Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Levi Knutson's magical year.

Louisville Buff, from the sometimes useful NetBuffs (as opposed to the often useful AllBuffs), posted something interesting yesterday.  One of the Basketball Buffs is rated the most efficient offensive basketball player in the country on (I don't know how I missed it, I'm on that site like 3 hours a day)  It's not Al Burks (3rd out of players with a high number of touches), and it's not Corey Higgins.  Nope, it's the Littleton,CO native Levi Knutson. (scroll down to the "all players" section)

Sure, I could be talking about the greatness of Al Burks this week; afterall, he just got named Big XII player of the week for his 36 point explosion against Mizzou.  But I feel Levi's season deserves special note.  (It's also a little more mea culpa from me, since I've said repeatedly before this season that I didn't think Levi belonged at this level)

Stats don't lie, and you don't wind up at the top of the national offensive efficiency leaderboard for nothing.  Levi is killing it with every minute he's on the court, and it's relatively few minutes as he only averages 24 minutes a game.  Not only is he scoring a career best 11.5 points per game, but he's shooting 58% from the field, 50% from 3, and an eye-popping 90% from the free throw line.  Going a little deeper, his true shooting percentage is an obscene 73%.  This all from a guy who averaged near 5 points a game as a freshman, and had regressed in each year since.
(Levi take good shots, and treasures every possession he's a part of.  From: the BDC)

Coming in to the season, I had expected Levi to be his typical scrappy self, i.e. fight bigger guys for balls, get his hands in passing lanes, and generally make himself a nuisance.  I certainly didn't expect him to be a key offensive piece on big possessions that makes the whole thing work properly.  With him draining near every shot he takes, opponents have to think twice before double-teaming the flashier Burks and Higgins.  This opens up the offense, and allows his teammates to take better shots.

So, you may be asking yourself, "Self, if Levi is so damn important, then why isn't he either starting or getting more minutes?"  Well, for one, who starts doesn't really matter.  Look at crunch time in the Mizzou game, Levi was on the floor, and the designated point guard of the night (in this case Tomlinson) was riding the pine (deservedly in this case).  As to his minutes, I wonder if Levi would maintain his effectiveness if he played, say 30-32 minutes a game, rather than the 24 per game he's getting now.  I just don't think so. 

I look at Levi like an All-Star middle reliever on a surprisingly successful baseball team.  He's a journeyman who's had ineffective periods throughout his career, but, for some reason, hasn't put it all together.  At the All-Star Break his numbers might have some ungodly look like sub .200 BA against, a WHIP under .900, a K/9 over 10, and an ERA around 1.  You don't know how he's doing it, whether it be a new pitch, a new arm slot, or whatever, but he's just murdering guys for the first time in his career, and will wind up making $4 or 5 million/year in the future because of it.  Yet he doesn't get many looks; his effectiveness derives from the fact that he's used only in the appropriate situation.  Were you to throw him in the 8th or 9th, or give him more innings, his numbers would inflate.
In other words, the scheme and rotation that Coach Boyle has Levi in now is what's getting the most out of him, to increase his touches would only be unnecessarily tweaking with a formula that's working just fine.

For a more direct-basketball analogy, I'd like to compare him to Steve Kerr on the 1996 Bulls.  Steve would only get 22-24 minutes a game, and would never start.  However, when crunch time came around, there he was, nailing jumpers, and making himself a nuisance on the court.  Because of MJ and Scotty, you had to use extra defenders, which just game Steve more chances to hurt opponents; and hurt them he did.  Kerr shot .506/.515/.929 on the season, and kept opponents aware of his positioning on the court on crucial possessions.  If he had gotten more minutes, I don't know if it really would've helped the Bulls be a better team.

The point is, not only is Levi killing it, but he's being used properly.  He couldn't be in a more perfect situation, and he's been raining holy hell-fire down on opponents all season because of it.  The broadcast guys chalk it up to him being healthy, I chalk it up to black magic.  Either way, I hope to God it continues.

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