Film Session: The case for Jerian Grant as National Player of the Year

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source: AP
Jerian Grant (AP Photo)

I feel comfortable saying that I’ve been the conductor of the Jerian Grant hype train this season.

I wrote a feature story about him back before the season started. I’ve had him in my Player of the Year Power Rankings every week that we’ve done them, never lower than sixth and within the top three for five of the last six weeks.

That’s not a humblebrag. It’s a not-at-all-humble I Told You So.

And now?

I’m going to contradict myself.

Yesterday, when I posted the latest installment of those power rankings, I said that the race for the Wooden Award was down to just two players: Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky.

That’s incorrect.

Jerian Grant is the most valuable player in college basketball. And if he’s not the National Player of the Year right now, he’s every bit as deserving as Okafor and Kaminsky. I’m not only saying that because he went for 23 points, 12 assists and six boards — including the go-ahead jumper and an assist on the game-clinching three — as the No. 8 Irish knocked off No. 4 Duke last night.

This is a season-long travesty that needs to be corrected.

WHAT NOTRE DAME DOES

It’s called ‘Five-Out Cutters’, and it’s the crux of the Notre Dame offense this season, an offense so simple that it’s hard to believe it’s so effective.

Notre Dame spreads the floor with five guys and sends cutters through the lane, looking to get to get some movement before their big man, be it Zach Auguste or Bonzie Colson, sets a ball-screen for Grant.

And that’s it.

“It’s a simple formula,” head coach Mike Brey told NBCSports.com. “We want some initial movement and eventually a ball-screen for Jerian.”

“Then we just play play basketball.”

There’s more that goes into it than what Brey alludes to, as the offense is based on all five players on the floor being able to read each other. The key is “spacing away”, as Brey calls it, and that hinges on Notre Dame’s three wings being able to get to the opposite side of the floor at the same time as the ball-screen is being set. Notre Dame works on that every day; their warmup for practice is to run 5-on-0 offense, practicing the timing of their ‘Five-Out Cutters’ offense.

To get an idea of what makes this attack so effective, take a look at this screen-grab from last night’s game. Bonzie Colson is setting a pick for Grant (in the red box) while Demetrius Jackson, V.J. Beachem and Patrick Connaughton — all three of whom shoot better than 44.0 percent from distance — are on the opposite side of the floor:

source:
Screengrab via ESPN

It splits the floor in half, meaning that Grant and his big man will essentially have a chance to play 2-on-2. Three things that can happen here:

1) Grant can look to attack and score himself, either by turning the corner using the screen or by trying to beat Okafor by turning down the screen.

2) Grant can hit Colson — or Auguste, depending on who is on the floor — for a dunk if he rolls hard or an open-jumper if he pops:

3) One of the help-side defenders will leave the guy he is guarding, giving a lethal jump-shooter a wide-open rhythm three:

Good luck trying to stop that.

THE STATS

Let’s start with the obvious: Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country. They are currently second in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Kenpom, just 0.1 PPP behind Wisconsin. They’re currently on pace to be the sixth-most efficient offense in Kenpom’s database, which dates back to the 2001-2002 season. Prior to their win over Duke on Wednesday night, the Irish were actually No. 1 on that list, meaning that the 77 points they scored on 68 possessions against the No. 4 team in the country actually hurt their rating.

That should give you an idea of just how good Mike Brey’s club has been on that end of the floor this season.

And they’ve needed everyone one of those points. The Irish are 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in the ACC, but they’re also 143rd in adjusted defensive efficiency and have won six of those eight ACC games by single-digits. They trailed by double-figures in four of their last five games.

In simpler terms, it’s that powerhouse offense that has been keeping Notre Dame afloat this season, launching them into the top ten and keeping the dream of bringing an ACC regular season title to South Bend alive.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

It’s easy to look at the numbers and say that the Irish are built around their ability to shoot the three, and you technically wouldn’t be incorrect. Nearly 40 percent of their field goal attempts are three-pointers — 58th nationally — and they’re making 40.2 percent of those threes — 15th nationally. Nearly a third of the points they score come via the three-ball, and of the five players that see minutes in their perimeter rotation, three are shooting better than 44.0 percent from beyond the arc and only Grant, believe it or not, is below 37.2 percent.

So yes, Notre Dame can shoot, but that’s more of a by-product of what they run than the way their offense is structured.

As we showed you earlier, the Irish run an offensive built around Grant’s ability to break down defenses, either in isolation situations or ball-screens actions. Nearly a quarter of their total offensive possessions — and almost a third of their possessions in the half court — involve pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy. Only 11 high-major programs use ball-screens more often, and none of them are close to as efficient as Notre Dame is doing so; the Irish score 1.075 points-per-possession (PPP) when using ball-screens, which is good for fifth nationally.

No one on the Irish runs more pick-and-rolls that Grant. More than half of his total possessions come via ball-screen action, and in the half court, 68.6 percent of the time that Grant shoots or creates a shot for a teammate it comes after a ball-screen, according to Synergy. That accounts for nearly 20 percent of all of Notre Dame’s half court possessions on the season. According to Synergy, the only player in the country that has been involved in more ball-screens as the ball-handlers is Terran Petteway of Nebraska, and only Arizona’s T.J. McConnell and DePaul’s Billy Garrett have been as efficient and used in ball-screens in such a high-volume.

“Jerian is just so involved with everything on the offensive end, it’s amazing how much is on him,” Brey said. “When you look at his assist-to-turnover ratio (3.40:1) and all the decisions he has to make, it’s really remarkable. He’s a computer.”

“He conducts the whole thing.”

And Brey isn’t just talking about the offense.

“We’re down, we’re getting our [butts] kicked and Connaughton has two fouls,” Brey said of Sunday night’s overtime win at N.C. State where Grant had 23 points as the Irish erased a 14-point deficit. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m gonna hold him out, we’re starting to cut [the lead] a little bit.”

“Jerian turns to me and points at Pat and says, ‘We need him.’ I immediately turn to Pat and go, ‘Get on in there, buddy. The man needs you.'”

He’s got his fingerprints everywhere on this team.

Brey added, with a laugh, “He’s running the [Joyce Center] too.”