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Johnathan Motley’s All-American Season

Motley is having an incredible season

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Johnathan Motley was the 130th ranked player in his high school class. He would be an All-American, if the season ended today. The best player Scott Drew has ever had gives the Bears a chance to finally make another Final Four.

Few players matter as much to a team’s offense as Motley. He has a usage rate of 29.2%, which ranks 80th in the country. Despite that high usage rate, he is one of the most efficient players in the country because he can create his own shot from the perimeter:

Motley has been able to beat guys from the perimeter because he’s added 3-point range this season. He rarely shoots from deep, but when you can do this at 6’10, guys have to respect the shot:

One of Motley’s best skills is his offensive rebounding. Many worried how the 2016-2017 Bears would fare without Rico Gather’s offensive rebounding. Maybe that’s part of why this team received zero votes in either preseason poll. But Motley has moved from 67th to 30th in offensive rebounding percentage this season. He moves well and battles for boards.

Big men like Jarrett Allen of Texas and Vladimir Brodziansky of TCU are well respected and receive NBA attention. But Motley dominated both matchups. He finished with 25 points on 12-of-15 shooting against TCU in Waco, and he finished with 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting against Texas.

In a blowout win against Oklahoma, Fran Franschilla said, “It’s like a varsity team playing a really good J.V. team.” Watching Motley battle TCU and Texas on the boards was like that:

Unlike the people who pick the best table and the cheapest drink as they begin their work at Starbuck’s, Motley can work from anywhere. He’ll catch it on the left or right block and make shots. He can catch under the basket or move in from the perimeter. It’s devastating to devise a game plan around a player like that. Welcome to the disastrous task of defending Motley:

It’s nice to be able to do things in different spots, but eventually you’ll walk into a disaster. In real life, maybe you go to Chick-fil-A and need a drink refill. Suddenly you find yourself at the cash register as a 16-year-old asks you how your day is going. The conversation has nowhere to go once you answer, “pretty good.” But given Chick-fil-A prides itself on service and cleanliness, the young kid is taking his time to refill your drink. There’s nothing left to say, but the large drink and looming health crisis drag this moment out. There’s just no shot to avoid that awful silent moment.

But although ball may be life, basketball is not real life. In basketball, if you’re Johnathan Motley, you can avoid a terrible situation—despite being a foot taller than the common man—by sidestepping your problems:

Motley is not just a man who creates his own shot. He also has been an excellent facilitator. Sam Vecenie of Sporting News had this observation recently:

Motley can fire passes out of double teams and even pass off the dribble. His assist rate is now 14.6%, which is far higher than his 8.7% rate from last season. Motley came back to school to get better and he certainly has:

As important as Motley’s offensive improvement has been, the Bears have made a huge leap defensively. The Bears currently have the #6 KenPom defense. That’s 17 spots higher than any previous Scott Drew defense. Jo Lual-Acuil, Ish Wainright, and Manu Lecomte are huge reasons why. Motley is too.

Motley ranks in the top 300 in both defensive rebounding percentage and block percentage. For a guy who is the focal point of a team’s offense, that’s impressive. It’d be easy for Motley to take possession off defensively and expect Lual-Acuil to cover up for his mistakes. But Motley doesn’t do that. Instead, he’s active and fights to contest shots. He maintains good position and prevents opponents from blowing by him. He’s a big reason Baylor’s effective field goal defense is 45.7%. The gap between Baylor’s effective field goal defense and second place—50.6% for Texas—is greater than the difference between second and last place in the conference. Watch how Motley contests opponent looks, even from the perimeter:

When you put it all together, it’s understandable why advanced statistics love Motley. KenPom has Motley 3rd in his player of the year race. That’s higher than anyone in the Big 12.

Four years ago, the Houston Defenders were one of the best AAU teams. College coaches focused on their two best players, Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Those two had offers from nearly every school. But despite playing on the same team, Motley couldn’t crack the top 100 in the national ranking services.

A lot can change in four years, which makes us hesitant to foreclose something crazy can happen. Yet, few could have imagined Motley would become one of the best players in the country. There’s no denying that happened. And there’s no denying that a program that hasn’t made the Final Four since the outbreak of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula might finally return because Johnathan Motley has become an All-American.