Focussing on the 2016-17 season, GI looks at leader Nate Mason who is entering his junior year

The numbers of Nate Mason were building by the day. Nate led the Gophers in scoring in scoring and assists last year and had the team turning the corner before an end of the year suspension stopped everything.

Statistically Speaking

The Good

Mason started all 27 games he played before the suspension averaging 13.8 points and 4.5 assists per game shooting just under 80 percent from the foul line. Mason has scored 696 points in 60 games as a Gopher and that’s a pace that will put him at least in the top ten in scoring in Gopher history barring any injury or other setback.

At his current pace of creating for others, Nate will finish in the top three minimal all time in assists (has 213 in two years played, Kevin Burleson is second all time with 440). Mason also has a chance to finish in the top five in steals as Nate has 83 and needs 180 to pass Quincy Lewis who is fifth all time (so he has to get 97 in his next two seasons).

Last winter Mason improved his free throw shooting from 61.4 percent as a frosh to 79.6 percent at a sophomore. Nate continues to keep a low turnover number with 213 assists in his two years to only 82 turnovers (that’s a career 2.6 to 1 assist to turnover ratio).

The Not so Good

The overall field goal percentage numbers went down from 41 percent to 39 percent overall and 39 percent to 30 percent at the arc. Those numbers must get better although every fans are aware that Nate was commonly forced to take tough shots late in the possessions because the shot clock was winding down.

Why did that happen? Because Nate was the Gopher that would receive the ball after everything else failed and was expected to create a tough shot out of nothing. Mason took four more shots a game this year on average (than his freshman season) while playing just six more minutes than he did as a freshman. That lets you know how much more responsibility he had.

The Gophers could use his number of steals to go back to where they were as a freshman. Nate had 59 in year one, 24 in year two. He of course played six more games as a freshman and the Gophers pressured more in the full court two years ago.

Focus on 2016-17

The feeling is that Nate is going to have a massive junior year, or at least he should. With new talent coming in as well as young players around him getting older and more experienced, Mason should not have to do as much as he did last year in terms of creating shots for himself and others.  The offense and the improvement of teammates should help with that. The talent on the team should be able to create as a unit in a more balanced way.

Will Mason play all lead guard? Some shooting guard? Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer have shown they can handle but Mason is the closest thing this team has to a pure point guard and he did that very well last season. Right now you would expect him to play most, or nearly all of his minutes at lead guard unless one of the young players shows they can handle it which would allow Mason to at times be purely a scorer.

You want the ball in Mason’s hands. Rarely does he turn it over despite so much pressure on him to produce. He led the team to a couple nice late season wins before the suspension (18/6/6 vs Maryland, 13 points in 26 minutes in the blowout of Rutgers) and all eyes are on him as the leader coming into the pinnacle of his career.

The shooting percentages do need to go up. With more experienced talent around him that will happen for Mason but how much? The nasty pull-up jumper will always be hit with a high percentage and next year this team should improve in all ways so you shouldn’t see Mason forcing difficult contested shots with two seconds on the shot clock and a defender in his face as much. The percentages at the arc in space need to get better and within the team framework Nate should be open to catch and hit from teammates in space.

The numbers will go up with more experience around him but how much? It depends on his off-season of work and how the team comes together. Expect Nate to get more open floor high percentage finishes as a junior when his team is better defensively which will in turn result in more turnovers and likely more full court pressuring situations.

The Right Stat Line

I don’t think the averages will be that much different with better players around him. I think the percentages will be better. Nate played 33 minutes a game averaging about 14 points, 4-5 assists, 3 rebounds, and a steal a game as a sophomore. I can see most of those totals being about the same or a bit better (maybe another point or two a game).

I would expect the percentages to be much higher. Nate will likely trade in many of the late shot clock low percentage shots for some easier open floor scores and some catch and shoot makes in space as well as some one or two dribble attack baskets into open lanes. I would expect him to shoot about 42-44 percent from the floor overall, about 35 percent at the arc, and over 80 percent at the foul line.

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