What will Georgetown do when all of their players return?
The Hoyas are about to be confronted by what should be considered a ‘good problem.’ One of their better young offensive players – Mac McClung -- is going to come back from injury and create lineup questions, all due to the emergence of Senior transfer Greg Malinowski.
Malinowski has been starting since McClung went down with an ankle injury and has vastly outperformed his main competition at the small forward position – Jamorko Pickett. However, as we saw earlier this year when Coach Ewing refused to sit Trey Mourning for several weeks while the clearly superior freshman Forward Josh LeBlanc posted insane numbers and acted as a catalyst in multiple close wins – anything can happen. (For more on the clear superiority of LeBlanc to Mourning, take a look at alleninxs' post from a few weeks ago.)
Consider the below, a case for a Akinjo-McClung-Malinowski-LeBlanc-Govan starting lineup.
Argument #1: Pickett has been miscast in this starting lineup as a spot-up off-ball shooter. He needs to move to the second unit to get the ball back in his hands and get some opportunities to develop confidence and a rhythm.
Last year, Jamorko Pickett was a major bright spot for Hoya fans. He averaged nearly 10 points, four rebounds, and two assists and showed flashes of a Durant-like skill set that had fans and scouts drooling. This year, he has become a shadow on the offensive end. He is still playing good defense (third on the team in Defensive Win Shares), but has taken a remarkable step backward on offense in the first part of the year.
Pickett is currently posting the lowest Offensive Win Shares on the entire team, while also playing the fourth most minutes. On its face, that would seem to be a major head-scratcher, but it is actually not all that different from last year, when he posted the second lowest OWS from start to finish. The fact that he has posted the lowest Offensive Win Shares does seem relevant though in the context of thinking about whether or not he really deserves to continue receiving the minutes he has been getting.
Here are just a few measures where his statistics have actually plummeted year-over-year:
- Effective Field Goal Percentage (.469 to .449)
- True Shooting Percentage (.490 to .460), Player Efficiency Rating (8.5 to 7.7)
- Points per Game (9.6 to 5.5)
Basically, when he tries to score, he’s not very good at it. So what gives? In my estimation, the difference in performance can be told by taking a look at the change in his Usage Percentage – an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor.
Last year, the Hoyas operated with no true legitimate point guard (at least not an effective one) with slashers like Jon Mulmore and Trey Dickerson manning the helm. The squad struggled badly versus full-court pressure, and Ewing was left with few if any legitimate ball-handling options on the offensive end.
Pickett was leaned on as a third guard. He had the ball in his hands often, not just in breaking down presses, but in setting up and initiating offenses. It showed in his Usage Percentage. Last year, he posted a Usage Percentage of 21.2%, fifth on the team. As a young, still-developing, is-he-a-guard-or-a-forward type of player – this did him wonders. It gave him the space to not only develop a rhythm offensively, but also to keep being aggressive even when things weren’t going well. Because the team was bereft of perimeter playmakers, he knew he would be counted on consistently to create offense. Therefore, a turnover or a couple of missed shots would not be reason to worry, he could always count on getting the ball back.
Fast forward to 18-19 and the Hoyas are now leaning heavily on James Akinjo (26.4% Usage, first on the team - a separate article needs to break this down and figure out ways to reduce his usage). As a result, Pickett’s offensive opportunities and time with the ball in his hands has plummeted to 14.9%. He has dropped from fifth on the team to 12th (out of 13).
This essentially means that he is a ghost on offense. Now, he happens to be pretty darn good on defense, but is there any Hoya fan who after last year is thinking right now that the best thing for Jamorko Pickett’s development is to turn him into a defensive specialist? I didn’t think so.
This brings me to my main point: Pickett should be out of the starting lineup -- not as a ‘punishment’ -- but as an opportunity.
Fans seemed to freak out when Pickett sat against Liberty, but not only was it a long time coming then, it’s a long time coming now. When he came off the bench against Liberty he posted his best line of the season – 9pts, 5 boards, 5 assists. It’s the assists that fans should note there, not the points. But let’s move on with the argument.
Moving Pickett to the bench will allow him to act as the offensive anchor of the second unit – something that is sorely needed at this point. Recently, Pat has been leaning (way too) heavily on Akinjo and Govan to stay in with the second unit and desperately stave off what has become a laughably predictable run from the opposing team every time the starting unit sits. Not only is it not working, but it’s leading to painfully obvious fatigue for both James and Jessie in the closing minutes of close games.
Pickett, significantly more so than the older Malinowski, is still in the early stages of development – both physically and mentally as a basketball player. He does not know how (or has not been forced to learn how) to play off of a ball-dominant point guard as a spot-up shooter or a fourth/fifth offensive option. That’s not easy, and it never will be. He is used to having the ball in his hands early and often, and the lack of those opportunities is leading to a painful lack of rhythm on the offensive end and on his outside shots. As a result, his efficiency ratings, points, and shooting percentages have all plummeted.
Jamorko – love him as we do – is just not ready to be a complementary piece yet. Give him the ball and the keys to the second unit and let’s see what he can do when the offense revolves around him – like it did at times last year. Furthermore, ease him into this complementary off-ball role by pairing him with the starters for 5-10 minutes a game (max) and let him figure it out in short spurts – rather than all at once.
To me, this is a no-brainer. But let’s turn quickly to the emergence of Greg Malinowski, if for no other reason than to slam the door shut on any argument that Pickett should be starting over him if and when McClung comes back.
Argument #2: Greg Malinowski is, like, good at basketball.
Here are some more Advanced Stats to digest: Malinowski is Top-Five on the team in Win Shares, Box Plus-Minus, and Player Efficiency Rating –all while ranking 9th in Usage Rate (9th!). Remember, Pickett ranks 12th in Usage for comparison sake (only 3% lower than Malinowski) and only climbs up to 11th in Player Efficiency Rating and 10th in Win Shares (a combination of Offensive and Defensive Win Shares). Those differences are astounding.
In terms of his evolution, Malinowski arrived on the Hilltop as supposedly a three-point marksmen and that’s it. However, he started off the year seemingly hell-bent on proving either to the coaching staff or to himself that he could hang defensively with the high D-1 talent that he had not yet matched up against. It seems that mission has been accomplished so far.
Malinowski is fifth in Defensive Win Shares, fifth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus, and third in Steals Percentage. If you prefer the eye-test, remember Illinois? Malinowski came in and contributed 10 straight minutes of shutdown defense on one of the best Freshman in the country in Ayo Dosunmu – who was in the middle of carving up the Hoya backcourt when Malinowski came in.
And now, just recently, he is transferring some of the confidence earned from consistent solid defensive performances and efficient rebounding into confidence on the offensive end. This comes from his stellar 26-point performance against Butler two weeks ago – on 10-12 shooting from the field.
This clip isn’t exactly rocket science, but humor me. Notice the shot clock. What you don’t see in this GIF is 20-seconds of aimless offense wherein Akinjo nearly falls down and both Pickett and LeBlanc look like deer in headlights when they get the ball out on the perimeter. I don’t believe this has been thoroughly documented yet, but the Hoyas are at their best when they run. Their half-court offense is often stagnant unless Akinjo can create something off of a high ball-screen – that’s essentially the entire offense right now. When he doesn’t, the Hoyas are usually in trouble.
Now watch Pickett and LeBlanc’s defenders on the far side as Malinowski enters the lane. Both jump outside to cut off a potential kick-out pass because A) Malinowski’s defender has stuck with him step-for-step and B) they don’t even think he’s going to be able to finish on that drive. However, he deftly uses upper body strength -- that I don’t think anyone knew he had -- to complete a nice finish. The point here isn’t to expect multiple driving flourishes like this one every game from Malinowski, it is to be happy that he is more of a complete player than originally billed. He’s got some physical strength on the perimeter that is pretty rare for a shooter of his caliber.
It also bears mentioning – and acts as a nice transition – to note his 13pt-5reb-7ast line in the heartbreaker against St. John’s. Do not sleep on those seven assists. Not only is Malinowski stronger and a better ball-handler than Pickett – but his terrific shooting forces opposing teams to stay honest/at home against him on defense, something that does not happen when Pickett is the focal point of a possession. See the clip below.
These passing lanes open up because Butler is so focused on taking away Malinowski’s outside shot. Notice how the on-ball guard chases Malinowski over the top of the screen rather than duck underneath – even though Malinowski is 30+ feet from the hoop. That is (usually) because the opposing coach will tell his player matched up against a dead-eye shooter to ‘never’ duck underneath a ball-screen. Always go over the top – and chase if you have to – to try and take away the outside shot.
The result of the defender’s late chase is that Govan’s defender has to step out into uncomfortable territory to contest a Malinowski shot, and because Malinowski’s defender doesn’t switch onto Govan – it leaves Govan wide open on a cut to the lane. LeBlanc has already ducked underneath and when his defender jumps to help on the cutting Govan it leaves LeBlanc wide open for the dunk. Nifty offense, nicely done.
The point is this: This bucket doesn’t happen if Malinowski isn’t an offensive threat from both inside and outside. Pickett, unfortunately, is neither of those right now – and hasn’t gelled with Akinjo. On the rare occasion Pickett gets a ball-screen set for him (remember how low his usage rate is currently), his defender is happy to duck underneath and give him the outside shot. His shooting percentage is so bad, you’d be crazy not to.
Ipso facto, when McClung comes back – Pickett has to go. In fact, I would even argue that Mosely would be a better fit at the Shooting Guard position while McClung is out and move Malinowski up to the Small Forward. The benefits of that are too marginal to go further in depth on, but the point is this: I lose sleep at night thinking about how long Ewing stuck with Mourning in the starting lineup. (And yes, I know he’s hurt and that is why LeBlanc is starting right now, but if Pat puts Mourning back in the starting lineup for LeBlanc when he gets back I am going to immediately buy the domain name FireEwing.com. I mean it. It’s that stupid. I’m confident that Pat has seen enough to make the right decision now and that the change is permanent, so I’m acting as if Mourning has been taken out of the starting lineup.)
The same thing is happening – and has been happening – with Pickett for a few weeks now. This move should have been made in mid-December, at the latest. Further, Pat needs to recognize that sitting Pickett is not only the right thing to do for the team, it’s the right thing to do for Jamorko(!). His development is being stunted and he’s developing bizarre bad habits like jacking up moon-balls early in the shot clock just to give himself opportunities. Let him anchor the second unit. Give him the ball, let him run the show. See if that doesn’t boost his confidence.
I tried not to be long-winded here but it seems I failed. Last thing I will say is that the thing I am most excited about with Georgetown Hoops is the growing chemistry between Akinjo-LeBlanc-Malinowski (and McClung to an extent). I look forward to seeing the three of them continue to build off each other.