A Search For The Next Jeremy Lin Part 1: Jesse Sanders

Since Jeremy Lin exploded onto the basketball pop culture scene in early February, the country has become obsessed with the idea of under-the-radar, unappreciated basketball players and the notion that there could be more Jeremy Lins out there somewhere. And while Lin is quickly learning the effects of gravity, many are left wondering if another heroic underdog will emerge or if the Jeremy Lins of the future will simply slip through the cracks. Meanwhile, unsung basketball players everywhere are keeping their fingers crossed for the opportunity that Lin had. Luckily for all parties involved, we track statistics in college basketball, and with the right stats we can do a reasonably good job predicting future performance in the big league. And since far too much NBA scouting focuses on “potential,” athleticism, and team success in the NCAA tournament, numbers can be a valuable tool to find potentially productive players that didn’t fit within those three factors. After all, the numbers projected Lin as an above average NBA player. In this series of posts, I will highlight college players who have posted fantastic numbers, but have been mostly overlooked by NBA teams for one reason or another. I am not necessarily suggesting that any of these players should be lottery picks, but merely that they have proven they deserve a shot to play on the big stage.

A Worthy Candidate

The numbers suggest that we need not look any further than Liberty University’s senior point guard, Jesse Sanders. Sanders, who earlier this year became the first ever D1 college player to record a triple double in four different seasons, is a stat-stuffer in the truest sense. According to Relative Win Score (formerly PAWS), Sanders is the second most productive player in the entire NCAA (if you don’t know who’s first, you haven’t been paying attention to college basketball). Let’s take a look at what makes him so productive:

Stat Avg. PG Jesse Sanders
EFG% 0.468 0.528
TS% 0.521 0.618
3P% 0.339 0.368
FT% 0.733 0.792
REB40 4.00 9.00
DREB40 3.20 6.06
OREB40 0.81 2.94
AST40 4.91 9.04
STL40 1.65 1.31
BLK40 0.18 0.08
TOV40 3.25 3.25
PF40 2.96 2.38
Points!40 13.05 14.95
WS40 2.15 9.85

Sanders blows the average point guard out of the water. But he doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar. No one is predicting him to be drafted, and he’s not in even Draft Express’s top 100 prospects, which includes fifteen point guards who are currently playing college ball. Perhaps we can shed some light by comparing Sanders with these point guards:

Stat PGs in DE Top 100 Jesse Sanders
EFG% 0.504 0.528
TS% 0.521 0.618
3P% 0.354 0.368
FT% 0.751 0.792
REB40 4.40 9.00
DREB40 3.56 6.06
OREB40 0.84 2.94
AST40 6.27 9.04
STL40 1.78 1.31
BLK40 0.23 0.08
TOV40 3.41 3.25
PF40 2.53 2.38
Points!40 17.51 14.95
WS40 4.54 9.85

Jesse’s numbers compare very favorably to the nation’s top point guards just as they compare favorably to the average college point guard, with one familiar exception: points!, the only category that gets its own exclamation mark. Although points! isn’t generally held in the same regard for point guard evaluation as it is for evaluation of the other four positions, Jesse’s failure to shoot more has probably hurt his chances to play in the NBA to some extent. In other words, Jesse is probably being punished for being a smart, unselfish basketball player. A number of other factors exist as well. One is Liberty’s inability to win, a tragedy that many great players have regretfully endured. Another is the lack of competition in the Big South. This is certainly a legitimate concern, but just like Kenneth Faried last year, Jesse’s numbers are so remarkable that it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t still be very good against stiffer competition.

And then there are the subjective factors: he’s not big enough, he’s not quick enough, he’s not athletic enough. First, Sanders is 6-3, 200. Isn’t someone else the same size? Frankly, 6-3, 200 is not too small for an NBA point guard. Second, while quickness is certainly important, it’s extraordinarily broad and difficult to measure. Does he have quick feet? Does he have quick hands? Does he have lateral quickness? Doesn’t it make more sense to choose an ultra-productive player who you think has below average quickness than to take an average player who you think has above average quickness? And the same goes for athleticism. Doesn’t Jesse’s ability to dominate opponents speak to his athleticism? How many super athletic players have failed to produce in the NBA?

Jesse’s numbers aren’t just good. They’re phenomenal. Maybe he’ll become the next Jeremy Lin. Maybe he won’t be good in the NBA at all. Either way, he’s proven that he’s worth taking a chance on, especially with a second round pick.

For more on Win Score and Relative Win Score, go here.

-James

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