he continues to hit shots, but I’m intrigued by the possibility that adding another talented scorer in Brice Williams could open up more spot-up opportunities for Nebraska’s best spot-up shooter next season.
The last play type we’ll focus on here is the pick-and-roll, something Nebraska doesn’t run often with Tominaga but that saw a small spike down the stretch.
Tominaga ran 13 pick-and-roll possessions in Nebraska’s first 23 games (6%) and scored 0.9233 PPP, shooting 5-of-11 from the field including 2-of-5 from 3.
He nearly matched that total in the last nine with 11 pick-and-roll possessions (7.8%) and scored 1.910 PPP. He shot 9-of-11 including 2-of-3 from deep and converted a three-point play.
The interesting thing is that although all these plays are classified as pick-and-roll plays on Synergy, he almost never actually used the screen. Tominaga preferred to refuse the screen almost every time and catch the defender off-guard. Like with transition, these clips show his growth in confidence and craft with the ball in his hands.
Tominaga isn’t a guy you’re going to ask to run a ton of pick-and-rolls, but one or two per game within the flow of the offense certainly seems like a possibility and another way to get Tominaga scoring opportunities.
I doubt Tominaga continues to average 20 points for the rest of his Husker career, but his strong stretch to end the 2022-23 season was no fluke. The variety of ways he scored and the different plays Nebraska ran for him show a versatile scorer capable of doing damage in many ways.
Tominaga might not keep shooting at quite the same absurd rate as he did during those nine games, especially considering the degree of difficulty on many of those shots, but he’s proven himself to be an elite shooter, and he’s evolved his game to be more than that as well.
Tominaga is fairly limited from a size and athleticism standpoint at the Big Ten level, but the last nine games showed a guy who has learned how to get the most out of himself. His body control, craftiness, ability to read his defender and confidence all saw major improvement over the second half of last season. While he still takes some wild shots now and then, they’re fewer and far between than during his first year at Nebraska and he’s knocking them down at a higher rate.
He’ll enter the 2023-24 season at the top of every scouting report, but knowing his game is much simpler than stopping it, especially if additions like Williams and Mast can take some pressure off Nebraska’s leading returning scorer.
Enjoy this last season of Keisei Tominaga, Nebraska fans. It should be a lot of fun.