"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, July 18, 2011

Trying to explain Jae Crowder’s greatness

Jae Crowder was ranked as the 64th best player in the country by the new Basketball Prospectus (DJO was 41st). When I crunched the numbers last month for the several thousand Division I players who will be on the court, I ranked Crowder even higher as the 48th best.

For someone like me who studies the 8 key player stats at www.kenpom.com, Crowder’s greatness is readily apparent because he is simply great at almost everything. To simplify these 8 stats I sorted by each to show the percentile for each BCS player in each category so that the best 1% of BCS players at shooting were in the 100th percentile, and the worst 1% were in the 1st percentile, etc.

As great as I knew Crowder was, even I was shocked to find that he was the ONLY BCS player in the country that was in the 80th percentile or better in 6 of 8 key stats. Here is the table for all Marquette players, which has your typical breakdown of players who are great at blocking shots but terrible at assists, or vice versa, etc.

Jae Crowder100%62%43%81%81%83%80%88%
Davante Gardner64%95%18%88%98%5%66%67%
Chris Otule19%48%1%82%86%11%98%57%
Darius Johnson-Odom72%82%67%55%19%34%34%32%
Jake Thomas (RS)83%52%49%44%12%31%42%62%
Jamil Wilson31%13%40%21%75%39%79%68%
Vander Blue17%44%62%3%53%83%52%47%
Junior Cadougan2%48%91%7%17%31%21%23%

There were 18 other BCS players who were in the 80th+ percentile in 5 of the 8 categories, but you can argue that Crowder is statistically the most complete player in the country because he is not only phenomenal in 6 of 8 areas, but even in the other two is above average at drawing fouls and well above average for a front line player at assists. Here is the breakdown of the 8 categories:

The following walks through the eight things a player can do to win games (that we can measure). Crowder is …

1. GREATEST at not turning the ball over. This is the least known of the big 8 stats, but an offense can’t do anything else if the ball is turned over. Jae Crowder was in the 100th percentile of protecting the ball, only giving it up 8% of the time, meaning only Marcus Denman of Missouri and Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin were better in all of D1 baskeball at protecting the ball.

2. GOOD at drawing fouls. Getting to the line is key, and this is one of only two categories at which Crowder was good but not great, as he was in the 62nd percentile. Davante was one of the best in the country (95th percentile) and DJO wasn’t far behind (82nd percentile).

3. GOOD at setting up a basket with an assist. This is the only of the eight where Crowder’s percentile was below an average BCS starter at the 43rd percentile, but he was over the 60th percentile among frontline players so he is a good assist man. Junior was in the 91st percentile in assist rate, a perfect traditional point guard if he cuts out the early season turnovers.

4. GREAT at hitting the shot. Crowder was in the 81st percentile shooting based on effective Field Goal percentage (treys count at 1.5 made), due to his ability to score at the hoop or from beyond the arc. Gardner and Otule were even better from the post, but Crowder’s number is even better than many centers who shoot form five feet and in most of the time.

5. GREAT at offensive rebounds. Likewise, when a shot is missed Crowder is better than even many centers – in the 81st percentile at grabbing the offensive rebound. Gardner was just a beast in the 98th percentile, while Otule was also excellent, and this is where Jamil Wilson could be so exciting – already registering in the 75th percentile of offensive rebounds in his freshman year at Oregon.

6. GREAT at steals. When we get to the defensive end of the court, the only two returning MU players who are above average at steals are Crowder and Blue, but they are both WAY above average at a phenomenal 83th percentile (Crowder was actually one spot ahead of Blue in the national rankings).

7. GREAT at blocking shots. If you can’t steal it, you can block the shot and Crowder is once again great in the 80th percentile in blocking shots. Another reason to get excited about Jamil is that he was in the 79th percentile his freshman season, so he was already a great shot blocker and offensive rebounder even before his red shirt year of working out last year. Of course, Otule was unreal, finishing in the 98th percentile in the percentage of opponents’ shots he blocked.

8. GREAT at defensive rebounds. Crowder is BY FAR our greatest defensive rebounders and one of the best in the country, ranking in the 88th percentile.

Is Crowder the best player in the country?


You can’t measure everything with stats, and some stats are more important than others, so you can’t weight these stats equally. Kemba Walker was one of 18 BCS players in the 80th+ percentile in 5 of the 8 categories, but when these are weighted in my Value Add system he is obviously better for the number of minutes he plays, the possessions he takes over, and his ability to put the ball in the hoop, even if he is not great at offensive or defensive rebounding, or shot blocking.

Since it’s baseball season for those of you who don’t live and breathe MU basketball all year like me, let me make a baseball analogy.

Jae Crowder = Craig Biggio

In the late 1990s, when Barry Bonds was clearly the greatest statistical player in the game, Bill James shocked everyone by saying that Craig Biggio was the 2nd best player in the NL. While everyone respected Biggio’s hard work and would love to have a guy who would give you a .300 batting average, 20 HRs and 80 RBIs a season, he hardly seemed to be one of the best two players in the league.

James explanation goes a long way to explaining Crowder’s greatness. James said that he usually ignored the league leaders in a lot of “little stats” like doubles and triples, being hit by pitches and stealing bases because by themselves they didn’t have a lot of impact.

However, Biggio was unique because he was near the league leaders in so many little stats, stealing 97 of 115 bases (84%) in 1997-98, leading the league in being hit by pitches and in doubles several times, etc., that when you added all of the “little things” he did to his triple crown numbers he was better than all of the great home run hitters of the era except Bonds:


Biggio was not as great a player as Bonds, who was hitting twice as many homers a year already to slug 100 points higher. Likewise, Crowder does more things well than Jared Sullinger, for example, but Sullinger is so dominant on both sets of boards and can take the game over so much of the time, that he is by far the best returning college player this year despite being excellent in 4 of 8 key stats vs. 6 of 8 for Crowder.

However, Crowder’s greatness is among the best in the country, and hopefully he won’t go down as one of the most underrated players by our fan base as they come to appreciate all of the things he does.

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