January 10, 2006
WINSTON-SALEM -- When you examine the differences between last year's Wake Forest team, led by Chris Paul, and this year's team, which doesn't have a clear leader, the list is a long one. But lately, coach Skip Prosser has focused on one particular area.
"We've been a good offensive team, but no easy baskets," Prosser said. "Traditionally, we've been a good cheap-point team, whether it's fastbreak, whether it's offensive rebounding, whether it's out-of-bounds plays and free throws. We're still leaving way too many points at the foul line."
Prosser used that premise 12 games into the season, when he decided to install freshman Shamaine Dukes at point guard, his third starter at that position this year.
"We just weren't getting any cheap baskets," Prosser said, "and that's something that's been very good to us in the past."
Prosser's hope was that Dukes, a natural point guard, would up the Deacons' numbers in things such as steals, fastbreak baskets and penetration that leads to easy shots. In mid-January, the jury was still out.
Prosser traded Paul's numbers for essentially nothing so far this season. In Paul's absence, Wake either has received little from Dukes or fellow freshman Harvey Hale at the point, or when Justin Gray plays there, the Deacons get more production from the point but less from shooting guard.
The amount of points created by Paul that are now missing is astonishing. If you assume Gray is about the same as Gray's production last year, here's the difference between Paul (by himself) and the combination of Dukes, Hale and Michael Drum, Wake's other guards in this year's rotation:
Paul averaged 2.4 steals per game. Dukes, Hale and Drum (including his minutes at small forward) are averaging 1.5 combined.
Paul averaged 6.6 assists against 2.8 turnovers. Dukes, Hale and Drum are averaging 5.1 assists and 4.2 turnovers.
Paul shot 83 percent from the foul line on 5.8 shots per game. Dukes, Hale and Drum are shooting 76 percent on 4.9 shots per game.
Paul shot 47 percent from three-point range on 2.9 shots per game. Dukes, Hale and Drum are shooting 26.1 percent on 5.3 shots per game.
Paul averaged 15.3 points per game, compared to 10.6 for Dukes, Hale and Drum.
Put those all together, and it's easy to see that Paul was able to create a whole lot of easy points, both for himself and his teammates. There's no exact formula for how many more easy baskets Paul created, and those numbers don't even factor in Taron Downey's play for last year's team. But in raw numbers, last year's team averaged 9.2 points per game more than this year's team.
It's easy to see why Prosser is frustrated. Here's a closer look at the areas the coach used to define easy baskets:
Fastbreak points: Before conference play started last season, Wake was averaging 20.8 fastbreak points per game. This season, it averaged 13.8 prior to ACC play.
Offensive rebounding: Prosser's teams at Wake have averaged 13.8 offensive rebounds per game. This team is holding its own at 13.
Free throws: Prosser's teams at Wake have averaged 72 percent from the foul line, and this year's team is at 64.1.
If Wake was shooting 72 percent this year, it would average 2.2 more points per game, and when you figure in missed front ends on one-and-one chances, that number would creep toward three points per game.
It's interesting to note that Prosser's best team, the 2002-03 squad, also was his best in offensive rebounding (14.8 per game) and free throw shooting (75.2 percent).
In addition, this year's Deacons are averaging more turnovers than assists, with 181 assists to 228 turnovers through 13 games. Seemingly, that would be almost a guarantee of failure for a basketball team, but the stats show something very odd.
Over the last 11 years, 15 teams have won or tied for the ACC regular-season title. Thirteen of those teams had more assists than turnovers, led by Maryland's 1.4-to-1 ratio in 2001-02 (714 assists to 495 turnovers). That would seem to agree with the premise that great teams have more assists than turnovers.
However, two title teams had more turnovers than assists. Who did it? Wake Forest in 1994-95 and 2002-03, the Deacons' only titles during that period. So maybe all hope is not lost for this year's team.
DEPARTURES LEFT HOLE IN PROGRAM
Now that this year's freshmen have had some time to show their abilities, it's a little easier to look ahead to the 2006-07 season. The picture isn't exactly pretty, although it does bode a little better for the future.
Next year's Demon Deacons will be very young and thin on game experience. Wake will have only two juniors or seniors on the team: Drum, who's a walk-on transfer, and big man Kyle Visser.
What happened? Of the Wake signees who would have been graduating seniors in 2007, Paul left early and Jeremy Ingram (East Carolina) and Todd Hendley (UNC Wilmington) transferred, leaving Prosser with only Visser from that group. Meanwhile, Cameron Stanley was the entire Class of 2008, and he redshirted after a knee injury, so he'll be a sophomore next season.
At point guard in 2006-07, Prosser will have sophomore Dukes backed by (or perhaps playing behind) super-quick freshman Ish Smith. At shooting guard, sophomore Hale will be the incumbent, with high-scoring freshman Anthony Gurley also available. Both rookies will have a chance to play significant minutes, and possibly even take starting roles. Drum will be able to swing between shooting guard and small forward.
At small forward, Stanley also will return, but at this point he hasn't played many minutes, and it's unclear how he'll develop. He'll be backed by freshman L.D. Williams, who is athletic but raw. At power forward, sophomore Kevin Swinton will return, and he'll be backed by talented freshman Jamie Skeen (assuming he qualifies academically), who also could play some small forward.
In the middle, Visser will have some questionable help. David Weaver is redshirting this season as a freshman, so it's doubtful that he'll be a huge contributor next year. Fall signee Chas McFarland is a legitimate seven-footer, but he is expected to need even more long-term development time.
Although he went after a number of studs, Prosser was not able to land a huge-impact player in this year's class, although Smith, Gurley and/or Skeen could rise to that level over time. But all of this likely means that Prosser will have to work with a combination of talented but young players to succeed.
One major thing to look at: Wake will be very athletic and pretty deep. Without established stars, Prosser should have 10 players who can rotate, and basically all of them can run (even Visser). With some versatile parts, it should be easy for Prosser to have lineups that are big or small without losing much speed or athleticism. Perhaps the Deacons finally will have a team that also can make an impact on the defensive end.