The trend towards more pace and more points in the NEC is being led by two of the top point guards in the nation. Jason Brickman and Phil Gaetano are two of the Top 5 players in assists per game this season and are driving LIU Brooklyn and Sacred Heart to near the top of the NEC.
Both players are best passers. In fact, Brickman is such a good passer he got a mention from Jay Bilas this week. It’s well deserved. Brickman ranks second nationally with 8.2 assists per game behind only Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse’s 8.9 per game.
Gaetano ranks fifth nationally in assists per game at 7.8 and is one of the big reasons that surprising Sacred Heart is currently tied atop the NEC standings with Bryant and Robert Morris.
Both players have a real knack for finding their teammates in space. Their heady numbers aren’t impacted that much by pace either. Brickman ranks 15th nationally in assist rate and Gaetano is right behind him in 20th. (Incidentally, Robert Morris’ Velton Jones is third and St. Francis Brooklyn’s Brent Jones is 25th.)
Let’s dig in though and see what really makes both of these players tick by seeing what types of shots they’re getting assists on and what players they’re helping set up with their deft moves and passes.
For Brickman there was a bit of a change after the eighth game of the season. Why is that? Well that’s when last season’s NEC Player of the Year, Julian Boyd, went down with a knee injury. Before getting injured Boyd was Brickman’s favorite target. The offense was designed for those two players to work in concert to get Boyd easy jump shots, which he knocks down with regularity, or get him to the rim where Boyd’s big frame often physically overmatches smaller opponents.
Brickman is great at both in evidenced by his assist numbers during those first eight games. Boyd was the recipient of 48% of Brickman’s 66 assists during the games those two guys played together. That’s 32 of the total. The only other player with more than 10? Jamal Olasewere with 12. Four times per game Brickman was finding the Blackbirds’ big man and helping him knock down shots. Six of those 32 assists were jump shots, while only two other assists Brickman had were for jumpers.
Pre-Boyd’s injury Brickman’s assists by type broke down this way:
- 53% layups
- 24% threes
- 12% jumpers
- 11% dunks
But when Julian got injured the Blackbirds’ game plan had to change. There is no one on the LIU roster, or many rosters, quite like Boyd. While it’s apparent the Blackbirds have adjusted, their offensive efficiency during NEC play is amazing, I don’t think Brickman has gotten enough credit for changing the way he sees the court and the open angles he’s looking for now. His most consistent target was taken away and Brickman has arguably gotten better.
During the past 11 games of LIU’s season Brickman has averaged exactly eight assists per game and he’s done it by reinventing how he feeds teammates and becoming a bigger part of the offense in a scoring capacity.
Post-Boyd’s injury Brickman’s assists by type break down this way:
- 46% threes
- 43% layups
- 10% dunks
- 1% jumpers
There was one jumper by Olasewere. Everything else has gone right to the rim (mostly in the form of layups) or gone out beyond the three-point line. Fun fact: E.J. Reed has seven threes this season, Brickman has assisted on five of them. Reed those isn’t Brickman’s most common target since Boyd’s injury. That title belongs to Brandon Thompson.
Here’s the breakdown by player. You’ll notice the distribution has flattened considerably:
- Brandon Thompson: 16
- E.J. Reed: 15
- Jamal Olasewere: 14
- C.J. Garner: 13
- Kenny Onyechi: 11
- Booker Hucks: 8
- Gerrell Martin: 5
- Khalil Murphy: 2
- D.J. Griggs: 1
In a way it almost makes Brickman an even more dangerous player.
Over on Sacred Heart, Gaetano still has his main man, Shane Gibson. While many of his assists do go to the nation’s 12th leading scorer, a bunch go to the underrated Louis Montes and Steve Glowiak on the perimeter.
Here’s the breakdown by player for Gaetano:
- Shane Gibson: 42
- Louis Montes: 36
- Steve Glowiak: 24
- Nick Greenbacker: 15
- Justin Swidowski: 12
- De’Aires Tate: 7
- Tevin Falzon: 4
- Mostafa Abdel Latif: 4
- Lewis Cramer: 1
- Evan Kelley: 1
And just as importantly here’s the breakdown by type:
- 46% layups
- 34% threes
- 17% jumpers
- 3% dunks
Gaetano’s distribution of shot types actually looks a lot like the pre-Boyd injury numbers for Brickman. Interestingly enough, it’s not a big man, but Gibson that is taking all of those jumpers. He’s taken 10 of the 26. Swidowski has also had a large numbers of jumpers assisted when healthy. A full quarter of all assists he’s gotten from Gaetano have been for jump shots.
Montes has benefitted a ton from Gaetano’s ability to get him the ball near the rim. He’s gotten three dunks and 24 layups from Gaetano’s assists. Montes is also able to score by himself at the rim. Thirty of his 86 twos have come on assists. All of Montes’ five threes have come from Phil’s assists.
What other interesting trends do you find in SHU and LIU’s assist trends?