Stanford basketball exit reviews: seniors

A review of the three departing Stanford basketball seniors

Chasson Randle

 Just moments after Chasson's grit and savvy had eked out an NIT Championship, I tweeted stats from his final line score (8-16 FG, 25 Pts, 45 Turnover-Free Minutes) and said that I missed him already. Now, over a week later, I'd say that sentiment is still sincere.  His excellence has become such a huge part of Stanford's identity that it seems inconceivable that we'll be watching a Stanford team try to succeed without him in seven months. So much has been said about his Senior season, one that ultimately fell short of his own expectations, that many have probably lost sight of just how far he's come.  Luckily, we've got plenty of statistical reminders to place into context the ground he's covered.

    John Hollinger's PER has become one of the preeminent player measuring terms in the game. A look at Chasson's PER from his first to his final year tracks his incredible growth.  He rated a 15 on Hollinger's scale as a Freshman, but finished overall at 22.5 (21.3 in Pac-12 play) as a Senior.  That's a significant amount of growth, all the more when you consider that his responsibility grew every year that he played.  His usage rate was always high, but never higher than the 28.2% he accumulated this year. Stanford's offense relied heavily on Chasson to create points either for himself or for others, and despite the fact that he never became a "true" point guard, he assisted on 20.3% of his team's buckets while on the floor, up from 14% as a Freshman.  Conversely, his turnover percentage dropped from 14% his first year to a miniscule 9% this year. One of Stanford's strengths as a team was taking care of the ball, and a big part of that was the effectiveness of its chief ball handler.

    Chasson was one of the more efficient players in the Pac-12 (9th highest), but his well-documented February slump kept him from being one of the most efficient players in the nation.  The problem was very clear:  Chasson's slump brought down his three point shooting percentage to the lowest of his career at 34%. Combine that with the highest three-point rate (46%) since his Freshman season and you get the lowest eFG% of his career. That 19% three-point shooting February really dented what was a spectacular season for #5.  The fact that his free throw rate declined from 50% to 45% helps pin the culpability on fatigue.  Tired players settle for jumpers and stop attacking the bucket.  And while it is fair to say that some of the three pointers came as a result of Chasson bailing out the offense at the end of the shot clock, he had that responsibility for the entire year, not just February.

     As happens often with players who carry a big offensive burden, Chasson's defense suffered as a consequence.  His DRtg increased (i.e. got worse) each year as his usage and responsibility increased. As a Freshman, his rating was about 101 (points allowed per 101 possessions).  This season he finished at 106.9.  This despite the fact that he successfully cut down on his fouling by almost an entire foul per game. He did have the highest steal percentage on the team, but the truth is that he just didn't have the energy to be a two-way player. I wouldn't necessarily call him a liability on that end of the floor, but he was nowhere near the player he was on offense. It's relevant now in terms of projecting his future. I'd think he could score an invite to an NBA camp and possibly find his way onto a D-League roster, but he won't dominate one on one the way he often did in college, which means his defense is going to have to improve. Chasson has shown nothing but a great attitude, so I feel certain that on a team where his minutes are controlled and he has better offensive support, he'd be more than willing to develop and commit to that end of the floor.

    All that being said, Stanford loses one of its all-timers this year. The best thing to emerge from Rock Island since Jake and Elwood, I will never forget his guts, his class, or his game.  He never backed down from the final shot, and he took responsibility for his failings and deflected credit to teammates when talking about his enormous successes.  That kind of integrity is rare, and I suspect Stanford will miss the intangible strengths he brought as much or more than all the on court prowess he graced us with over his four years.

Anthony Brown

The divide between Anthony's pre and post-injury self proved to be an extremely noticeable one.  It's difficult when you arrive with such self-evident physical gifts and skill to ever meet the potential others set for you.  However, when you look at the strides he made and the player he became overall, it makes for an impressive career.

    Anthony arrived on campus and like most Freshmen, his offense was ahead of his defense. In about 27 minutes per game in conference play, he posted an impressive ORtg of 108.1, but a lackluster DRtg of 106.1.  Strangely, the next season would see him transform totally on both sides of the ball.  He was a stalwart defensively (98.3) but his offense cratered.  This would be the year where he earned his reputation as a defensive stopper, and though he remained willing to check the other team's best player throughout his career, this would be the only season where he was an elite defender, at least based on this metric. His steal percentage that year was 1.6, a number which dropped to .6 this season.  Now, high steal numbers don't often correlate to solid, consistent defense, but in this case, it's a relevant indicator since his defensive rating got significantly worse in his final two seasons.

    Unlike Chasson, a steadily increased offensive responsibility doesn't seem part of the reason for Anthony's declining defense.  His usage went from 19% to 22% between his Junior and Senior years, and his DRtg stayed essentially the same.  Also, his usage during his best defensive year was essentially 19% or one percent below his career total.  That season saw him play the fewest amount of minutes in his career, but it's hard to attribute such a strong contrast to limited usage.  He still averaged 24 minutes a game that sophomore year. It's hard to pinpoint what happened, but his second year was by far his best as a defender.

    What is unquestionable is how his offense skyrocketed upon his return from injury.  He posted ORtg's of 117.7 and 117.4 his final two seasons, well above the D-1 Averages (104/102 respectively) and was a tremendously efficient player overall. Those numbers put him in the upper echelon of Pac-12 players.  So where did he improve?  First, he stopped settling for three point shots.  During his first two seasons he took well over 50% of his shots from behind the arc. In his final two seasons, that number fell to 39% for his Junior year then increased to 46% this past season.  His three point shooting percentage increased from 32% as a Sophomore to 40% as  Junior and then 46% as a Senior.  Essentially, he took less threes but got better at making them.  Combine that with solid free throw shooting (80/75%) the past two years and you have two very efficient, if slightly different, offensive seasons.

    Essentially, Anthony's increase in three point accuracy this year offset drops in his two-point shooting (the major culprit in his February swoon) and his performance at the foul line. He went from a 60% True Shooting Percentage to 57%, but the increased usage added to the improved three-balls more than compensated for that in terms of offensive efficiency.  Throw in a career high 17% assist rate and you have a healthy PER of 19.4, up from 14.4 as a freshman.  Hard to knock improvement that solid.  In the end, any evaluation of his career should conclude that he grew tremendously as a ballplayer, even if he fell short of the sky-high expectations of others.

Stefan Nastic
I am not sure if there is a player  I respect more during all my time watching Stanford basketball with regard to the progress he made during his four seasons on The Farm.  He came gifted with height, a strong basketball IQ, and an unassuming on-court demeanor. The college game physically overwhelmed him, and few truly believed that they were looking at a Senior stand-out who would merit conference honors.  Through dedication and sheer force of will, he made himself an indispensable part of Stanford's 2014-15 season and he leaves having squeezed 110% out of his ability.

    Stefan Nastic ended his freshman season with a PER of 6.1.  He ended his career with a conference PER of 18.5 his senior season, and 14.5 for his career.  His ORtg as a senior was 107.1, up from a crater-deep 81.5.  His eFG went from 30% to 46%, and consider that that is with no three point shooting to raise that number.  He shot 76% from the foul line in Pac-12 play and reduced his turnover rate from 24% to 15%.  He played key roles in Stanford's run to the Sweet Sixteen as well as the Cardinal's NIT championship this year.  Last year, he shot 14-18 from the field in the NCAA Tournament and this year he helped deliver an NIT championship with three blocks in the final against Miami and 28 points in the two games in New York.

    Stefan's career followed a very consistent arc during his time at Stanford.  Basically, he'd bracket a shaky February with solid January's and March's.  He shot 51% combined in the first and third months of the year, but for whatever reason could never seem to play a solid February.  His 36% career shooting during that month is by far his worst monthly split in his career.

    Unfortunately, all the Nasty Man's athletic limitations came to roost on the defensive end.  Often times, he'd have the correct instinct, but he just didn't have the foot speed to finish rotations or help in time.  That meant fouls.  Lots of fouls. Nastic led the Pac-12 in fouls this season.  He also had more fouls than any other player in America.  His other limitation was his verticality, aka his lack of hops.  That led to numerous times when he'd be in good position but simply be unable to get up off the floor to grab the rebound.  For a seven-footer, he was never the rebounder many wanted him to be.  His 6.3 rebounds a game were a career high by far, but his 16% DReb rate was not even close to the leaders in the conference, and wasn't even good enough to be best on the team.  Anthony actually had the best defensive rebounding rate on the team at 18.8%.

    With all that being said, however, I just can't knock a guy for not being a good enough natural athlete. Like his fellow seniors, he was a model student-athlete, he was always accountable to the media up or down, and he made himself into very effective player. Put another way:  if his remaining teammates progress as far as he did, Stanford Basketball has a bright, bright future.

    And that's probably the best place to leave it with these Seniors.  On the court, the results weren't what they wanted for themselves or what we wanted for them, but they depart having done pretty much everything in their power to leave the program in better shape than when they found it, and I think that's an achievement that the three of them can be proud to call their own.

The Bootleg Top Stories