Baylor Men’s Basketball finished their non-conference slate with a 10-2 record, which while respectable for most programs in the country, is the worst start for the Bears since the 2018-2019 season. Large losses to #13 Virginia and unranked Marquette overshadow narrow wins over #10 Gonzaga and #11 UCLA. Baylor finds itself behind both Kansas and Texas in the rankings (polls and KenPom) as we enter conference play.
Below is a summary of what the statistics tell us about the team thus far, beginning with assessments of individual players and concluding with the team’s overall strengths and weaknesses.
Our leading shot taker is Keyonte George — almost 22% of the team’s shot attempts have come from the highly touted Freshman. The volume comes at a cost, though, as George’s effective field goal percentage of 49% is lowest on the team. This is partially due to his 33% shooting on midrange jumpers, which is below average for the team. Despite his relative inefficiency, George leads the team in points scored, as well as being in the top three in assists, steals, and defensive rebounds.
Without a doubt the most efficient high-volume scorer on the team is fifth-year senior Adam Flagler. Flagler leads the team in points per game with 16.1 and all guards with an effective field goal percentage of 63%, up from his 54% last season. His 51% three point shooting percentage is more than ten percentage points greater than anyone else’s, and he does so with the lowest assist ratio on his three point attempts. While he isn’t on the receiving end of many assists, Flagler leads the team in assists per game with 5.2. Unsurprisingly, his overall offensive rating on KenPom is highest on the team and 38th in the entire country.
Joining George and Flagler in the starting lineup is junior LJ Cryer. Cryer is the second-leading shot taker behind George and leads all guards with a 56% shooting percentage on midrange jumpers. He also leads all players with a 92% free throw shooting percentage; unfortunately, Cryer has the lowest free throw attempt to field goal attempt ratio, so he doesn’t have many opportunities to demonstrate his superior free throw shooting. Of course, the bulk of his points come from behind the three point line, and his 37% from deep is just above the team average. I expect this number to improve as the season goes on, as Cryer was shooting 47% from three in his injury-shortened season last year.
Behind our starting trio of guards are Dale Bonner and Langston Love. Bonner is the most improved player from last season so far, increasing his effective field goal percentage from 39% to 56%, and he’s scoring from all over the court. He’s leading all guards with 31% of his shots coming at the rim, and he’s converting on a guard-leading 73% of them. Bonner’s three point shooting percentage is up to 39%, a huge improvement from his 19% last season. Topping it all off, Bonner leads the team in steals with 2.3 per game and is 13th in the country with a steal rate of 5.3% per KenPom.
Two things the young guard needs to work on are rebounding and turnovers. Bonner has the second-lowest rebounding rate on the team at 4.7%, and he leads all ball-handlers with a 22% turnover rate. However, even with his knack for stealing the ball, Bonner has the second-lowest on-off defensive split on the team — opponents score 10.2 more points per 100 possessions when Bonner is on the court than when he is off the court.
Langston Love missed last season due to injury, but he’s making up for lost time now. All of his shooting percentages (effective, at the rim, midrange, and from deep) are within a few points of the team average, but limiting his contribution to points scored sells the guard short. According to Evan Miyakawa’s lineup efficiency ratings, Love is a part of 9 of the top 10 best three-man lineups for Baylor. Love is first and second among guards in offensive and defensive rebounding rates at 6.5% and 12.4%, respectively. He also has the lowest turnover rate among guards at 11%. Finally, he has the highest on-off defensive split on the team — opponents score 10.2 fewer points per 100 possessions when Love is on the court than when he is off the court. Love knows his role and plays it really, really well.
Moving away from the guards, Baylor’s two big transfers are making themselves right at home. Last year while playing for BYU, Caleb Lohner attempted 44% of his shots at the rim (56% made) and 26% of his shots from deep (21% made). So far this season, Lohner is attempting 65% of his shots at the rim (79% made) and only 14% from deep (33% made). Scoring more inside while still posing a threat from the perimeter is exactly what this team needs from him.
Lohner is our second-best rebounder with an offensive rebounding rate of 13% and defensive rebounding rate of 19%, but he needs to work on converting those rebounds into points. Lohner has only 7 assists on the year and is shooting rather poorly on his putback attempts following offensive boards. Furthermore, he has the worst offensive and defensive on-off splits of the team and the lowest overall Bayesian Performance Rating according to Evan Miyakawa.
Baylor’s other transfer, Jalen Bridges, has almost the opposite story of Lohner. Bridges nearly has the exact same distribution of shots this year as he did last year at West Virginia, but his shooting percentages have changed drastically. His 72% two point shooting percentage is much better than last year’s 54%, but his three point shooting percentage has fallen from 33% to a team-low 18%.
Despite his shooting woes, Bridges leads the team with a 6.3 on-off offensive split, is second on the team with a 5.9 on-off defensive split, and he’s third on the team in Evan Miyakawa’s overall Bayesian Performance Rating behind only George and Flagler. This is partially due to having the lowest turnover margin on the team at 9% and second-highest block percentage at 5.7%. Without exaggeration...if Bridges can get his three point shooting percentage back to the low thirties, he could be the most valuable player on the team.
Last but not least are Baylor’s two big men, Flo Thamba and Josh Ojianwuna. Thamba is the winningest player in program history and has a well-deserved national championship ring to show for it. He’s been a standout player in the biggest moments, and his leadership won’t show up in the box score. All that said, his overall stats leave much to be desired.
Start with his scoring. He’s attempted only 27 shots all season, ahead of only Zach Loveday, Jake Younkin, and Jordan Turner. He’s attempting 70% of his shots from the rim and making 68%, lower than everyone but Flagler and Cryer. Thamba has more opportunities from the free throw line where he gets 1.4 attempts for every field goal attempt; however, he’s shooting a team low 47% — the lowest of his career.
Thamba’s role on the team has never been as a scorer, so it’s not fair to criticize him too harshly here, but his other stats are underwhelming, as well. Thamba is fourth on the team with an offensive rebounding rate of 9.1% and third on the team with a defensive rebounding rate of 18.2%. He’s third on the team with a block rate of 3.5%. Most damning, he leads the team with a turnover rate of 30%. Given all that, he still has the third best defensive on-off split on the team at 3.9 fewer points allowed per 100 possessions.
Backing up Thamba is newcomer Josh Ojianwuna. The freshman from the NBA Global Academy has shown a lot of potential in his 15 minutes per game. Ojianwuna leads the team in effective field goal percentage at 68%, primarily due to his 82% percent on shots at the rim, leading to 5.8 points per game. He also leads the team in offensive and defensive rebounding rates at 16% and 19%, respectively, and block rate at 5.9%. Ojianwuna’s free throw shooting isn’t bad for a big man, either, as he makes 68% of this FTs, and his free throw rate of 66% is second only to Thamba.
Put all these individual statistics together and you’ll have a pretty good idea of this team’s strengths and weaknesses. They love passing the ball — 15th in the nation with an assist to field goal rate of 63% — and shooting from deep — 24th in the nation with a three point attempt rate of 46% — and they know how to shoot the ball well. Their 56% two point shooting percentage, 26th in the nation, and 36% three point shooting percentage, 70th in the nation, combine for the 15th most efficient offense in the country. It doesn’t hurt that the Bears are also the 14th best offensive rebounding team.
Defensively, Baylor limits their opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 48%, near the lower third of the country, primarily due to their 94th ranked 47% two point shooting percentage allowed. Their real strength is in generating turnovers, forcing a 23rd ranked 24% turnover rate. These two factors drive Baylor’s top-40 defensive efficiency ranking.
On offense, Baylor’s biggest stumbling block is turnovers. They give up a turnover on 20% of possessions, which is in the upper third of the country, and most of them are a result of steals, which unlike errant passes that lead to a stoppage of play, can quickly turn into fast break points. On defense, Baylor struggles with defending the three point shot, allowing a middle-of-the-pack 34% three point shooting percentage, and limiting free throw shots, allowing a free throw to field goal attempt rate of 35%.
Conference play will provide ample opportunity for Baylor to demonstrate their offensive success isn’t just a fluke and their defensive woes can be limited to a couple of bad games. Half of the conference is in the top 30 teams in adjusted offensive efficiency and six teams are in the top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Oklahoma and West Virginia will test Baylor’s perimeter defense, and almost the entire conference is in the top 40 in forcing turnovers. TCU and Texas are unlikely to give Baylor many free points off of turnovers, and Oklahoma, Okie State, and TCU do a phenomenal job defending against the three.
While the non-conference games show it will be an uphill climb for Baylor to win their third Big 12 regular season Championship in a row, this team has all the tools to do so.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN, Hoop-Math, KenPom, and Sports Reference.