Ohio State is over-reliant on just one player, Deshaun Thomas. You know it, I know it, Thad Matta knows it, and I'll wager that even an eager shooter like Thomas has had moments this season when he'd welcome some help.
Watching Thomas this season got me thinking about other players who might be laboring under the same circumstances, so I put together my short list of Division I's most over-burdened players. To merit inclusion on my list, it's not enough for one player to take a ton of shots. Obviously in 2010-11, Jimmer Fredette took a ton of shots for Brigham Young, and, sure, the Cougars most certainly would have noticed if Fredette had been injured and lost for the season. But that's just another way of saying any team will notice losing their best player. In BYU's case that season, their best player was taking a ton of shots for a team that also had very effective second and third options on offense, not to mention a very good defense.
Conversely when a team is over-reliant on their best player, the coach is making a calculated decision (correctly or not) that this is in fact the best way to cover up some deficiency in performance. On that basis, these are the current cases I see where a team is clearly over-reliant on just one player.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
Let's get the obvious choice out of the way at the top, shall we? The arc charted by Thomas in his three seasons at OSU has been rather remarkable. Not only did the onetime McDonald's All-American come off the bench as a freshman, he actually didn't come off the bench all that much, averaging just 14 minutes a game. Now look: Thomas is always on the floor, and he takes 32 percent of the offense's shots during those abundant minutes. At least when LaQuinton Ross is in the game Thomas has a partner in assertive shooting, but Ross averages just 19 minutes per contest. And we've seen that a rotation comprised of Thomas, a half-timer like Ross, and six additional role-players has not been very effective.
In the two losses to Kansas and Illinois, Ohio State scored just 0.83 points per possession. Granted, that's an extreme number that won't recur. The Jayhawks aren't exactly chopped liver on D, and, anyway, on paper this is still a pretty good OSU offense. But against top competition -- the kind the Buckeyes will see quite often in Big Ten play -- this offense is questionable because Thomas can't do it all by himself. Past Thomas, Matta's rotation is filled with players who are efficient in the narrow sense, but one or two of those guys -- whether it's Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, or someone else -- needs to be efficient while carrying a bigger chunk of the offense.
Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
I nominate Edwin as the most heroic character on this list. Unlike Thomas at Ohio State, Edwin has had his team's over-reliance thrust upon him by circumstance, as the Pirates have suffered a rash of injuries. And through it all Edwin has continued to hit shots from both sides of the arc (though not so much at the free throw line, where he's a 66 percent shooter). The 6-6 junior has also carried forward the same level of defensive excellence he displayed last year, when he ranked among Division I's leaders in steal rate. Now the bad news: Edwin's doing all this for a team that rates out as mediocre on both sides of the ball. In particular his teammates have displayed a crippling tendency to commit turnovers. In the here and now, Kevin Willard has little choice but to rely on Edwin as much as he does, but Seton Hall will improve as a team when that degree of reliance can be decreased, even if it's decreased just a little.
Askia Booker, Colorado
Last season as a freshman Booker came off the bench and functioned as a high-volume shooter. He didn't connect on very many of those shots but, again, he was a freshman and he did provide the proverbial jolt of energy when he came in the game. What's strange, though, is that Booker has now made the leap to being a high-volume shooter as a starter who leads his team in minutes -- even though his shooting accuracy is still very much a work in progress. Mind you, Booker has fared well from the perimeter, hitting 38 percent of his threes. But in his career to date most of his shots have been twos, and the results there have been meager at best. (In the Buffs' controversial overtime loss at Arizona last week, Booker was 1-of-10 from inside the arc.) On a team with proven and effective quantities on offense like Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie, it's not entirely clear to me why Booker's on pace to launch something like 260 two-point shots this season. History suggests he may make only about 100 of those.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia
If you're like many fans, the last time you saw the Bulldogs they were hanging with Indiana for 30 minutes at the Barclays Center in November before losing 66-53. That night Caldwell-Pope scored 14 points for Mark Fox's young team, but he needed a team-leading 15 shots from the field to do so. Caldwell-Pope's usually more efficient than that, but more often than not you will indeed see the 6-5 sophomore carrying a very heavy load on offense. He's actually taken more shots from the field than the next two most frequent UGA shooters (Nemanja Djurisic and Vincent Williams) combined. With good reason: Caldwell-Pope's an effective featured scorer for what happens to be one of the worst offenses in major-conference hoops. In Fox's rotation, KCP plays 34 minutes a night while no other Dawg averages more than 24. Georgia's degree of over-reliance on Caldwell-Pope is striking.
Tamir Jackson, Rice
I realize Jackson's not a household name, and his case couldn't be more far removed from the situation faced by, say, Thomas. Where Thomas and Ohio State are just a tweak here and an adjustment there away from being a legitimate Final Four contender, Jackson and the Owls are foundering and, most likely, will continue to do so. What's interesting about Jackson's case in particular, however, is that head coach Ben Braun has clearly made a decision that the team's foundering would be even worse if Jackson weren't dominating the offense to a near-total extent. And, truth be known, Braun just may be right.
Jackson's one of those odd "Why are you doing this?" cases you run across from time to time in hoops, the one where a player often shoots threes but very rarely makes them. Over the course of his career the 6-3 senior has launched no fewer than 323 3-point attempts, a barrage that can only be chalked up to the power of positive thinking given that Jackson has connected on just 28 percent of those shots. But here's the thing: Jackson has taken on the burden of being the featured scorer for a team filled with guys who also miss their shots -- and commit turnovers. Say this for Braun's nominal star, he at least takes care of the ball. Rice has a bad offense relative to other teams because the Owls are over-reliant on Jackson, but it's not clear that relying on anyone else would work much better.
A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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