Real vs. Ideal: What to expect from elite freshmen in Age-Limit era
By competing for national player-of-the-year honors in the first two seasons after the NBA barred players from jumping straight into the draft out of high school, they became -- and almost unfairly so -- the benchmarks for top-10 recruits. Ohio State's
Those same fans might temper their expectations after examining the past three years of freshman-class data.
(The inspiration for this came from an April 2008 post on the now-defunct blog
Obviously, not every recruiting class is created equal, nor is every freshman walking into an identical team situation. But the averages from a three-year, 255-man pool (45 redshirts, injured players and non-enrollees, like
That table may not mean much to you at first glance, but there are important things to be learned from it:
For real-life context, I picked out a player from each RSCI bracket whose freshman-year stats bore the closest resemblance to the three-year average. As the table below suggests, rather than worrying if your team's top-10 player is better than Durant in '06-07, you should just be happy if he's better than Washington's
It's far from an exact science, but it gives us better tools for making comparisons. If your team brings in a big man ranked No. 45 overall, don't burden him with pressure to perform like Oden, or even Cincinnati's
Individual possession-based stats aren't yet available from kenpom.com for '09-10, but Kentucky's
The chart to the right looks at the average percent of minutes played by each RSCI bracket -- and shows a precipitous drop between the top 10 and top 40. Top-20 recruits earned valuable-starter playing time (60-plus percent minutes), while top-30s and top-40s earned mid-rotation minutes (near 50 percent). After that, the average player was in a reserve-like role.
Fluctuation beyond the top 40 seems to indicate that evaluation in that range is less accurate, leaving plenty of sleepers lower on the list. Instant backcourt starters such as Kansas'
When kenpom.com breaks down a team's possession usage, players who use more than 28 percent of possessions are "go-to guys", between 24-28 percent are "major contributors," between 20-24 percent are "significant contributors," between 16-20 percent are "role players," and between 12-16 percent have "limited roles."
For example, of the members of Texas' absurdly good 2006 recruiting class who played more than half the team's minutes in '06-07, second-ranked Durant was a go-to guy (31.6 percent of possessions), 29th-ranked
The top chart to the right shows that only top-10 recruits' average possession usage (24.7 percent) fell above the "major" threshold. Top 11-40 recruits' average usage fell into the "significant" zone, while averages beyond that alternated between the significant and "role" zones. This season's freshman class, which isn't nearly as strong as the '06 and '07 crops, isn't likely to produce more than a few major players outside the RSCI's top 10. Kentucky's Wall, Georgia Tech's
The lower chart shows the decline in offensive efficiency as one moves down the RSCI rankings. Top-30 players were the only ones who consistently averaged over a point per possession (and thus had average offensive ratings higher than 100). Players with ratings below 100 tend to be liabilities, while players above 120 are major assets. North Carolina's title team last season had four starters with 120-plus offensive ratings:
I made four groupings of recruits from the 255-man list -- point guards, wing guards, wing forwards and power forwards/centers -- and analyzed their statistics separately, grouping them into larger brackets (1-20s, 21-40s, 41-60s, 61-80s, 81-100s) to create better sample sizes. The chart below shows how minutes played differed by RSCI bracket
Point-guard minutes dropped only 0.1 percent (from a 67.0 percent average to 66.9 percent) from the top-20 bracket to the 21-40 bracket, suggesting excellent depth at the position over the previous three seasons. Power-forward/center minutes, meanwhile, dropped 28.3 percent (from a 60.8 percent to 32.5 percent) from the top-20 bracket to the 21-40 bracket -- solid proof that most non-five-star big men tend to be mutli-year projects rather than instant-impact freshmen.
The chart below shows how Offensive Rating changed by RSCI bracket and position:
All four position groupings (point guards, wing guards, wing forwards, and power forwards/center) start have Offensive Ratings of 106-plus for their first bracket, then begin declining. Wing forward is the only position with an average offensive rating of 100-plus throughout the entire RSCI, however -- and the average rating of its 61-80 bracket (106.5) is almost equal to that of its 1-20 bracket (106.7).
There have been some impressive sleepers at wing forward with rankings of 61 and above: Purdue's
The sleeper in this year's freshman class might be Alabama's