Monday September 8th, 2014

Now in its sixth season, The Breakout Sophomore Formula™ is my attempt to identify future stars who didn't stand out in traditional box scores as freshmen, but had tempo-free stats that indicate high-scoring potential.

A certain degree of obscurity is required for a player to qualify: He cannot have averaged much more than 20 minutes per game as a freshman. But while he was on the floor, he had to use a go-to-guy's share of offensive possessions (around 24 percent or higher) with a respectable level of efficiency (an offensive rating of at least 100.0, or one point per possession). The underlying theory, as first proposed by Basketball Prospectus, is that go-to-guys tend to act like it from the start of their careers, even in limited playing time. The formula also takes opportunity into account: Has the team's roster changed enough to make room for a breakout?

While last year's edition didn't yield any major breakouts -- the best two picks, Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski and Wisconsin's Sam Dekker, played big roles on ranked teams but weren't all-conference selections -- the formula has historically done quite well. It has IDed on-the-verge scorers such as VCU's Treveon Graham, Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas, Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick and Texas' Jordan Hamilton before they were stars.

Before the 2014-15 picks are unveiled, these are the prominent sophomores I deemed too obvious, since they played major, high-usage minutes as freshmen: Anthony Barber, North Carolina State; Marcus Foster, Kansas State; Billy Garrett, DePaul; Damian Jones, Vanderbilt; Rysheed Jordan, St. John's; Isaiah Taylor, Texas; and Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington. Other popular-among-pundits breakout picks such as Louisville's Terry Rozier, Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Kentucky's Harrison Twins and Dakari Johnson, didn't fit the usage formula. These are the five who best fit within the parameters:

Breakout Sophomores
 
  • 1

    6-4 F, Marquette
    Freshman minutes per game: 12.6
    Freshman points per game: 6.9
    % of team possessions used: 29.1
    Offensive efficiency rating: 101.4
     
    Coming off a freshman season in which he struggled -- mostly for defensive reasons -- to secure a major role in the Golden Eagles' rotation, Burton is pretty much the perfect breakout-formula candidate. First-year coach Steve Wojciechowski is in desperate need of scorers, and Burton, a former four-star prospect who's likely to crack the starting lineup as a hybrid wing/power forward, is as high-volume a shooter as you'll find in college basketball. His shot-fiending didn't get much national notice in '13-14 because he played so few minutes, but consider these two facts:
     
    • In the time he was on the floor, Burton used a higher percentage of his team's possessions than all but one major-conference freshman: Duke's Jabari Parker.
     
    • Only 11 major-conference players, in any class, used a higher percentage of their team's possessions than did Burton ... and most of them are names you know well.
     

     
    Burton's profile reminds me of Deshaun Thomas', who took an absurd amount of shots as a low-minute reserve freshman for Ohio State in 2010-11. Once Thomas broke into the starting lineup, his scoring average jumped from 7.5 to 15.9 as a sophomore, and then 19.8 as a junior. I wouldn't be surprised if Burton's points double from his freshman average of 6.9; there are plenty of shots available at Marquette, and its only other player who profiles as a volume scorer is BYU transfer guard Matt Carlino.
  • 2

    6-9 PF/C, North Carolina
    Freshman minutes per game: 16.3
    Freshman points per game: 7.6
    % of team possessions used: 23.4
    Offensive efficiency rating: 111.9
     
    James Michael McAdoo's multi-year reign of inefficient, high-frequency shooting is over now that he's in the NBA, and Meeks and junior Brice Johnson should capitalize on the increased opportunities -- and improve Carolina's offensive efficiency as a result. Combo guard Marcus Paige figures to be the Tar Heels' primary scorer, but Meeks is a promising low-post prospect with good hands and elite offensive rebounding ability, so he'll get touches on the blocks and create points by attacking the glass. Meeks' conditioning should be improved after dropping from 320-plus pounds as an incoming freshman to 270 this offseason, allowing him to play more minutes in one of the country's faster-paced offenses. While a few factors could prevent him from having a monster breakout -- namely the need to also get forwards Johnson, sophomore Isaiah Hicks and freshman Justin Jackson involved in the scoring attack -- Meeks is more than capable of averaging a double-double if given enough playing time.

  • 3

    3Shawndre' Jones
    5-10 combo guard, Richmond
    Freshman minutes per game: 13.6
    Freshman points per game: 6.4
    % of team possessions used: 25.6
    Offensive efficiency rating: 102.3
     
    Jones barely saw the court as a freshman until February, when the Spiders' starting point guard, senior Cedrick Lindsay, went down with torn meniscus in both knees. Jones entered the rotation -- and took shots at nearly the same rate and efficiency level as Lindsay, who had been averaging 18.3 points per game. Kendall Anthony, a similarly undersized (at 5-8) and scoring-minded (26.7% of the team's possessions) combo guard, is a near-lock to be their leading scorer this season, but Jones could emerge as the No. 2. He's an even more accurate three-point (38.2%) and free-throw (87.8%) shooter than Anthony, and he seems to be the latest in Chris Mooney's line of underrated guard prospects at Richmond.

  • 4

    6-7 F, Brown
    Freshman minutes per game: 18.2
    Freshman points per game: 9.6
    % of team possessions used: 26.8
    Offensive efficiency rating: 97.4
     
    The graduation of Brown's ironman/point guard/leading scorer from last season, Sean McGonagill, freed up plenty of possessions, and King is likely to inherit a good share of them. In limited minutes as a freshman, he exhibited a Burton-like tendency to hunt baskets, and King's final three games of '13-14 -- which accounted for half of his total starts -- may have been a preview of what's to come. In those losses to Dartmouth, Harvard and Holy Cross, King played 32 minutes per game, averaging 21 points (on 24-of-52 shooting), 8.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. If King can sustain that pace (or something even close to it) as a sophomore, he'll emerge as one of the Ivy League's top scorers.

  • 5

    6-8 PF/C, South Florida
    Freshman minutes per game: 20.5
    Freshman points per game: 8.9
    % of team possessions used: 24.2
    Offensive efficiency rating: 101.5
     
    Former Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua isn't walking into an ideal situation at South Florida, which lost its top two offensive options (seniors Victor Rudd and Martino Brock) and had its top rim-protector (freshman John Egbunu) transfer to Florida. Perry is one of the few returning assets Antigua can build around; the 266-pounder could grow into one of the AAC's better forwards in a few years' time; and as a sophomore, he may have to be Bulls' leading scorer by default. The rate at which he produced offense off the bench as a freshman suggests he can handle that role.

Two more who have breakout-formula profiles, but may be delayed ...

  •  

    Nigel Hayes
    6-7 PF, Wisconsin
    Freshman minutes per game: 17.4
    Freshman points per game: 7.7
    % of team possessions used: 26.7
    Offensive efficiency rating: 102.4
     
    Hayes will be the Badgers' go-to offensive option for short stretches, due to him drawing the highest rate of fouls of anyone on the roster, and I think he'll be their leading scorer at some point in his career -- but UW probably has too much returning for him to make that leap this season. Frontcourt starters Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker are possible first-round NBA Draft picks in 2015, and Ben Brust is the only departee from the Final Four rotation.

  •  

    Que Johnson
    6-5 shooting guard, Washington State
    Freshman minutes per game: 23.8
    Freshman points per game: 9.5
    % of team possessions used: 21.9
    Offensive efficiency rating: 101.0
     
    When Cougars star DaVonte Lacy missed most of nine games from Dec. 28-Feb. 1 due to an emergency appendectomy and then a rib injury, Johnson became their emergency scorer, averaging 14.1 points during that stretch. On the season, he took 27.3 percent of Washington State's shots while he was on the floor -- a notably high level for a backup freshman guard that suggests he has a future as the Cougs' top scorer. But with Lacy back for his senior season, and his strong efficiency numbers justifying him as the No. 1 guy, Que's scoring ceiling is most likely in the 12-13 point range.

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