Official preseason basketball practice begins on Tuesday for Nebraska, and North Dakota State transfer Sam Griesel will be one of the Huskers on the court after missing summer workouts while recovering from offseason surgery.
Griesel was a key offseason addition for Fred Hoiberg, who had to replace the backcourt creation of Alonzo Verge Jr., Bryce McGowens and Trey McGowens. Hoiberg targeted the 6-foot-7 Griesel to be his next point guard and the Lincoln East product chose to head home and live out his childhood dream of being a Husker.
Griesel was a four-year starter for the Bison and made a big leap as a senior, averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.0 turnovers while shooting 48.2% from the field, 37.9% from 3 and 75.6% from the free-throw line in 26 games. To get a better feel for what Griesel will bring to the table for the Cornhuskers, I dove deep into his tape from the 2021-22 season with an assist from Synergy Sports Technology.
Overall last season, Griesel scored 0.992 points per possession (PPP), ranking him in the 80th percentile nationally. Griesel does the majority of his work around the basket as 55.6% of his shots at the rim. He shot 60.9% and scored 1.35 PPP (79th percentile). He shot 9-of-18 on floaters as well.
Though the volume still isn’t particularly high, Griesel took a big step forward as jump shooter last season which helped unlock his all-around game even more. He shot 38.2% on all jump shots, up from 33.7% as a junior. He shot 48.3% on 29 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, scoring 1.448 PPP (98th percentile). That includes a 7-of-13 mark on guarded looks (small sample size, but 99th percentile). He took twice as many jumpers off the dribble as he did off the catch, though he wasn’t quite as effective as he shot just 32.2%. That includes a 25% mark from deep in 32 attempts, though he was a little better inside the arc at 40.7% on 27 attempts.
Griesel was North Dakota State’s starting point guard, but he wasn’t a ball-dominant player by any means. He often gave the ball up early in possessions only to get it back later to make a play. North Dakota State took advantage of his unique skill set in a variety of ways, as he logged 48 or more possessions in five different play types according to Synergy’s classification. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
Nebraska was a very pick-and-roll-heavy team last season as Verge used a ball screen on nearly 60% of his possessions last season. Pick-and-roll was also Griesel’s top play type, but the volume was much lower. He looked to score with a ball screen on 20.7% of the possessions he finished. If you factor in assists as well, pick-and-roll accounted for 37% of his possessions.
He scored 0.947 PPP (87th percentile) and shot 44.2% from the field while drawing a shooting foul on 17.1% of his possessions and turning the ball over 13.2% of the time.
One thing that jumps off the screen immediately as a contrast to Nebraska’s Verge-centric offense last season was Griesel almost never looked for a ball screen to start a possession. Unless he has a lane to the basket, he starts almost every possession with a pass as North Dakota State did a good job of spacing the floor and moving the ball.
While Griesel did hit a few pull-up jumpers in the lane, shooting out of the pick-and-roll isn’t his strength nor is it something he’s looking for most of the time. He shot just 2-of-11 on pull-up 3s. No, Griesel wants to get to the rim, and he does it well. He doesn’t always do a good job of setting up and using the actual screen to create a lot of separation or force switches. Instead, it seems like he’s mostly just looking to get himself some downhill momentum to attack whoever is in front of him. He’s very patient and looks to use his footwork and physicality to get to the rim, often spinning multiple times on his way to the rim.
His tricks don’t always work to get him all the way to the rim as he’s isn’t terribly explosive in the halfcourt (though he can hit the gas and shoot a gap when the opportunity presents himself). That will lead to some tough shots over the top of a contesting defender in the paint.
Because of his more methodical approach to running a pick-and-roll, he isn’t a guy who draws a ton of double-teams once he comes off the screen. However, he does a good job of reading the defense and finding the open man on the perimeter for kick-outs and skip passes. He also showed good feel for feeding the roll man when the screen defender stepped to him.
Expect to see plenty of pick-and-rolls for Griesel this season at Nebraska.
As I mentioned above, North Dakota State used Griesel all over the court on and off the ball. His second-most common play type was spot-up at 18.5% of his possessions. He was incredibly effective, scoring 1.265 PPP (96th percentile) while shooting 53.6% from the field.
This is where the catch-and-shoot improvement comes into play as he shot 14-of-27 from 3 (51.9%). He hit some shots off relocation, he hit some from a bit beyond the college line and he hit a few off the dribble as well. Griesel stepped into shots confidently and didn’t hesitate when he had space.
He attempted 29 shots inside the arc, making 16 of them for a 55.2% conversion rate. He understands spacing well and does a good job of attacking closeouts to get downhill or put the defender on his heels if he doesn’t get past with the first step, and he displays the same patience and balance on spot-up drives as he does with pick-and-rolls.
I think Griesel and Derrick Walker have a chance to forge a strong connection in the pick-and-roll game.
Griesel appeared pretty comfortable isolating with the ball in his hands as isolation made up 15.8% of his possessions. He scored 0.845 PPP (61st percentile) while shooting 38.3% from the field with a 17.2% foul rate.
As mentioned previously, he’s not much of a pull-up threat nor is he terribly shifty or explosive. Again, his ISO style is much more methodical and physical, taking advantage of his size; he loves to back into the defender and spin off on his way to the rim. That results in some nice plays, but good defenders were often able to stay in front of him which resulted in a lower-efficiency shot over the top that was often contested.
He also had a handful of assists out of isolation, including a dump-off to his big man for a dunk, a pass to a back-cutting teammate after his defender stunted at Griesel, a skip pass for an open 3 and a kick to the corner for a 3 after drawing a help defender.
There aren’t a lot of 6-foot-7 point guards, and Griesel loved to take advantage of his size when opposing teams had to put a smaller guard on him. A lot of his pick-and-rolls, spot-up drives and ISOs ended in pseudo-post-ups anyway, and Synergy classified 15.3% of his possessions as post-ups.
Griesel scored 0.893 PPP (64th percentile) and shot 40% from the field. The post-up isn’t an inherently efficient play type, but he was smart with the ball (1.9% turnover rate) and drew a lot of contact (21.4% foul rate).
I’ll address these two points here, but they’re relevant in any of these sections because of the way he plays the game. One, Griesel is fairly right-hand dominant, often choosing to finish with his right hand even on the left side of the basket. That leads to some and-ones, but it also results in some difficult, contested shots. He’s also turning over his left shoulder most of the time in the post — on 41 of his 56 possessions, to be exact. The other point I want to mention is Griesel seems to love the right-handed jump hook if he doesn’t have a clear lane to the rim, but he shot just 31.3% on his 32 attempts, per Synergy.
I mention those two points here because they particularly limit his options in the post. Even so, Griesel is strong, he’s physical, he has good footwork and he shows decent touch. He isn’t a guy who looks to do his work early and bury his defender in the post as he often dribbles into his own post-up opportunities or pops out near the arc to face up then back his defender down. He’s comfortable putting the ball on the deck as many times as he needs to in order to get to his spot.
Griesel is a pretty good passer out of the post as well, keeping his eyes open for cutters and identifying kick-out or skip options when defenders sag off or look to double down. Depending on how opposing defenses choose to defend him, this could be something Hoiberg looks to take advantage of by inverting his offense and getting Griesel some interior touches.
Finally, you have to be willing to run to play for Hoiberg, and Griesel certainly fits the bill. Transition made up 13.1% of his possessions (and 16.5% of his possessions if you factor in assists). He scored 1.146 PPP (71st percentile) and shot 68% from the field.
What’s interesting about Griesel’s fast break opportunities is he was almost always the one leading them — he had just one leak-out and just three possessions where he was running the floor off the ball. He looked to push off makes as well as misses, and many of his transition opportunities came when the other team had most of their players back in the frontcourt. However, teams had a tough time stopping the ball when he brought it up, and although the defenders were back they often weren’t yet in a position where they were ready to help.
Again, he’s almost always thinking “paint” when he’s looking to push the ball, though he did shoot 2-of-4 on pull-up 3s (plus a foot-on-the-line long 2). He uses all the same tricks as his other play types to get to the rim and finish. Griesel had a number of charges when he got going. a bit too fast and had a handful of bad pass turnovers where he tried to thread the needle (29.2% turnover rate), but he also displayed some terrific vision. He rewards his big men for running the floor and also does a good job of getting two feet in the paint and finding the open man, whether it be spotting up on the wing, trailing the play or cutting to the basket.
There’s a lot to like in Griesel’s film and the underlying numbers. In fact, he might be the first point guard that Fred Hoiberg has had at Nebraska that really fits the style of basketball that Hoiberg wants to play. Griesel can play on or off the ball. He’s unselfish but capable of making things happen. He’s smart and plays to his strengths. If Nebraska is able to put enough shooters around him to give him some space to work with, he’ll be a tough guard.
The big question is how much of his efficiency will translate to the Big Ten? You might have noticed that there weren’t any clips against high-major teams in those highlight reels. That’s because he didn’t play against any last season. Griesel’s size and athleticism won’t be such an advantage in the Big Ten, and opposing coaches might have better luck exposing his weaknesses at that level. Also, how real was his shooting improvement, and can he take another step forward in that area?
While the Big Ten has bigger and better athletes than the Summit League, a 6-foot-7 point guard is rare in any league. Nebraska is going to ask a lot of Griesel this season, and he looks to be up to the task of shouldering that responsibility.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.