(He's better than you think! From; The BDC)
I may have overstated my case in the lead. Obviously production from Al Burks, Cory Higgins, and Marcus Relphorde is integral to any CU victory; it's just that without the emerging point-guard-awesome that Nate can bring to the table, those three guys would be stuck in neutral. It's evident to the eye that there is a definitive change in team tempo and attitude when Nate is on the court. He, as the point guard, conducts the train. Seriously, really sit and watch the next CU game. Notice any difference between the team when Nate is running the show and the team when, say, Dwight Thorne is running it? The unit is more cohesive, they have more direction, and a better performance comes out of it.
Eyesight, especially in today's stat-driven sport world, doesn't tell the whole story. One of my favorite stats in basketball is the plus-minus stat. It's a transfer from hockey that has made an impact on the stat world of NBA junkies. It basically says weather the team scores more or less than their opponents when a given player is on the court. It can be a time-intensive venture to compile this stat for college basketball. With over 300 teams, and hundreds of games every week, plus/minus can be a bear to compile. Luckily, for the purposes of this diatribe, someone went through all of that trouble for me. The Blog Basketball-Statistics.com has a great rundown of this stat from the half-way point of the current season (Big hat tip to Jon Nichols for putting this together). Unfortunately, because the creator of this blog can no longer keep the stat sheet updated, the last update is from January 27th, but, for our purposes here, the final sheet will suffice. (This will take us up through the A&M Loss on the 23rd)
- Nate Tomlinson 8.4 4.5 -3.9 95 1675
- Alec Burks 8.4 4.3 -4.0 97 1907
- Marcus Relphorde 2.4 -5.1 -7.5 68 1654
- Austin Dufault -0.3 -2.6 -2.3 51 1512
- Cory Higgins -4.6 -2.4 2.2 61 2129
- Dwight Thorne -6.0 -2.5 3.5 16 1301
As you can see, not only does Nate tie for the team lead, but Cory Higgins and Dwight Thorne, the others most frequently tasked with point-guard duties when Nate is on the bench, struggle mightily in the category. The point is, when Nate is on the court, CU does well.
Going further, the stat-geek paradise kenpom.com blog has some additional stats to support Nate. (These stats are updated as to last night.) He leads the team in assist rate (percentage of teammate field goals he assists on) and true field goal percentage (Interestingly, he is in the top 40 in the nation in this stat which basically measures how good of a shooter you are across all shooting disciplines (i.e. 3-point, field-goal, and free-throw)).
All of this leads me to last night. Nate was in fine form during CU's 77-67 victory over Oklahoma (A team weirdly picked to finish 3rd in the conference). Not only did he fill up the stat sheet (13 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists), Nate's effective game enabled CU to stick to a strategy of run-and-gun. CU had a 27-6 edge in fast break points, owing both to this strategy and the 8 rebounds Nate collected. Nate was able to both grab the rebound, and kick-start the fast-break by throwing some superb outlet passes. On some of them, he looked like the quarterback the football team has been missing the past 3 years. Looking deeper, the fact that CU assisted on 19 of 28 baskets shows the team was passing the ball around effectively, which goes back to Nate's efficient play-calling and game management. Offensively, Nate grabbed the team by the collar; directing traffic, and, when needed, hitting a clutch 3-pointer late in the game to kill off a late OU rally.
Sure, sometimes the Australian can lose his head a bit (especially late in games). He sends passes in odd directions and makes weird decisions. (Also, since he is the only true point-guard healthy at the moment, his success may just be a product of the fact that he's all we have at such an integral position.) But, currently, the team is better off when he is on the court. You only have to look deeper to see the truth.