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December 19, 2008
Four-Point Play
The Surprise Edition

by John Gasaway

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When did Evan Turner become Derrick Rose?

Last April, while I was being conformist and devoting all my attention to flashes in the pan like Kansas and Memphis, there was a little-noticed team named Ohio State that was simultaneously doing rather well in the NIT. In fact, they won the thing, as Evan Turner scored 37 points over the final two games of the tournament. Turner's performance effectively signaled that he was ready to fill the holes in the offense that would be created by the departures of Kosta Koufos and Jamar Butler.

Even Turner's performance in the NIT, however, couldn't have prepared Thad Matta or anyone else for what the sophomore has accomplished so far this season. He's actually using a larger share of the possessions on offense than either Koufos or Butler did last year. Indeed, Turner's a bigger presence in the offense than any recent Buckeye has been, including Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Terence Dials, Je'Kel Foster or Tony Stockman. Even more important, however, is the fact that Turner is turning (har!) all those possessions into points, albeit in a really unusual way for someone labeled as a small forward.

The bad news is that, even making allowance for his newly huge role in the offense, Turner has continued his freshman habit of committing way too many turnovers. The good news is that's the only bad news. Turner has made 53 percent of his twos and dished the lion's share of this offense's assists, all while getting to the line frequently and making 83 percent of his free throws. He also has an absurdly high steal rate. (Not as absurdly high as teammate Dallas Lauderdale's block rate, perhaps, but you get the idea.)

Let's see: big role in the offense, success inside the arc, and a high number of assists to go with plenty of free throws. This was sounding familiar to me….

Derrick Rose and Evan Turner

                                                   Assist       Steal
                   %Shots    2FG pct.   FTM/FGA      Rate        Rate
Rose, 2007-08       24.5       52.1      .335        30.4         2.3
Turner, 2008-09     26.0       53.4      .468        29.2         6.3

I know, I know. It's early. Besides, Derrick Rose was a point guard and Evan Turner is a small forward. I'm just saying: their profiles and press clippings couldn't be more different, but their impacts on opponents are actually pretty similar. I'm as surprised as you are.

I thought today's ultra-precise recruiting rankings made this impossible

This was supposed to be a transition year for Butler, a team that lost four starters from last year's 30-4 group. We knew coming into the year that the one starter left behind, Matt Howard, was very good, of course. Still, absent any big splashy freshmen coming in, it seemed certain that the Bulldogs would take a step back this season.

They very well might take a step back: 30-4 is tough to equal. Nevertheless, this team's start has been far better than anyone could have guessed. Butler is 8-1, their only loss coming by three points at Ohio State. Howard has been very good, as anticipated, but who could have expected that he would be perhaps just the third-best player on this team in its first nine games?

Meet Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward, two freshmen who weren't exactly besieged with phone calls from Roy Williams and John Calipari back in high school. Mack has had arguably the best debut of any freshman point guard in the country, functioning as a true "scoring point guard" with an emphasis on both the "scoring" (he's shooting twos and threes in equal measure and making 55 percent of the former and 37 percent of the latter) and the "point guard" (dishing most of the assists in a system that shares this particular wealth).

Hayward will be remembered as the who-dat mad bomber that terrorized Ohio State last Saturday in a losing cause, hitting 7-of-11 threes and scoring 25 points. (Fans in Columbus still cringe at the thought of Hayward spotting up for yet another three.) For the year, the small forward has drained 51 percent of his threes and has emerged as a versatile dual-threat wing while besting even Howard on the defensive glass.

Brad Stevens must feel good about the future when he reflects that 83 percent of the minutes on this team go to freshmen and sophomores. Indeed after a one-year hiatus, Butler will again be ranked in the preseason top 25 next season. Note that, as was the case in 2007, there may well be speculation regarding early departures. The guessing will center not on the players but on the coaches.

This St. Mary's player is not from Australia

You know you're being underappreciated when your mid-major team goes on the road to play the power-conference team at their place and the home team's staff actually misspells your name in the box score.

Omar Samhan got the last laugh, however, as his St. Mary's team beat Oregon 78-73 in Eugene Wednesday night. The junior did his part, going 7-of-12 from the floor and scoring 15 points to go along with 12 boards. Granted that wasn't as gaudy as the 16 points and 18 rebounds that teammate Diamon Simpson put up against the Ducks. Then again Samhan is used to being overshadowed: after all, he plays on the same team as Australian Olympic team member Patty Mills.

Mills is indeed quite the Curry-esque prominent figure on offense, but there's no rule that says a team can't have more than one noteworthy player. I'm here to tell you Samhan is worthy of your notice. So far this season he's been vastly more efficient in his scoring than Mills has while playing a very large role in the offense in his own right. (On any team without a Curry, a Mills, or a Harden, the number of possessions used by Samhan would indicate that he's the featured player.) In addition, Samhan's one of the best offensive rebounders in the country and an excellent shot-blocker. He makes the Gaels measurably better on both sides of the ball.

Samhan has no scaffolding of advance praise and reputation upon which to hang his current accomplishments. He arrived in Moraga three years ago, overweight and all but anonymous. Be that as it may, he's here, he's good, and he's earned the "BEAST" tattoo that he now sports. It's high time opponents learned to spell his name.

If Kentucky ever plays a normal game, Patrick Patterson might get some love

Every time I see Kentucky this year, it seems like something very strange is happening. First the Wildcats lost at home to VMI. Then they were blown out by North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Not that this result was unexpected, mind you, it's just that the game's first ten minutes were so lopsided that the rest of the contest was a foregone conclusion.

The North Carolina game eerily foreshadowed the contest last Saturday between the 'Cats and Indiana in Lexington. Again the visiting team was done away with by halftime, only this time it was Kentucky that was inflicting the punishment. Like I said, Wildcat games this year have felt like Katrina-level natural disasters for the losing team, events much bigger than the players involved.

That's too bad, because if we looked at mere players we'd see that Patrick Patterson is having a very nice year for UK. The highly-touted sophomore was Billy Gillispie's first big recruiting catch and is indeed living up to his billing but, strangely, no one seems to be noticing. Patterson is making an eye-popping 71 percent of his twos on those stray random occasions when he can pry the ball out of Jodie Meeks' fingers. As his team's best defensive rebounder and an adequate shot-blocker, Patterson is fouled often and makes a respectable 72 percent of his free throws. He's even showing signs of being one of those rare passing big men we hear about.

Someday soon Kentucky will play a game that is not effectively over after the first ten minutes. When that happens, keep your eye on Patterson.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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The Education of Kevin... (12/17)
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Four-Point Play (05/10)
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Making the Leap (12/19)

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