Leading the country in scoring is not an easy thing to do.
It’s even more difficult when playing in one of the Power Six conferences.
In fact, prior to Virginia Tech point guard Erick Green leading the nation in scoring at 25.0 ppg in 2012-2013, the last player to be college basketball’s top point producer while playing in one of the Power Six conferences was the Big Dog, Purdue forward Glenn Robinson. That was back in the 1993-1994 season. To put that in perspective, Glenn Robinson III, the Big Dog’s son, was a freshman at Michigan this season.
That alone should give you a sense of the kind of year that Green had as a senior.
But that number certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.
Green played on one of the worst high-major teams in the country. The Hokies finished 4-14 in a weak ACC. They were 13-19 on the season despite winning their first seven games as teams adjusted to their new style of play. He was the focal point of every defense that Virginia Tech faced this season. And somehow, he still managed to be one of the top ten most efficient major contributors (players with a usage rate of higher than 24%) in the country.
The numbers? Green shot 47.5% from the field and 38.9% from three with an assist rate of 27.0% and a turnover rate of just 11.0%, an extremely low number considering that he used 31.7% of the possessions that he was on the floor. Put it all together, and Green’s offensive rating was 120.0, which more or less put him on par with Trey Burke and Doug McDermott.
In layman’s terms, Green’s season was defined by high efficiency on an even higher volume despite being the focal point of every defense he faced. Yeah, he earned every bit of his spot on NBCSports.com’s All-America third team as well as his ACC Player of the Year award.
All while playing on a team that lost 19 of their last 25 games.
“It was hard,” Green told NBCSports.com in a phone interview, “trying to stay focused when you’re losing, but I had to go out there every night and perform. So I just stayed in the gym, that was the only thing that was important for me, staying in the gym, keep getting better and better.”
Green had always been a good player, taking advantage of an injury to Dorenzo Hudson when Green was a sophomore that allowed him to get more minutes and emerge as a breakout performer. After Malcolm Delaney’s graduation in 2011, Green became the go-to guy for Virginia Tech as a junior. And while first-year head coach James Johnson — he spent years as an assistant on Seth Greenberg’s staff — had always thought Green would have a chance at the pros by the time he left Blacksburg, he said that there was one noticeable change to Green prior to his senior year.
“He always worked on his game,” Johnson told NBCSports.com, “but he went from being a guy working on his game to living in the gym and being a student of the game. Studying tape, wanting to come upstairs and study opponents, coming into coaches offices and studying himself.”
According to Green, there was a change in him, and he can trace back to a moment the summer before his senior year.
“I went to Chris Paul’s camp and I had a good showing there,” Green said. “I thought in my head, ‘man, if these are the best, than I can be one of the best, too’. I took that mentality back.”
“My mentality changed. Everything that I did, I wanted to be the best. I wanted to win every drill, I wanted to show everybody that I’m trying to get ready for the next level.”
The question now becomes whether or not Green’s mentality has to change again. He just proved himself an all-american, but he can’t dominate the offense and be an effective point guard at the NBA level. According to Green, the question that he’s heard the most from NBA teams is whether he thinks he’ll be able to run a team when he’s not being asked to score 25 points a night, when his role requires more than hunting the best shot for himself.
Green believes that he can, comparing himself to George Hill and Devin Harris, two other bigger point guards that were known more for their scoring ability at the collegiate level.
But according to Jonathan Givony, the brainchild between Draft Express, Green’s ability to score should help his chances to land a spot in a rotation as an NBA point guard.
“I think one of the things that we overrate more than anything is this ‘pure point guard’ idea,” Givony said. “In the NBA, a point guard has to be able to score, and if you can’t score, that almost eliminates you entirely from the conversation. I think that it’s much easier for a guy like Erick Green, who is a good ball-handler and who’s unselfish and very smart and great in the pick-and-roll.”
“I would put my money on the so-called combo-guard like Erick Green over just a non-scorer.”
One of the reasons, Givony says, that it’s so important for a point guard to be able to create is the shorter shot clock in the NBA. At the college level, the 35 second shot clock allows a team to try to run a couple of different sets without feeling rushed; in the NBA, that 24 second clock expires in a hurry.
Green can score, and he can do it in an efficient manner. We saw that this season, as he routinely shredded defenses that were geared entirely towards stopping him. “He’s like a quarterback that’s seen every type of blitz coming at him,” Johnson said. He’s become quite a lethal shooter as well — whether it’s of the pull-up or the spot-up variety — which is not something that he considered a strength heading into this season.
There are plenty of question marks regarding Green’s future as a pro. Is he athletic enough and strong enough to defend NBA point guards? Will his struggles finishing around the rim in college follow him to the NBA? Will he be able to draw as many fouls in the NBA as he did in college?
All those are fair concerns.
What isn’t fair, however, is punishing Green for the fact that he had to carry the overwhelming majority of the load as a college senior.
Green is an efficient point guard that can really shoot the ball and has an understanding of how to attack and how to execute in the pick-and-roll. That matters.
And it may matter more than the fact that he had to take 17 shots per game as a college senior.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.