A new season of college basketball is upon us, and with it comes our preseason projections for Bayesian Performance Rating, the metric we use at EvanMiya.com to quantify player impact. You can read more about BPR in our previous post.
Today, we will take a more detailed look at the players rated most highly in BPR. The five players with the highest projected Bayesian Performance Rating are:
- Luka Garza – Iowa
- Kofi Cockburn – Illinois
- Marcus Garrett – Kansas
- Corey Kispert – Gonzaga
- Drew Timme – Gonzaga
Let’s break down why each of these players is rated so highly.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Luka Garza is our most highly rated player heading into the season. He had a historic previous season, averaging almost 24 points and 10 rebounds a game, and finished second for the National Player of the Year award. His contribution to Iowa’s success was enormous, but he also was highly efficient while doing it, with an elite Player Efficiency Rating of 34.1.
Although Garza was outside the top 15 players in BPR last year, there is a reason why he has a higher projected rating than everyone else heading into 2020-2021. Garza was 4th in the nation in Offensive BPR last year. Not only were his individual statistics impressive, but his impact on the court was felt as well as he led his team in Team Efficiency Margin (which measures a team’s overall efficiency with that player playing) and Plus-Minus, all while facing the highest average level of competition amongst Iowa players (measured by Avg Opp BPR).
Though Garza is set up for another great year, it remains to be seen how his performance will compare to last year’s high level of play. Several Iowa basketball experts are confident in his ability to replicate his dominance again this year, and the fact that he didn’t win NPOY in 2019 might fuel him even more. Ryan Jaster of HawkeyeHQ.com said “I think Garza’s entire mindset is ‘unfinished business.’ The greats are fueled by slights — real or perceived — and even if Garza is more motivated to get to and win a Final Four, he’s likely working just as hard to follow Obi Toppin on the list of Naismith Award winners, knowing that team success will follow his. I think the only thing that can deny him this year’s POY is the pandemic or injury.”
“I would not be surprised to see his points total decrease but if the “cost” of it is a more balanced offense from Iowa and improvement on the defensive end, it may go a long way towards increasing Garza’s analytics, and, more importantly help Iowa elevate into the championship tier at the conference and national level.”
Iowa has a team this year that can legitimately reach a Final Four, and if that were to happen, it would undoubtedly be because of Luka Garza’s domination once again.
Though it’s not a shock to see Garza at #1, it may be a surprise to some to see Illinois sophomore Kofi Cockburn as the 2nd highest projected in player in Bayesian Performance Rating heading into the season. While Illinois was led last year by Ayo Dosunmu, Cockburn had an outstanding freshman campaign, averaging 13.3 points and 8.8 boards, and picking up the Big 10 Freshman of the Year award.
Despite the accolades, Cockburn’s performance for Illinois was still undervalued last season, as his advanced metrics uncover an impact on his team’s performance that is more profound than most realize. Kofi finished 9th in the nation in Bayesian Performance Rating in 2019-2020, and third in the Big 10, behind only Xavier Tillman of Michigan State and Purdue’s Trevion Williams. Cockburn is the definition of a well-rounded player, as his contributions were felt on both ends of the court. He was 6th in the conference in Plus-Minus, and 10th in Player Efficiency Rating, showing that the numbers support him both at a team and individual level.
As we dig more into his advanced metrics, it’s clear that Cockburn’s impact for Illinois was felt at many levels last year. He was:
- Second on the team in Team Offensive Efficiency (which measures how effective the team was offensively while he was on the court),
- Second on the team in Team Defensive Efficiency
- Second on the team in PER
- In the top two most efficient pairs of teammates for Illinois, and six out of the top nine, as seen below:
Kofi also made all of his teammates better when he shared the floor with them. The chart below shows how efficient Illinois was when Cockburn was paired each of his teammates. The Above/Below Average metric quantifies how much better each teammate played when he was on the court with Cockburn, compared to the teammate’s average play. All seven of the other Illinois rotation players had a high positive value in this category, indicating that Cockburn dramatically rose their level of play when he played alongside them.
The fact that Cockburn performed so well in the advanced metrics last year, despite still having clear areas in which to grow as a player, should serve as a warning for other Big 10 competition. Illinois beat writer Scott Richey stated “Cockburn’s potential is there. His play in the last month of last season could be a better indicator of how he’ll perform this season. Reliable scoring option in the post and an intimidating presence, at least, defensively even if he’s not going to block a ton of shots. There’s a reason Brad Underwood tinkered with his offense and rebuilt his entire defense once Cockburn arrived in Champaign.”
Collin Allen, writer for Writing Illini, added “It does not surprise me one bit that Kofi is projected to finish as high as 2nd in the nation! He made an immediate impact for a team who’s struggled to find an answer for the 5 position in recent years.”
Kofi Cockburn is a likely NBA draft prospect after the coming season and is a prime candidate for the common freshman-to-sophomore leap in growth. When you combine his dominant paint-scoring and shot blocking ability, along with the reports that he’s been working on his three-point shot this summer, expect Cockburn to be a major force for Illinois this season and stay near the top of the BPR leaderboard.
Marcus Garrett of Kansas is rated very highly this season in predicted Bayesian Performance Rating, coming off of a fantastic season in 2019-2020, despite not being the focal point of the Jayhawks offense. He won the National Defensive Player of the Year award, while also contributing on the offensive end with 9.2 points and 4.6 assists per game. When you look at how the team performed with him on the court, it becomes very obvious why he is ranked so high and is “one of [Bill] Self’s all-time favorite players to coach”, according to Kansas beat writer Scott Chasen.
At a national level, Garrett was 4th in Bayesian Performance Rating and 4th in Defensive BPR last season. In a very competitive Big 12 conference last year, Garrett was:
- Second in BPR
- Third in Defensive BPR
- Sixth in Team Defensive Efficiency, which measures a team’s defensive efficiency with that player on the court
- Third in Team Efficiency Margin, which measures a team’s overall efficiency (on both ends) with that player playing
- First in Plus-Minus
The importance of his role for Kansas can especially be seen in how his play impacted his teammates. Every single one of his teammates performed better than his individual average when on the court with Garrett, as seen by the Above/Below Average metric:
According to Chasen, “[Garrett] is the best defender Self has ever coached (a list that includes some impressive names) and his offensive game came along some last year, as his driving, shooting and passing numbers all improved. Garrett was KU’s most consistent player and may have had one bad game total that wasn’t brought on by injury.”
With Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike gone, Marcus Garrett will be tasked with leading Kansas on the offensive end this year, while still bringing his shutdown defensive skills. If he is able to contribute at a higher level offensively while still maintaining his lockdown defensive status, he will take Kansas to a whole new level.
Corey Kispert and Drew Timme
Corey Kispert and Drew Timme of Gonzaga are deserving of individual attention, but we will talk about them together because the potential they both bring together for the Zags this season is downright scary for opponents.
As a junior last season, Corey Kispert was a big piece for Gonzaga as he averaged 13.9 points and 4 rebounds a game, while shooting over 47% from the field, including an efficient 43.8% from three. While he wasn’t the biggest star for Gonzaga, his impact was reflected in the advanced metrics as he finished 18th in the nation in Bayesian Performance Rating. Kispert was 12th in the nation in Offensive BPR, 5th in Team Offensive Efficiency, and 4th in Team Efficiency Margin. He was also a solid factor on the defensive end, finishing 7th in the WCC in Defensive BPR.
This year, he is expected to take an even bigger jump into the national spotlight, as he is 4th in the nation in projected BPR, and 5th in projected OBPR. Peter Woodburn, writer for The Slipper Still Fits, predicts big things for Kispert: “Last season, Corey Kispert took a huge leap in his offensive efficiency, and we shouldn’t expect anything less from him in his senior year.”
Making The Madness contributor Sean also added “It’s no surprise to me that Kispert is ranked in the top five of the BPR. Finishing his season with 13.9 PPG while proving to be one of the better shooters in the nation at 43% from three. That kind of production on the wing along with being a serviceable defender gives Kispert immense value.”
Unlike Kispert’s more well-rounded game, Drew Timme’s value comes from his elite offensive efficiency. Despite playing limited minutes as a freshman in 2019-2020, Timme averaged 9.8 points and 5.4 boards per game, shooting a ridiculous 62% from the floor. His advanced offensive metrics were off the chart last year, as Timme was:
- First in the nation in Offensive Bayesian Performance Rating
- First in the nation in Team Offensive Efficiency
- First in the nation in Team Efficiency Margin amongst players with over 800 possessions played (with a large gap between first and second)
The underlying BPR model becomes more convinced in a player’s impact the more possessions that they play, which makes Timme’s #1 rating in OBPR from last year all the more impressive, considering he played significantly less minutes than many other leading players. All of these high marks lead to him being the player with the 5th highest projected Bayesian Performance Rating for this season as he steps into a prominent role for Gonzaga.
Gonzaga experts see Timme as having a very high ceiling, as Sean wrote “Though he only played 20 MPG behind Petrusev last season he showed flashes of elite play. The way the Zags use the bigs I could easily see Timme averaging 17+ PPG, and make him worthy of being top five in the BPR. I think Kispert overall is more valuable due to the scarcity of elite wing players, but I think Timme will put up better stats, and be the top player in PPG and RPG this season.”
As Woodburn put it, “Drew Timme is a star. [He] was phenomenal in his limited minutes. He basically did everything right as a center. Mark Few has said that Timme has been working on expanding his range this offseason, and if Timme is able to attempt more than three three-pointers, it will only make him a more dangerous offensive playmaker.”
One exciting piece for Gonzaga is the fact that Kispert and Timme played extremely well together last season. For all pairs of Gonzaga teammates who were on the court for more than 300 possessions, Kispert and Timme had the highest Weighted Chemistry score on the team, which reflects how much better than average the team performs when these two players on the court together, compared to team averages when they are on the court individually.
The high chemistry score shared by Kispert and Timme, along with the fact that Gonzaga outscored opponents by 41.9 points per 100 possession when they were on the court at the same time, indicates that Gonzaga is at its most deadly when they are playing with each other. By contrast, when Gonzaga stars Filip Petrusev and Killian Tillie shared the floor last season, the team only outscored opponents by 21 points per 100 possessions. With Gonzaga being the only team in the nation to boast two top-five players in projected BPR, look for them to play at an elite level again this year behind the efforts of Kispert and Timme.