Tuesday night, I watched a 6-foot-1 freshman guard switch onto one of the best the Big Ten has to offer, Wisconsin big man Ethan Happ. Now, Happ is no defensive turnstile. He leads the Badgers in defensive rating (95.8) and is one of only two rotation players that’s under 100.
But the freshman pulled him away from the screen and blew right past him for an easy two points at the cup.
A few plays later, I watched this same youngster drive the right side of the lane and pull up into a floater, falling away from the basket. It touched nothing but net.
“Okay, this kid is going to be really good,” I thought.
After the Huskers closed the book on a 63-59 win over the Badgers, a game in which Raleigh, North Carolina, product Thomas Allen supplied eight points in 15 minutes, I wanted to know how he stacks up with other freshmen coach Tim Miles has had over his six-year tenure in Lincoln. Any time you’re winning a recruiting battle with the Kansas Jayhawks (basketball, not football, unless you’re Texas) for a guard, you know you’re going to have something special.
Through 18 games and almost 200 minutes of time on the court, it’s safe to say the Huskers might have something special in Allen.
Let me get out in front of this real quick and say, no, this isn’t a “play Allen more” column. Nebraska has established guards in front of Allen in Glynn Watson Jr., Evan Taylor, Anton Gill and James Palmer Jr., and it has already matched its win total from a season ago with a little over a month left in the regular season. There’s no need to make wholesale changes.
This is more about looking at Allen’s potential in context with Miles’ past. Most of the metrics say Allen is performing better than any before him.
We’re not going to look at the basic numbers – how many points, rebounds, assists, etc. he averages — because those won’t tell the real story. He’s not on the floor long enough to get an accurate assessment. Instead, we’ll look at per-40 minute numbers and advanced metrics. I know extrapolation isn’t always the most reliable (more minutes, less efficiency, yada yada) but it works here.
And because we’re using that kind of data, I’m only looking at 14 freshmen. There have been more who have played for Miles in his six seasons, but only 14 have topped 100 minutes in a season; that’s the cutoff.
For that group, the average minutes played per game is 16.3. At 11.2 minutes per, Allen is a little on the low side and yet he has still matched or bested six of his 13 peers in win shares, a counting stat that estimates wins contributed when on the floor, and he still has another 13 guaranteed games left on the schedule. He’s tied for sixth in offensive win shares (0.3).
He’s also one of only four players to have a positive net rating in their freshman seasons. Allen currently sits at 5.2, which would be the third-highest in the group behind forward Nick Fuller (19.2 net) and forward Michael Jacobson (16.5 net). For what it’s worth, Fuller only played 129 minutes his first year, Allen is on pace for almost 330.
Net rating is one of my favorite numbers to look at. If you’re better on one end than the other, it doesn’t kill you. If you’re strong on both ends of the floor, it shows. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an estimate of offensive points produced per 100 possessions (offensive rating) minus defensive points allowed per 100 possessions (defensive rating). Remember Happ? Allen has the exact same offensive rating, 110.5.
He’s had rookie moments on the floor this season, and he’s had quiet performances, but Allen’s also had strong outings, particularly on offense. Are you thinking about that Kansas game right now? Me too.
For every 40 minutes Allen is on the floor, he’s pouring in 15.3 points while shooting 42.1 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from deep. His true shooting percentage, which factors in 2-point, 3-point and free throw shots, is at 55.7 percent. That’s a mark that ranks third among Nebraska freshmen behind forward Ed Morrow (who didn’t attempt a single three) and Fuller again. He’s top five in player efficiency rating. No one has shot better from beyond the arc.
Long story short, the production and efficiency the Huskers are getting from their prized freshman is unlike any Miles has gotten before. Next season the Huskers lose Taylor and Gill to graduation. Watson and Palmer will be seniors. There’s the possibility more opportunity doesn’t equal sustained efficiency. There’s also the possibility Allen could shine.
Following that Kansas performance on Dec. 17, Miles shared a conversation he had with Allen a few days earlier
“‘If you weren't here when Glynn Watson was here, you'd be playing 27 minutes a night,’” Miles recalled telling Allen. “‘We just have more right now. That's good, because next year is going to be your time. We're going to lose two guys and you've got to be a star.’
“I think his potential is really good.”
I think so too. The numbers agree.
|MP||PTS per 40||REB per 40||
AST per 40
|TS%||FG%||3P%||PER||OWS||DWS||Off Rtg||Def Rtg|
|Glynn Watson Jr.||826||14.1||3.1||4.0||.455||.389||.267||13.7||0.8||1.0||101.5||105.0|
All statistics used courtesy of Sports-Reference.com
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.