So, I've had plenty of time to kill the past few days and have been doing a lot of thinking.
I know, that's a scary deal to begin with.
Those are both extremely subjective topics. Ability, skill, mentality, value, worth… We could go back and forth for days about these things.
Instead, I revert to this question: Who would you rather have on your team? If you didn't have to explain it or prove anything… Tear all that away, you have the first pick in a Rayvonte Rice-Brandon Paul draft and tell me who ya got?
I'm selecting Rice.
And don't call me a prisoner of the moment. In this day of what's now is awesome and what's next is even better, I get that it's easy to lose perspective.
I remember Brandon Paul very well. He scored 20 points the first time I ever saw him play. He blew my mind when he buried Gonzaga in it's own place with 35 points on 16 shots. The buzzer beater against Minnesota provided one of my favorite "I cover sports and this team but that was really cool and I'm gonna say it out loud" moments of all time. And I admired that he was the focal point on a team that won the Maui Invitational and an NCAA Tournament game.
So, none of what I'm about to type should be taken as a slight to Paul. He gave Illinois four years of service and represented himself and the Orange and Blue in fine fashion.
(After all the build-up, you know I'm about to rough him up a little bit).
With that said, Paul always felt like a pipe dream to me. He was so very skilled and his talent was immense. People talked how good he was. I called people back in Georgia and raved about him all the time.
Then some games would start, and he would remind us why the NBA was about to pass over him. He was a 6-foot-4, 200-pound volume shooter. Those kind of players are a dime a dozen in the professional ranks.
Quite frankly, sometimes Paul would take shots that just downright pissed me off. I get it. He was the catch-all guy last year that when the shot clock hit 10 had to make something happen. I'm not talking about that though. I thought there were too many times when he should have driven the ball, should have been more physical, should have pressed the issue. He'd settle for a jumper though.
It wasn't enough to make me hate him. But it was something that lingered in my brain. I knew at any time, Paul could forget about everything else and throw up another dumb shot. Enough went in that made me feel like the frustrating scenario could happen again.
Anyway… Rice isn't without his flaws. But I prefer his attacking nature. And he just seems mentally tougher.
So… let me throw some stats out there to back myself up. I'm doing so with a major point in mind. Paul's stats are after he endured the crazy-hard gauntlet of the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament play last season. Rice has to go through that, so this is a topic we can revisit come March. Hopefully for you guys, it's late March and not early.
Let's start with the numbers for you guys seeking to turn this into a value or worth debate…
So far this season Rice has logged 81.3 percent of the minutes played. Last season, Paul played in 79.8.
Rice touches the ball on 26.6 of the possessions he's on the floor for. He shoots 29 percent of the shots.
Paul: 28.8 percent of the possessions and 27.6 percent of the shots.
So, Rice actually shoots it more and since Paul was more of combo than Rice, he saw the ball more often.
Offensive rating (which is a crazy long formula that I don't understand and is probably something that only Bill Nye truly gets. All I know is, the higher the number the better): Rice 124, Paul 104. For comparison sake, D.J. Richardson was a 106.7 last season as Paul's second banana and Tracy Abrams is a 103 with Rice this season.
So Rice is way ahead in this category, ahead of everybody else under John Groce's offensive tutelage.
Tired of all the stats yet? Don't be. We must push on.
Let's look at the shooting percentages. This might, or might not, surprise you. Rice is about to take a clean sweep.
Last season, Paul shot 48 percent inside the arc, 32 percent from 3 and 73.8 from the free throw line.
His effective field goal percentage (where 3-pointers are weighed 50 percent more heavily) was 48.6.
Rice: 57.7 on twos, 33.3 on threes, 73.3 on freebies, 54.9 effective field goal percentage.
Now, basketball isn't just about scoring and shooting. Far from it. Let's dig further.
First, rebounding. Paul was a slightly better defensive rebounder (grabbing 14.4 of all defensive rebounds possible) compared to Rice (14.1). That essentially a push.
However, Rice is a much better offensive rebounder, pulling 6.1 percent of all offensive boards possible, as opposed to Paul's 2.1.
The two split again in the two major categories pertaining to distribution. Paul assisted 19.6 percent of the shots his teammates hit while he was on the court. That's a pretty decent number. Rice isn't shabby at 13.5 percent, but Paul clearly has the upper hand, most likely due to sharing the point guard duties with Abrams. In turn, Paul's turnover rate (a number measuring the rate of personal possessions that ended with a turnover) was 17.7. That seems high, but for a guy that touched the ball and did as much as Paul, it's not that bad. That's what makes Rice's percentage, at 8.6 percent, even more impressive. That puts him in the top 100 in the country in the category. That's quite a feat for a player that does as much as he does.
OK, so I've thrown a lot of stats at you. Take a break, walk around or do something to clear your head. I've got a few more miscellaneous items and we're done.
One of my favorite things about watching Paul was his tendency to block shots. It's not something that happened often, but I loved watching him sneak down into the paint and swat an attempt by an unsuspected big. That's a subtle joy of mine. Paul blocked 2.3 percent of all the two-point attempts while he was on defense. Rice has rejected 1.2. Rice and Paul are virtual equals when it comes to stealing the ball. Rice's steal percentage (steals divided by %minutes times team possessions) is 2.6 percent compared to Paul's 2.3.
And lastly (finally), a surprising kicker for those of you still wading through this stat swamp with me. Paul actually drew more fouls per 40 minutes last season at 5.6, with Rice drawing 5.2. I figured the nod would go to Rice due to his propensity to drive to the basket. Even more surprising, Paul got to the free throw line at a higher rate last year. His rate (100 times free throws attempted divided by field goals attempted), a number that shows a player's trips to the line relative to his takes from the field, was 44.9. Rice is at 39.1. That, to me, didn't go the way I thought it would.
And thus concludes our basketball nerd session. For those of you playing at home, Rice won the stats battle 9-7.
Remember -- RICE HAS TO PLAY 17 MORE BIG TEN GAMES. And whatever else comes after that. Paul's numbers reflect that mess.
Still, I'm taking Rice. And I've spent way too much time thinking about it. The stats support my pick, but some players transcend numbers. Whereas some part of my brain winced at times when Paul had the ball, the opposite occurs with Rice. His play, raucous as it can be at times, calms me. He makes me feel like he's going to figure it out and make points happen. He's going to get a stop or a steal and Illinois is going to win. Some players give me that feeling. Rice does. And so, he's my pick.
Who would you rather have? Why? Talk it out HERE on the Illinois message board.