This is my Breakout Sophomore Formula's fourth-annual attempt to use science, rather than subjectivity, to identify future stars who didn't stand out on traditional stat sheets. It has been mostly successful aside from a few absurd-and-unforeseen blind spots. (I'll explain those later.)
To fit the Breakout Formula, a player cannot have averaged much more than 20 minutes per game as a freshman. The selections need to have some degree of obscurity, and this filter removes too-obvious choices such as Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos and Oklahoma State's Le'Bryan Nash from the equation. The remaining candidates must have used possessions at a rate befitting a star -- at around 24 percent, or higher. The underlying theory of this, as first proposed by Basketball Prospectus, is that go-to-guys tend to act like it very early on, even when restricted to limited playing time. "Players who are not very involved in the offense," BP wrote, "tend to stay that way."
Last year's Breakout Formula had more hits than misses: the headliner, Maryland's Terrell Stoglin, went from 11.7 points per game as a freshman to 21.6 as a sophomore, finishing as the nation's seventh-leading scorer. Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas went from 7.5 points to 15.9 and was a key member of a Final Four team. Sean Kilpatrick became Cincinnati's leading scorer after averaging 9.7 points per game as a freshman, and Buffalo's Javon McCrea continued his progression into one of the better all-around players in the MAC. UCLA's super-sized power forward, Josh Smith, never got in shape and thus never broke out, and Ole Miss' Dundrecous Nelson was derailed by the munchies. Seriously:
Nelson was apparently as prolific a smoker as he was a shooter, and local police -- who were initially ignored when they knocked on his apartment door after smelling marijuana -- used a Domino's Pizza delivery man as part of a 1 a.m. sting operation in January. They barged in once Nelson opened the door to receive his pizza, found drug paraphernalia, and the resulting drug ticket led to his dismissal from the Rebels. He joined Nebraska's Christian Standhardinger (a 2010 selection who was projected as a 20-point scorer) in Breakout Formula infamy: After disagreements with coach Doc Sadler, Standhardinger left the Huskers midway through his sophomore season and then was cited for public indecency when a Lincoln police officer found him in a compromising position with a shirtless woman in a local park at 3:40 a.m. I stand by this formula, but feel the need to warn you about its flaws.
Let's hope none of 2012-13's selections fall into those categories:
1. Treveon Graham, shooting guard, VCU
Freshman points per game: 7.0
Freshman minutes per game: 16.7
Percent of team possessions used: 24.2
Offensive Efficiency Rating: 102.5
There's a small risk in making Graham the headliner: Our background check revealed a proclivity for pantsing, but kept in moderation it should not hinder his breakout. His significant-usage (a team-high 24.2 percent), decent-efficiency (102.5 ORating) profile as a freshman who didn't turn 18 until October 2011 suggests immense potential. The departure of Bradford Burgess, who set the Division I record for career starts while playing the same oversized-wing position as Graham, should free up the minutes he needs to score in the mid-double digits as a sophomore. He was valuable to the Rams in a limited role as a freshman, drawing a team-high 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes and also crashing the glass surprisingly well (with an OReb% of 9.5) for a 6-foot-5 guard. Graham was recruited as a scorer, acted like a scorer off the bench, and there's no reason to believe he'll stop doing so when he's elevated into VCU's starting lineup.
2. Andre Hollins, point guard, Minnesota
Freshman points per game: 8.7
Freshman minutes per game: 21.1
Percent of team possessions used: 24.7
Offensive Efficiency Rating: 98.7
Last season, the Big Ten had a freshman point guard that everyone talked about -- and it wasn't Hollins. It was Trey Burke from Michigan, the three-star prospect who broke out before anyone saw fit to predict it, and is one of the big reasons Michigan is a top-15 team heading into this fall. Hollins was promoted to the Gophers' starting lineup for their final 10 games, when they rose from the dead and made a run to the NIT final. He had four 20-point games during that stretch, used possessions at an even higher rate than Graham did, and locked down the first-team point guard job for 2012-13. It wouldn't be surprising to see his 8.7 points-per-game average jump to the 13-15 range as a sophomore, even if he'll be sharing shots with Rodney Williams and sixth-year senior Trevor Mbakwe. As coach Tubby Smith said of Hollins after last season ended, "He's got all types of potential. I think he's comfortable now in our offense."
3. Jerrell Wright, point forward, La Salle
Freshman points per game: 9.8
Freshman minutes per game: 19.8
Percent of team possessions used: 26.5
Offensive Efficiency Rating: 105.9
Before Wright played his first game for the Explorers, coach/Dr. John Giannini said, "I think he's going to be one of the most productive players I've ever coached." Giannini only put Wright on the floor for 49.1 percent of the team's minutes as a freshman, but the product of Dobbins Tech (the same Philly high school that produced Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble) was exceptionally productive as a high-usage, efficient scorer. He also had the team's highest offensive rebounding percentage (13.0), second-best defensive rebounding percentage (19.9) and he drew the most fouls per 40 minutes (5.6). According to kenpom.com's similarity scores, the player whose freshman season Wright's most closely matched was J.J. Hickson's 2008 at NC State -- and Hickson jumped to the NBA straight after that. Wright has real star potential in the Atlantic 10.
4. Aaron White, point forward, Iowa
Freshman points per game: 11.1
Freshman minutes per game: 23.8
Percent of team possessions used: 23.1
Offensive Efficiency Rating: 111.6
Fran McCaffery has an eye for under-the-radar talent. He was the only Big Ten coach to offer White a scholarship, and the sophomore is now a primary reason why the program is on an upward trajectory. (When asked about White's recruitment, his former coach at Strongsville [Ohio] High School, Joe Lynch, said that plenty of schools "missed the boat.") Few Big Ten big men -- in any class -- matched White's high-efficiency scoring profile, which suggests that he can thrive in a co-go-to-guy role alongside guard Devyn Marble as a sophomore. If Iowa doesn't break through to the NCAA tournament this season, it should happen for sure in 2013-14.
5. Alan Williams, power forward, UC-Santa Barbara
Freshman points per game: 6.9
Freshman minutes per game: 17.1
Percent of team possessions used: 23.1
Offensive Efficiency Rating: 117.8
The average role player on a Big West team has trouble getting his name in a local paper, much less a national website, but Williams is already beloved by the titans of tempo-free stats. Misters Pomeroy and Gasaway called Williams underrated in separate columns in July. They're enamored with Williams' national-best offensive-rebounding percentage (22.5) and ability to score without committing turnovers. He has been mentioned in the same breath with two Breakout Formula alums, Miami's Reggie Johnson and Buffalo's Javon McCrae, and I agree with that assessment. Now that all of us geeks are on board, if Williams flops, he'll go down as college hoops' Jeremy Brown ... and Murray Chass will triumphantly write something about it on his blog.
Sixth Man: Anton Grady, forward, Cleveland State
Freshman points per game: 8.5
Freshman minutes per game: 21.2
Percent of team possessions used: 22.9
Offensive Efficiency Rating: 105.9
Cleveland State coach Gary Waters has already referred to Grady, a much larger cousin of Earl Boykins, as "our future." With the Vikings' three top possession-users gone from last season, it would seem that the future is now. Grady was a monster in short spurts as a freshman, leading CSU in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, block percentage, and posting a usage/efficiency ratio that suggests he can assume a go-to-guy role if called upon. Waters told Grady during his recruitment that he'd be used as a wing forward, but he's been so good in a pure frontcourt role that it doesn't seem wise to push him to the perimeter. (And selfishly, I don't want anything to interfere with his breakout.)