March Madness hasn’t even started in earnest, and already there is reason to doubt top-seeded Virginia after it was announced Tuesday that freshman De’Andre Hunter would be out for the tournament because of a broken wrist suffered during last week’s ACC tournament in New York. The team will miss Hunter, the ACC sixth man of the year, but I wouldn’t discount their championship aspirations by much.
Hunter scored 9.2 points per game with 1.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds, playing 19.9 minutes per outing. The 6-foot-7 guard/forward was used in Coach Tony Bennett’s most-frequent lineup (playing 19 percent of minutes) over the past five games as a power forward, as well as some minutes (3.4 percent) as the team’s small forward, functioning primarily as a spot-up shooter (32 percent of his possessions) and as a rim runner (15 percent of possessions were cuts to the basket), sometimes taking defenders one-on-one to the hoop (11 percent of possessions).
Based on his box plus-minus, or BPM, an estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team, he was worth 9.6 net points per 100 possessions. And since he is only involved in 15 possessions per game, on both offense and defense, his true impact is less than two points per contest (1.4), on average. That’s not a lot of ground for his replacements to make up, nor is it enough to significantly discount a team that was more than 32 net points per 100 possessions better than an average team this season, the highest in the nation according to statistical guru Ken Pomeroy.
Trae Young of the Oklahoma Sooners, by comparison, is worth 5.6 points more than an average player. Arizona’s standout freshman DeAndre Ayton is worth 3.2 points more than an average player. Those are two of the best players in the nation, but perhaps a better comparison for Hunter would be Donte DiVincenzo, sixth man for top-seed Villanova. He is worth 2.0 points more than an average player and profiles as one of the better sixth-men in the country.
Another interesting lens with which to view Hunter’s absence: When Villanova lost junior Phil Booth for a seven-game stretch, the Wildcats went 5-2, including a 95-79 win over No. 1 Xavier. The two losses saw Villanova hit just 11 of 53 (21 percent) from behind the three-point line, a dry spell that happens to teams that rely heavily on three-point shooting.
Hunter’s absence will, however, necessitate some tweaks by Bennett in terms of how possessions are allotted on offense.
Isaiah Wilkins, a 6-7 senior, is the most-used player in Hunter’s power forward role, with Jack Salt, a 6-10 junior, or Mamadi Diakite, a 6-9 redshirt sophomore, playing center in these lineups.
Wilkins isn’t as good of a spot-up as Hunter, but the drop is just two points per 10 field goal attempts. Diakite and Salt are each more efficient than Hunter on cuts to the basket, with Diakite ranking in the 88th percentile (1.4 points per possession, 77 percent shooting) among all college players this season. Salt and Hunter ranked in the 75th and 69th percentile, respectively.
Defensively, Hunter ranked in the 92nd percentile, holding opponents to 0.7 points per possession, on par with Salt’s defensive prowess. Diakite isn’t as highly ranked, but he is no slouch, either, ranking in the 85th percentile. Wilkins, meanwhile, allowed just 0.6 points per possession (97th percentile), flustering spot-up shooters (32 effective field goal against) and anyone near the basket (32 percent shooting).
Is it ideal that Virginia will be without a versatile player like Hunter so close to the start of the tournament? No, but it isn’t a disaster, either, so feel free to keep your confidence in the Cavaliers’ title hopes.
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