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What Ails the Wolfpack: Player Development or Talent?

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Look at all these pretty tables!

Getting better all the time?
Getting better all the time?
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

I present to you a bunch of stats. A whole, whole, wholotta stats. A glossary at the bottom explains each metric for the uninitiated. My purpose in compiling the tables below was to attempt to track player development under NC State coach Mark Gottfried. Having done so, I'm not sure there is anything definitive in the numbers. Gott's won some and lost some. Ultimately, NC State's struggles seem to have less to do with whether or not Gott can develop the talent he has and more to do with Gott not having enough talent.

Before we get to some lukewarm takes on the data, note that if an entry in the table is bolded and italicized, it indicates improvement over the previous season. Players who did not play significant minutes in back-to-back seasons are omitted. We start with Sidney Lowe's last year as a jumping off point.

2010-11 (Lowe's last year)

Player

PER

TS%

eFG%

TRB%

AST%

BLK%

TOV%

USG%

WS/40

FT%

Wood

14.4

62.1

59.2

4.5

8.3

1.6

10.1

13.7

.113

92.3

Howell

25.0

55.0

52.4

19.5

10.2

2.3

12.9

21.0

.176

64.8

Leslie

20.0

47.0

44.5

15.8

7.1

4.8

12.9

27.1

.100

54.2

Brown

14.8

48.9

44.7

6.9

24.7

1.1

19.6

20.4

.075

71.3

Williams

12.3

50.2

48.5

7.3

12.1

1.2

15.7

15.5

.065

68.2

Painter

12.7

51.2

46.7

12.4

2.8

4.0

15.8

17.5

.078

63.2

Vandy

10.6

63.8

65.2

9.7

3.9

7.0

26.2

8.5

.069

54.5

2011-12 (Gott's first year)

Player

PER

TS%

eFG%

TRB%

AST%

BLK%

TOV%

USG%

WS/40

FT%

Wood

16.4

62.8

57.9

3.9

9.0

2.0

9.9

16.7

.148

90.7

Howell

20.2

51.9

48.9

19.4

8.2

1.2

15.9

22.9

.147

63.6

Leslie

23.5

54.9

53.0

14.3

8.1

5.7

14.8

27.1

.155

59.6

Brown

20.1

53.3

48.6

7.5

35.0

1.6

21.1

22.0

.139

72.9

Williams

16.7

57.5

55.4

6.9

11.0

1.3

11.9

16.8

.132

80.8

Painter

12.6

47.9

42.3

12.1

3.2

3.0

12.0

18.6

.093

71.8

Vandy*

13.9

82.6

87.5

13.0

12.6

6.3

32.1

7.5

.117

0.0

*83 minutes played

Gottfried inherited six key players and a Jordan Vandenberg in his first year in Raleigh. There is a whole lot of bold and italics in that table, though some of the improvements (e.g. Scott Wood's .4% increase in BLK%) are statistically insignificant. Still, taken as a whole, it's easy to see why the Pack improved from 15-16 in Lowe's last year to sweet 16 in Gott's first year. Most notable was Gott's ability to get C.J. Leslie to play like the best player on the floor; he had the natural gifts to be a star and, for at least this one year, Gott got it out of him. Lorenzo Brown, though this was necessitated by Ryan Harrow's transfer as much as Gott's coaching, took a shine to the point guard position and made things go. C.J. Williams became a confident and valuable contributor after being not much more than a warm body. All in all, after a season it looked like Gott was the possible savior for a Wolfpack program starving to get back to national relevance. The Pack clearly had talent at the end of the Lowe era; Gott got something out of it.

2012-13

Player

PER

TS%

eFG%

TRB%

AST%

BLK%

TOV%

USG%

WS/40

FT%

Wood

16.3

66.2

61.6

4.9

5.2

1.8

9.3

15.5

.143

91.4

Howell

24.8

58.7

57.0

19.6

10.1

2.8

13.1

19.8

.196

64.8

Leslie

21.0

55.0

52.2

13.0

8.4

3.7

17.9

25.8

.122

61.2

Brown

19.9

50.9

44.9

7.2

36.7

1.6

22.2

22.8

.131

77.1

Vandy

6.4

47.5

50.0

7.4

1.3

7.0

25.1

9.7

.036

25.0

Warren

23.5

63.8

64.5

8.8

5.9

1.5

9.3

19.5

.178

54.2

Lewis

13.1

56.5

42.6

5.1

17.9

0.5

17.4

15.0

.109

85.9

Turner*

10.0

49.3

46.2

5.7

11.4

0.9

16.0

19.2

.080

75.4

*last year at LSU (listed for comparison purposes for 13-14)

With State returning the core of the sweet 16 team and adding a stellar recruiting class, Gott's group was ranked 6th in the AP preseason poll, but despite reinforcements from T.J. Warren and a monster year from Richard Howell, the team never came remotely close to meeting preseason expectations, ultimately getting bounced from the tournament in its first game. Brown and Wood were good but failed to take a step forward. Brown's biggest issue was a high turnover rate that only got higher in his third year. But, obviously, the biggest factor was Leslie's lackluster performance. He regressed from best player on the floor most nights to the fourth best player on his team.

2013-14

Player

PER

TS%

eFG%

TRB%

AST%

BLK%

TOV%

USG%

WS/40

FT%

Vandy

15.9

66.7

68.0

12.2

7.8

6.6

14.6

9.5

.129

52.2

Warren

31.3

57.4

54.8

11.8

8.6

1.8

9.9

35.5

.209

69.0

Lewis

10.4

43.8

39.3

3.7

32.9

0.0

17.5

15.9

.057

74.4

Turner

14.3

55.1

53.1

5.6

6.8

0.4

9.0

21.0

.110

70.4

Freeman

12.5

50.4

51.4

18.3

4.4

1.2

10.8

10.1

.097

44.9

Lee

12.6

50.7

43.6

7.0

12.0

0.1

17.0

21.5

.072

72.5

Barber

13.7

47.5

42.4

4.8

27.5

0.1

16.1

23.1

.069

69.6

Anya

12.4

56.8

58.7

10.3

1.8

12.6

21.9

10.6

.077

48.4

Washington

8.7

45.3

43.5

11.3

4.1

3.1

15.5

16.4

.041

56.3

Lacey*

17.3

51.7

48.3

7.5

23.4

1.5

17.1

23.1

.139

71.8

*last year at Alabama (listed for comparison purposes with 14-15)

Not much was expected from Gottfried's third team after the departure of four starters to (mostly non-NBA) pro ball, but State had Buckets, and Buckets gave 0 F's about whatever it was "they" were expecting. Though his shooting efficiency took a bit of a bump while taking on an insane level of usage, T.J. Warren clearly developed in his sophomore season, adding adequate rebounding, a higher assist rate, and decent free throwing to his already efficient barrage of floaters and other score-the-ball tactics. Gottfried deserves credit not only for game-planning to best make use of Buckets' abilities, but also for guiding a young team beset by roster turnover to yet another tournament.

Also of note are the contributions of Vandenberg and Ralston Turner. Vandy became a genuine contributor after years of being all-airport squad. Turner was more efficient under Gott's tutelage at State than he ever was at LSU, even if he was a downgrade from pervious marksman Wood.

2014-15

Player

PER

TS%

eFG%

TRB%

AST%

BLK%

TOV%

USG%

WS/40

FT%

Turner

15.7

55.0

51.7

5.7

6.4

0.5

8.1

21.0

.133

83.8

Washington

17.8

50.5

48.3

12.8

5.5

6.3

12.3

22.5

.117

71.8

Barber

17.4

53.2

48.0

5.8

24.1

0.0

15.5

22.3

.127

73.3

Anya

16.5

60.5

61.0

12.3

2.2

13.4

23.0

13.0

.114

55.7

Freeman

12.3

46.1

44.7

16.0

5.1

1.1

14.4

12.3

.096

50.0

Lee

14.1

49.8

36.0

7.4

11.4

0.0

16.8

23.0

.106

80.9

Lacey

20.3

55.6

52.5

7.1

20.7

0.6

11.9

23.4

.158

73.8

Abu

16.0

49.4

47.0

13.9

6.5

2.7

13.1

20.3

.111

56.3

Caleb

13.1

48.6

44.0

9.5

8.2

2.1

11.9

17.6

.099

69.5

Cody

15.0

48.5

47.5

9.8

21.8

2.9

21.2

20.6

.094

52.9

Last season in many ways resembled Gott's first year. Look at all the bold and italics above! With Buckets off to the NBA, the collective returnees needed to take a collective step forward, and nearly everyone did. BeeJay Anya, Anthony Barber, and Kyle Washington all went from below average to above average contributors in terms of WS/40. Like Turner before him but to a greater extent, transfer Lacey improved over his SEC days. Every returning player save Freeman upped their PER and every damn one got better at the charity stripe. This Gottfried guy can coach!

2015-16

Player

PER

TS%

eFG%

TRB%

AST%

BLK%

TOV%

USG%

WS/40

FT%

Barber

23.5

54.1

45.8

6.3

26.9

0.1

10.0

29.1

.188

86.5

Anya

14.9

53.8

61.5

11.5

4.1

11.4

21.4

11.7

.089

33.3

Freeman

13.0

52.5

50.8

15.0

7.1

0.8

19.8

9.9

.098

54.8

Abu

21.3

49.9

46.5

16.7

10.4

2.0

12.1

25.6

.138

62.0

Caleb

11.6

48.1

45.4

7.4

8.4

1.8

13.8

19.5

.078

73.8

Cody

16.8

52.8

51.0

10.0

17.1

2.4

18.2

14.3

.113

57.1

And then this year happened. There's still--surprisingly--a lot of bold and italics there. Barber has taken a huge step forward and should finish with the third best season in terms of WS/40 of a Pack player in the last six years. Abu is not shooting much better, but he has become a solid rebounder and post passer while lowering his turnover rate under the pressure of much greater usage. He's a solid second option behind Barber and improving every night out according to my very sophisticated eye test. Cody Martin still turns it over too much, but he's become a solid role player. BeeJay Anya perhaps needs to get fat again; he's regressed. Caleb Martin is clearly not comfortable in the role of scoring guard; he's also no better than he was a year ago. Freeman is a little better than last year but has never matched his Howell-like boardsmanship of his first year or developed an offensive game.

I don't think we can say anything definitive about Gott's player development skills from the tables. There are lots of things to hang his hat on, like that one year of Leslie, Howell's senior season (though it wasn't that much better than his sophomore year under Lowe), Williams, Buckets, Vandy, Kyle Washington trending in the right direction (before he left), the SEC transfers, certainly the breakout of Barber, and to some extent Abu, who seems to have turned a corner. But then you have Leslie's third-year regression, Tyler Lewis losing all confidence, Anya and Caleb this year, and several guys that were pretty stagnant (though not necessarily bad players) in Wood and Freeman.

The bigger issue, I think, is when you compare the roster from 2015-16 to the one Gott inherited. The tables above don't include everyone, as I set out here to compare individual players' progression. Gott's first team had a lot of scrambling-to-get-a-recruiting-class-at-the-last-minute types like Jaqawn Raymond and Thomas de Thaey. Who can forget Tyler Harris? And of course there was the ever hustling if somewhat ineffective grad transfer Alex Johnson. This year's table lists everyone but Maverick Rowan and the dude with the cool hair who doesn't play. Bottom line: there was more depth and talent in Gott's first year than there is now. Would you take Abu over Howell? Anya over Leslie (or hell, Vandy for that matter)? Rowan over Wood? Caleb over Williams? Yes, perhaps, to Barber over Brown.

Gottfried may have been blindsided by Lacey's decision to go pro and Washington's decision to transfer. Terry Henderson may have made the above departures a moot point if healthy. Regardless of the reasons why, at the end of the day NC State is not very good at basketball because it does not have enough good basketball players (just three, in fact, with a WS/40 above average).

The million dollar questions is whether Dennis Smith, a return of Henderson, and the eligibility of Torin Dorn next year, and any other yet unknown additions (tall person, please) will be enough to close the talent gap. Hey guys, wait ‘til next year!

Glossary:

PER-Player Efficiency Rating (basically a per-minute rating of all a player's positive contributions less his negative ones)

TS%-A shooting measure that takes into account free throws, two-point, and three-point attempts

eFG%-Adjusted field goal percentage that takes into account the greater value of three-point attempts

TRB%-Percentage of available rebounds a player grabs while on the floor

AST%-Percentage of teammates' field goals a player assists while on the floor

BLK%-Percentage of opponent two-point field goal attempts blocked by a player while on the floor

TOV%-Percentage of plays resulting in a turnover per 100 possessions

USG%-Percentage of plays (including field goal attempts, free throws, and turnovers) used by a given player

WS/40-An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 40 minutes (.100 is "league average")

All stats courtesy of sports-reference.com (which is the greatest thing since sliced bread)