What Haanif Cheatham Can Bring to Nebraska Basketball
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

What Haanif Cheatham Can Bring to Nebraska Basketball

May 23, 2019

Now that the dust has settled, it appears Fred Hoiberg is bringing in 11 new players for his first season as Nebraska’s head coach.

Five of those players have already played at the Division I level, giving us a better idea of what they’re going to bring to the program as opposed to the players coming out of high school or junior college (or out of France, in Yvan Ouedraogo’s case). With that in mind, Hail Varsity is going to take a look at each of those newcomers through the prism of their statistical profile courtesy of SynergySports Technology

So far, we’ve broken down the strengths and weaknesses of Shamiel Stevenson and Matej Kavas. Next up is Florida Gulf Coast grad transfer Haanif Cheatham.

The 6-foot-5, 195-pound fifth-year guard was the first transfer to commit to Hoiberg and he has had a long and winding road to Lincoln. He began his career at Marquette and got off to a great start with a terrific freshman season. 

However, he saw his role reduced as a sophomore and his play suffered, and that continued into his junior season when he chose to transfer to Florida Gulf Coast midseason. However, a chronic shoulder injury limited him and ultimately led to him shutting it down after 10 games. He got that season back and is choosing to spend it at Nebraska.

Given that Cheatham only played 10 games last season and wasn’t completely healthy, it’s not fair to judge him solely off those numbers, but given those are the most recent data points we can’t disregard them entirely. To get a larger sample size, I’m also including numbers from his freshman year at Marquette, his best season to date.

In 10 games at Florid Gulf Coast, Cheatham used 136 possessions and scored 119 points. His 0.875 points per possessions (PPP) was in the 49th percentile and is classified as “average.” He averaged 13.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.4 turnovers while shooting 45.4 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from 3 and 65 percent from the free-throw line.

As a freshman, he used up 413 possessions and scored 391 points (0.047 PPP, 71st percentile, “very good”). He put up 11.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.7 turnovers, starting all 33 games and averaging 29.5 minutes per game. Turnovers were a problem, but he shot career highs across the board in his first season of college basketball.

Cheatham’s offensive profile isn’t terribly diverse; in the halfcourt, the vast majority of his possessions have been him running pick-and-rolls or spotting up off the ball.

Cheatham used 75 possessions as a Pick-and-Roll Ball-Handler last season yet only produced 42 points for a 0.56 PPP average (8th percentile, “poor”). Individually, he shot 9-of-29 (31 percent) while drawing four shooting fouls and turning the ball over eight times, producing 22 points on 41 possessions (0.537 PPP, 16th percentile, “below average”).

He passed out of the pick-and-roll on 34 possessions, producing 20 points (0.588 PPP, 6th percentile, “poor”). That part of it isn’t entirely in his control, but the guys he passed to shot a combined 8-of-26, drew two fouls and turned the ball over six times. Nineteen of his passes went to spot-up shooters (three points, 2-of-15 shooting, one shooting foul, three turnovers), 12 went to the roll man (12 points, 5-of-9 shooting, one shooting foul, two turnovers).

As a freshman, Cheatham used 118 possessions in the pick-and-roll, converting them into 103 points (0.873 PPP, 56th percentile, “good”). When he finished the possession himself, he shot 24-of-52 (46.2 percent), drew eight shooting fouls and turned the ball over 14 times, scoring 65 points on 72 possessions (0.903, 81st percentile, “very good”). He was much more effective as a freshman.

His playmaking didn’t go as well. On 46 passing possessions, the Golden Eagles produced 38 points (0.836 PPP, 28h percentile, “below average”). His teammates shot 11-of-32 from the field with seven shooting fouls and seven turnovers. He hit spot-up shooters 25 times for 25 points (1.0 PPP, 65th percentile, “very good”) as they shot 8-of-20 with one shooting foul and four turnovers. However, he only hit the roll man 18 times and it led to 10 points (0.556 PPP, eighth percentile, “poor”) on 3-of-12 shooting with four trips to the line and two turnovers. 

Cheatham struggled mightily as a pick-and-roll creator last season, but he showed much more promise as a freshman. However, I wouldn’t expect much from him as a distributor, particularly hitting the roll man.

As a spot-up shooter last season, he was better than in the pick-and-roll but still not good. He had 39 possessions and turned them into 33 points (0.846 PPP, 40th percentile, “average”), shooting 11-of-29 (37.9 percent) with three shooting fouls and seven turnovers. He shot 5-of-13 on catch-and-shoot looks, all from 3, which is solid. He shot 4-of-9 with two shooting fouls at the rim for 12 points, which is just OK. He shot 1-of-4 on runners and 1-of-3 on pull-up jumpers.

He was good as a freshman, however, scoring 134 points on 143 possessions (0.937 PPP, 59th percentile, “good”). He shot 43-of-106 (40.6 percent) with 17 shooting fouls and 22 turnovers. On shots without a dribble — 42 possessions — he shot 18-of-42 and scored 54 points (1.286 PPP, 86th percentile, “excellent”). When he put it on the deck and attacked the rim — 59 possessions — he scored 62 points (1.051 PPP, 58th percentile, “good”), shooting 20-of-46 (43.5 percent) with 14 shooting fouls and two turnovers. He did well to get to the free-throw line, but that conversion rate around the basket leaves something to be desired. He shot 3-of-6 on runners and 2-of-12 on pull-up jumpers (both makes coming from deep).

Cheatham’s sample size on every other halfcourt play type is pretty small (less than six percent of his possessions). 

Last season, he used a combined 20 possessions of Isolation (eight), Cut (six), Hand-Off (five) and Put-Backs (five) and Off-Screen (one) and scored a total of 22 points, shooting 7-of-16 with six shooting fouls and one turnover.

The sample size was a little bigger as a freshman, but the percentages weren’t much different. He was good in isolation (14 points on 10 possessions, 5-of-8 shooting, one foul) ad as a cutter (31 points on 20 possessions, 11-of-13 shooting, six shooting fouls, three turnovers). However, he scored  total of 17 points on 29 possessions between hand-offs, running off screens and crashing the offensive glass.

He was great in the open court last season, scoring 40 points on 27 possessions (1.481 PPP, 97th percentile, “excellent”). He shot an incredible 18-of-23 (78.3 percent) with four shooting fouls and three turnovers.

A larger sample size as a freshman led to a lower success rate, but he was still good in transition. Cheatham scored 110 points on 101 possessions (1.089 PPP, 59th percentile, “good”). He shot 39-of-65 (60 percent) with 17 shooting fouls and 18 turnovers. 

Cheatham’s shot profile is pretty straight-forward, and Daryl Morey would be proud — it’s all layups and 3s. Last season, 21 of his 25 jump shots in the halfcourt were from beyond the 3-point line (he shot 7-of-21). He missed all four of his mid-range jumpers. It was similar as a freshman — 73 of his 75 halfcourt jumpers were 3s (he made 28 of them) and he missed both of his mid-range jumpers.

He’s a pretty good catch-and-shoot player. Last season, he shot 5-of-14 for 15 points (1.071 PPP, 62nd percentile, “good) overall including 4-of-9 on shots considered unguarded and 1-of-5 on guarded attempts. He was even better as a freshman, scoring 54 points on 42 possessions (1.286 PPP, 91st percentile, “excellent”). He shot 18-of-42 (42.9 percent) overall including 9-of-22 on unguarded looks and 9-of-20 on guarded ones.

He was only 2-of-11 on pull-up jumpers this season (not good) but was better as a freshman, shooting 9-of-30 (it’s not a great shot, but 0.9 PPP was in the 76th percentile and considered “very good”). Again, the vast majority of these shots are from deep.

Despite the difference in sample size, his overall halfcourt shot profile held steady from his freshman year to last year. Synergy tracked 281 halfcourt shooting possessions between the two seasons with 55.2 percent of those coming at the rim and 35.6 of them coming on jump shots. The remainder — 26 possessions — were classified as runners and he was terrible at them (6-of-26). He was significantly better as a freshman on both jumpers (1.12 PPP, 87th percentile, “excellent”) and shots at the rim (1.132 PPP, 58th percentile, “good”) than he was last season.

I’ll be curious to see what role Hoiberg has planned for Cheatham. Personally, I think he’d be best served as the first guard off the bench. If he’s healthy and can get back to his freshman year form, he’ll be a valuable scorer spotting up on the wing while Cam Mack and Jervay Green create looks for themselves and others off the bounce. Run the floor, mix in a few pick-and-rolls and the occasional isolation or cut and I think that Cheatham can quite aa bit provide value to the Huskers in his lone season in Lincoln, especially considering his reputation on the defensive end.

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