Warren Leads Pack Improvement...on Defense?

Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

That's what the numbers say. And you know what they say about numbers.

After losing 79% of its scoring from a year ago, the obvious question for N.C. State in 2013-14 was: where will the points come from? T.J. Warren, so far, has given a resounding one-word answer: "Me." Despite a huge increase in workload (19.5% up to 30.9%), Warren has remained an efficient scoring machine (his ORtg is down just 1.2 points) and leads the ACC with a 22.6 scoring average. Freshperson Cat Barber's instant adjustment to the college game (117.6 ORtg), the emergence of Jordan Vandenberg as a finisher around the rim, and the veteran presence of transfers Desmond Lee and Ralston Turner have led the team to a 114.7 ORtg overall, a mark that is actually an improvement over last year (112.4).

But the most impressive rating in the early going for the Pack comes on the other end of the floor where, for the first time under Gottfried, N.C. State is showing signs of becoming an above average defensive team. The matador Pack of a year ago waved opponents basket-ward en route to a DRtg of 102 (over 100 is good for offense, bad for defense), a performance that ranked 222nd out of 347 teams. The new-look Pack are making me wonder if losing four starters might result in addition by subtraction, as this year's group has whittled the DRtg down to 98.7. That's far from elite (109th out of 351), but it's better to be in the top third than the bottom third.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the defensive improvement is that it's being led by Warren. He has slimmed down his DRtg from 104.6 to 96.7 thanks to dramatically increasing his DRb% (8.1% up to 14.3%) and slight upticks in Stl% (2.6% to 3.2%) and Blk% (1.5% to 1.6%). What we have here is a complete basketball player, and one that is surrounded by other willing defenders. Vandenberg (95.3), Lennard Freeman (97.3), Turner (97.5), and Lee (99.1) all rate better than average defensively. Barber, due to his low DRb (6.8%), Stl (1.0%), and Blk (0.0%) rates, doesn't get great marks (106.1), but Dean Oliver, proprietor of DRtg, notes that sometimes excellent perimeter defenders who don't get a lot of possession-ending stats are shortchanged by his system. Barber passes the eye test; he's keeping his man in front of him, and his quickness (one might even say it's cat-like) should translate into pockets picked in time.

A season ago, His Greatness Sir Richard Howell was the only player on the squad to post a sub-100 DRtg (97.7). Eight games into the season is not nearly enough data to know for sure if this year's group will continue to actually try to prevent opponents from scoring the ball, but if that is indeed the case, and the team continues to be an efficient, Gott-like team on offense, the Pack's third-year coach may have his best team yet in a season that was expected to be a rebuilding year.

Bonus stats:

How good has Warren been in the early going? My quick (and possibly incomplete) perusal found just three other NCAA players with a Usg rate over 30% and an ORtg north of 120. Two-time all-American Doug McDermott (35.5%/123.5) from Creighton, Oregon State's Roberto Nelson (34.2%/126.4), and NCCU's Jeremy Ingram (33.5%/121.8) join Warren (30.9%/126.7) on this exclusive list. Warren has the highest ORtg of the group and he and Ingram are the only two with a DRtg under 100. In fact, Warren's ORtg is exactly 30 points higher than his DRtg, meaning a team of T.J.s would blow out an average team by 30 points in a 100-possession game.

For a very detailed look at the methodology behind the ORtg and DRtg, click here.

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