Finals Week Review: The Players

Yesterday's issue of the Finals Week Review looked at the Illini as a whole team and how they have become the Number One team in the nation. Today's issue of the Finals Week Review looks at each of the players on the Illini roster and how they have played in the non-conference schedule so far this season.

Heading into the 2004-2005 season, the focus was on the Illinois guards, specifically juniors Dee Brown and Deron Williams. Williams was named the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year by the media, and at the beginning of the season, he had jumped over Dee Brown as the consensus "best player" on the Fighting Illini roster. Dee and Deron were supposed to be the two players that carried Illinois to the Final Four, but so far this season senior Luther Head has been the guard that has excelled and stood out amongst his back court teammates.

In the front court, the major questions that were being asked when the season started was who was whether or not junior James Augustine could make the jump into being the game in and game out post presence, but so far this season, Illinois' interior scoring has come not from James, but from senior Roger Powell. The question still remains on how the Illini will consistently defend a dominant post scorer, but with the way Illinois has handled players like Gonzaga's Ronnie Turiaf the question is much less a worry than it was at the start of the season.

31.89 20.49 1.48 4.04 0.84 0.14 6.27 2.51 2.50 1.95 58.6 1.81
Luther has been Illinois' most consistent player this season, and has shown that he should be mentioned in the same breath as his backcourt teammates Dee Brown and Deron Williams. Luther is leading Illinois in scoring total, and is second on the team in points scored per forty minutes. There are two big differences between Luther this season and the previous three: his passing and his defense. While Luther is still behind his backcourt teammates in assists, he has improved his assist numbers while decreasing his turnovers giving him the highest assist to turnover ration on the Illini team so far this season.

Last season Luther showed flashes of his defense, with the best display being when he guarded Indiana's Bracey Wright in the final minutes of the Illinois come from behind win over the Hoosiers in Bloomington. This season, his defense has progressed to the point where he is normally guarding the opposing team's best guard or wing forward. To go along with his on the ball improvement in defense, Luther is also playing better off the ball defense which is indicative in the amount of steals he has gotten so far this season.

The one thing that I would like to see Luther do more of is the same thing I would like to see the rest of the guards do, take the ball to the basket more often. 58.6% of all of Luther's shots are coming from behind the arc, but that is not the most bothersome statistic to highlight this. Luther is only taking one free throw for approximately every seven shots he takes, which means he is only getting to the free throw line just over one time per game. For a player that is such a good free throw shooter, and who has improved his mid range game, he should be taking the ball to the basket more because either way he will get some easy points.

31.11 17.11 1.63 3.71 1.00 0.18 7.00 3.29 2.13 1.71 59.2 2.29
Coming into this season, there were rumors that Dee's shin injury may hamper him throughout the season, and could possibly call for a red shirt. Those rumors were stamped out the day they started, as people pointed towards Dee's second half of last season as what to expect from the Illini point guard this season. Every one knew Dee was a great player in the open court, but his improvement in the half court is what people would be watching for this season.

The one sign I took as the largest improvement in his game was his willingness to use his left hand in finishing shots both on breakaways and in traffic in the half court. Last year, I counted only two times where Dee has used his left hand, but this season he is now using it about once a game when the situation calls for it. Dee has seemed to learn even more how to use his body to shield the defender from the ball while laying it off the glass with the correct hand.

In the half court game, Dee has improved in almost every aspect and it shows on the court. He is a very efficient player on the offensive end of the court as he is scoring 1.63 points for every shot he puts up (this number is heavily weighted thanks to his torrid three point shooting so far this season). Often times this season on secondary breaks, Dee runs to the exact position that will be open on the court, and he is found by a teammate for an open three pointer.

Like the rest of the Illinois back court, Dee relies a little too much on the three point shot as his main scoring weapon. With his quickness, and three point shooting ability he should use the ball fake more to get his defender in the air and he can get to the basket. From there he can finish the shot, get to the free throw line, or find an open teammate when the defense rushes to him to slow up the ball.

25.89 20.94 1.69 8.07 2.75 0.36 0.69 0.69 1.00 0.86 13.89 3.61
Roger is the most efficient scorer on the Illinois team, despite only being the third highest total scorer on the roster. This season Roger has once again shown that he can step out on the floor, something he did not do very much last season. He has already shot ten three pointers this season (he is six for ten), and he has taken numerous fifteen-eighteen foot jump shots in the flow of the Illinois offense.

The one thing Roger is the best at on the Illinois team is taking advantage of the situation that presents him. While he may be undersized at the power forward position, Roger uses his instincts, strength, and quickness to slow down opposing offensive players and find the ball off the rim before opposing defenders have a chance to box him out.

When Roger receives the ball, it very rarely leaves his hands towards a teammate or an opposing defender, it is normally going towards the basket. In nine games this season, Roger has a total of four assists and four turnovers, while making 72 shot attempts. This is not an issue at all because when Roger gets the ball, he is in a position to score, and he has received an entry pass from a teammate. With the ball in his hands, Roger is Illinois' most aggressive player in terms of heading to the basket as he takes one free throw for just under every three attempted shots.

31.44 16.25 1.22 4.81 0.71 0.28 8.76 4.24 2.07 0.71 47.87 1.84
Heading into this season, the pressure was finally on Deron Williams. He was the media's selection as Big Ten Pre-Season Player of the Year, and many of the preview magazines had him on their Pre-Season All American teams. This was a lot of hype for the junior to live up, and a large spotlight was now on him instead of Brian Cook and Dee Brown like it had been in the previous two years. Unfortunately for Deron, he has struggled thus far on the season and as of yet has not lived up to his pre-season billing. All of this is probably bothering Deron, but it is not outwardly visible because all he cares about is his team winning basketball games.

This year Deron's shot has been off, and he has been more careless with the ball than in the past. Through the first nine games of the season, he is committing the most turnovers of any of Illinois guards. He is turning the ball over at a pace of just over one turnover for every ten minutes he is on the court, and that is not what we have seen from Deron in the past. He seems to be trying to hard to both make the spectacular play and look fancy while doing it. This has caused Deron to have some uncharacteristic turnovers including getting the ball stolen from him while he dribbles (the Ronnie Brewer steal & dunk in the Arkansas game).

While his back court teammates have been shooting lights out to start off the season, Deron has struggled from the floor this season. In the first four or five games, he fell in love with the three point shot, and was not taking the ball to the basket. As his outside shot continued to struggle, Deron pressed more and more on offense, which is the main reason his turnover numbers have increased. In the final four games before the week long break, Deron has been more active with the ball, and has been taking the ball to the basket more. Out of the three starting guards, he is shooting the fewest three point shots as only 47.9% of his shot attempts are from behind the arc, and he is taking one free throw for every three and a half shots.

Like Dee Brown discovered last year, Deron found out it is not easy when you are the player opposing defenses are keying to slow down. Just like Dee, Deron has adjusted his game as the season progressed to be an even better team player. Deron is still the best passer on the team in terms of finding an open teammate by just under two assists for every forty minutes played, and as he starts to take the ball to the basket more and more, his offensive game will come around.

23.33 16.38 1.69 11.81 4.19 0.55 2.29 2.10 1.09 1.33 0.00 3.62
Former Illinois coach Lon Kruger always said that the biggest jump seen in a college big man was between their sophomore and junior seasons (often times in reference to the then much maligned Robert Archibald), and many Illini fans were hoping that comment would ring true once again in the form of James Augustine. This summer, Augustine attended a big man camp that fans had hoped would teach him to be more aggressive with the basketball offensively, but no one knew what they would get from Augustine until he stepped on the floor for the season.

Offensively, James has not been what Illinois fans, and probably he was hoping for this season. He is the only Illinois starter not averaging in double figures this season, but because he only plays about 23 minutes a game, he is scoring 0.13 points more per forty minutes than Deron Williams. Where James has improved his game immensely is his ability to get to the offensive boards. Surprisingly, so far this season he is pulling down nearly one and a half offensive rebounds more than Roger Powell, Jr., who I always considered the best offensive rebounder on Illinois. James is also clearing off the defensive back board as he is averaging seven defensive rebounds per forty minutes played as well.

With his length and quickness on defense, James is the player that Bruce Weber likes to use to trap opposing big men on the blocks. While Roger is playing his man between him and the basket, James will normally go over and trap the post with Roger. This is an effective way to create turnovers from opposing centers and power forwards, and fast breaks for Illinois. The other thing that James often does defensively is double team the ball handler on high ball screens. The combination of his trapping in the post and double teams on the high post off ball screens has lead to his 1.33 steals per forty minutes.

The most frustrating thing about watching James play basketball is I don't think he even realizes how good he can be. On offense, he is far too tentative and most of the time will catch a ball in the post, and then pass it right back out to a guard without even looking to get a shot. Against zones, he will get the ball in the short corner, and he hesitates to take the fifteen foot jump shot, which I know he can make. James may be the only player I scream at during the game to shoot the ball, I want to see him take more shots when he has the opportunity and make more post moves, but right now he just is not confident enough in himself. Hopefully that confidence will come when Illinois needs it the most against teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten.

16.89 10.79 1.17 3.68 0.79 0.06 2.63 1.84 1.43 0.26 88.57 2.11
If this were a game of Jeopardy! and the answer was: "88.6% of this Illinois players shots so far on the 2004-2005 season have been from behind the arc." I would wager that any one who has watched an Illinois game would be able to get the right question: "Who is Rich McBride?" Rich is Illinois' three point specialist off the bench, and has filled that role for the last two years successfully replacing Sean Harrington. The problem with that is, Rich can and should provide more to Illinois than just shooting because he can do so much more.

The pump fake should become Rich's best friend. If Rich were to pump fake a shot from behind the three point line and then dribble around the defender who is either quickly closing out, or already in the air, he would become a huge offensive threat. Right now, he is not pump faking three pointers, he is just shooting them. Yes, he is shooing 35.5% from behind the arc, but he would be scoring more and be a bigger offensive threat if he would take the ball to the basket. Of all the Illinois players (including Shaun Pruitt) he has been to the foul line the least (2 attempts) and at this rate, he will only get to the foul line for two shots in the next nine games.

8.56 20.26 1.26 8.31 4.16 0.32 1.04 2.60 0.40 2.60 6.45 5.71
I hate to say this, but I will. The best thing to happen to Warren Carter was Brian Randle punching that wall in practice. The injury to Randle has allowed Warren to play more minutes this season at both the wing and power forward positions, and in blow out situations (which Illinois has grown accustomed to) the shooting guard. Last year, Warren rarely saw time on the court, and probably should have red shirted. This year he has shown athleticism in a big man that has not been seen in Champaign for a long time. His long arms and quickness off the ground has made him a threat on the glass on both sides of the court.

While he is not always seeing the front line defensive players from other teams, and even when he is they may have already quit, Warren is putting up impressive scoring numbers so far this season. He is third in the number of points scored per minute on the court behind Luther Head and Roger Powell, Jr. because he can score both on the inside and with the mid range jumper. Offensively, the one problem that Warren still has is with handling the speed of the game, and that is displayed in his turnover numbers which are more in line with what you would see from a guard instead of a post player.

The reason Warren is seeing less time than the other back up big men is because he is still adjusting to the speed of the game, especially defensively. That is partially because he is forced to normally guard an opponent's wing forward while he is on the court, and that is difficult for Warren, but he is doing an admirable job and has improved as every game has gone on.

13.00 10.94 0.80 9.57 3.42 0.20 3.08 3.42 0.90 1.37 5.00 5.47
If there is one Illinois player that you can label as a disappointment so far this season, it would have to be senior Nick Smith. Last year during the winning streak that led to the Big Ten championship, and then the run to the Sweet 16, Nick was an important cog in the Illinois machine, but this year he has just not been there on the court. I dubbed Nick the "Human Zone Buster" last season because of his ability to see the floor and know exactly where to be to break the zone by either the pass or the shot, but something has eluded Nick through the first nine games of the season, and it has visibly frustrated him. His frustration peaked against Oregon on Saturday when he drew a technical for throwing the ball down the court after having a foul called on him.

Hopefully, that technical foul and the time off can give Nick a chance to reflect and recondition himself for the Big Ten stretch run. These struggles seem to be approximately a yearly thing for Nick in the non-conference schedule, and the only reason I can think of is the pace of the game is to fast for the plodding seven footer. Illinois is playing at a pace of four possession more per game than they did last season, and that might be having an effect on how Nick is playing. He is uncharacteristically turning the ball over and making the wrong reads on passes. In fact his rate of turnovers is the second highest on the team, only below Deron Williams. His assist to turnover ration is below one, which is not something you would expect to see from such a good passing big man.

I don't know what to expect from Nick other than to say he is an enigma on the court. In one game he can play amazing and you know why he is on the court, and then in the next game he can lay an ostrich egg on the court, and just bother himself and the coaches as much as the fans. Hopefully, once the Big Ten season starts, and Illinois is forced to slow the pace they are playing (it is easier to slow down a team than speed them up) he will get more comfortable on the court and play like he did in key games down the stretch last season like Indiana and Purdue.

11.67 9.52 1.19 8.38 2.67 0.33 0.76 1.14 0.67 1.52 9.52 6.48
During the Wake Forest game I was watching and though, "Which one of these players doesn't fit in with the others?" The answer was obviously Jack Ingram. Illinois fans and coaches know what they are going to get from the power forward from San Antonio, TX, but he is not what one would call quick. His lack of quickness and speed was definitely accentuated when Illinois played Wake Forest, but he makes up for it with his hustle and positioning.

When Jack comes in the game, Illinois fans can expect solid play and few mistakes. He will take the open seventeen footer, and the occasional three point shot, but he is better when he is not taking shots. His best asset to the Illinois offense is his ability to set the screen, and his willingness to do so. Off of screens Jack has a good feel on whether or not he should roll to the basket, or is he should slide to the side for the jump shot.

Defensively, Jack is Jack. He will play solid defense and provide a big body to bang against while James Augustine and Roger Powell, Jr. are getting their rests during the game. On the defensive glass, Jack is one of the more effective rebounders on the Illinois team pulling down just under six rebounds for every forty minutes he is on the court.

5.13 14.63 1.36 9.76 5.85 0.82 0.00 6.83 0.00 2.93 0.00 7.80
Shaun has only played in blowouts, and after the game was already decided, so his stats here really mean nothing. I don't think anyone expects Shaun to play much more than he has in the non-conference schedule and the games get closer in conference season, in fact I bet he will see less time. There are good things to point to in terms of what Illinois can expect from him in the future, but right now, he is just not ready to break into the rotation ahead of Nick, Jack, or Warren.

2.14 10.67 1.33 8.00 5.33 0.00 2.67 0.00 - 0.00 0.00 10.67
Everyone loves the walk ons, yes even IBWalkon, so of course every one loves Fred Nkemdi. The best part of this season has been seeing Fred throw down slam dunks while his teammates cheered him on from the bench as Illinois was closing out yet another lopsided victory. I hope to see Fred play in every game because it will most likely mean Illinois has the game well in hand and is coasting on their way to yet another victory.

Abbreviation Description
MPG Minutes per Game
PP40M Points per 40 minutes
PPSA Points per Shot Attempt
RP40M Rebounds per 40 Minutes
ORP40 Offensive Rebounds per 40 Minutes
FTPSA Free Throws per Shot Attempt
AP40M Assists per 40 Minutes
TOP40 Turnovers per 40 Minutes
A/TO Assist to Turnover Ratio
SP40 Steals per 40 Minutes
%3PS % of shots that are Three Pointers
PFP40 Personal Fouls per 40 Minutes

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