NEC fans might not realize it, but they’re quite spoiled this season. The league features some of the best point guard play in the entire nation. Jason Brickman leads the nation in assists at 10.0 per game, but other players like Julian Norfleet, Brent Jones and Sidney Sanders, Jr. aren’t too shabby either. The four of them rank in the Top 9 in Assist Rate according to KenPom.com.
Each of these four point guards is a gifted player, but all certainly benefit from the systems they play in and the offensive talent they have around them. (That second piece makes the fact that Sacred Heart’s Phil Gaetano, who 25th nationally in assist rate, is even there at all even more remarkable.) What makes Brickman, Sanders, Jones and Norfleet tick? How do they get their assists? Let’s break it down thanks to the Assist Tracker.
Methodology Note: I went through and parsed all the NCAA.org play-by-plays to get the players and types of assists for all four players. It’s all set now. If you have another player that you’re curious about feel free to ask.
I classified all of a player’s assists into three buckets: at the rim, two-point jumper, or three-point jumper. Obviously shots at the rim are great. The average NCAA team hits 61% of its shots around the rim. If your passes are going to the rim that’s great. Three-pointers are also awesome. The NCAA average is just a shade over 34% from distance this season, so a deep look isn’t bad either. We disparage two-point jumpers, but they have a useful time and place, though the NCAA average of 36% is just slightly better than what you’d get for just stepping behind the line.
Penetrate-and-kick point guards are valuable because they can increase the odds of all three of these occurrences. When Brickman is diving into the paint with the ball opposing head coaches have to be terrified. The Blackbirds’ senior point guard can go to the rim himself, but he’s just as likely to find a teammate at the rim (104 assists) as kick it out to the perimeter (91 assists). While Jones has fewer total assists, his profile percentage wise looks strikingly similar to Brickman’s, as you can see in the graph below.
On the other hand, Sanders and Norfleet play in systems where the three-point shot is the first option on almost every play. Kicking it back out to the perimeter to shooters spaced to get an open look is the most first instinct for these two guards. Around 60% of their assists go for threes. It’s also worth noting that none of these players hand out many assists on two-point jumpers. Jones has the highest percentage at 11%, but most of those are still shots by big men around the rim. Of Jones’ 14 two-point jumper assists 12 have gone to either Wayne Martin (6), Jalen Cannon (4), or Amdy Fall (2).
Want to know how dominant a season Brickman is having? Here’s the same graph by with totals. Notice that Brickman has almost as many assists for baskets around the rim as Jones, Sanders and Norfleet have total.
It’s also interesting to see who these four players pass to. It’s obvious from looking at these numbers that Jones and Cannon have a special connection in Brooklyn Heights. Almost 35% of Jones’ assists have gone to his classmate. Another 24% have gone to Ben Mockford (28 of those being for threes). If Jones just handed out an assist you could make a reasonable bet that it went to one of those two players.
The other three players are slightly more balanced in their distribution. Here’s the top player for each:
- Jason Brickman: Landon Atterberry (29%)
- Brent Jones: Jalen Cannon (35%)
- Sidney Sanders: Mustafaa Jones (23%)
- Julian Norfleet: Rashad Whack (25%)
Because Sanders and Norfleet are kicking the ball out to a variety of perimeter shooters their totals are move evenly distributed. Here is a look at the distribution for each of the four players:
It’s also worth noting how these four fit into the offense of their respective teams beyond just passing the ball. Norfleet and Sanders are asked to carry more of the scoring burden on a night-to-night basis. They’ve excelled at it. Sanders is 34.7% of FDU’s possessions when he’s on the court, fifth nationally, and still has an offensive rating of 112.0. Norfleet is 29.0% with an offensive rating of 112.8. Jones and Brickman are also efficient scorers, but they’re not using nearly the same workload in terms of shots at the other two players.
Next time you watch one of these four players working their way into the paint appreciate just how good you have it. The NEC has been blessed with some of the best point guard play in the nation and they all do things just a little bit differently.