Rebuttal: The bashing of Kalin Lucas on GLH ends now

Posted: December 9, 2010 by patrickhayes13 in College

By Patrick Hayes | Great Lakes Hoops

What should I do? Should I let another overly-critical Jared Field rant on a good player go unchecked? Should I pretend he hasn’t done this before?

Kalin Lucas is just fine. Just eight months after suffering a serious injury, Lucas is shooting a career-high 47 percent from the field and a career-high 41 percent from 3-point range. He’s averaging just over 14 points per game, right in line with his career average, and he’s getting those points on more efficient shooting.

There are two legitimate knocks on Lucas since he’s returned: he’s shooting poorly (for him) from the FT line at 72 percent and his 1.04 assist-to-turnover ratio is bad for a starting point guard on a good team. Michigan State certainly needs those numbers to improve.

But the point of this is not to defend Lucas for battling back from a serious injury. I think he’s been pretty good early in the season considering how long he was out of basketball action. The point is to prove whether Jared’s contentions about Lucas in big games and whether Lucas is MSU’s best option at the PG spot are accurate.

Here were my interpretations of Jared’s general arguments:

  • Kalin Lucas does not perform well in big games
  • Korie Lucious does perform well in big games.
  • Lucas would be better off as a shooting guard because of his low assist-to-turnover ratio.

I’ll start with the whole “big games” thing. Simply look at the numbers from this season and last.

This Season:

So far, MSU has played four games against ranked opponents. Hardly a large sample size, but it’ll do. Here’s how Lucas compares to Lucious:

As you can see, Lucas scores much more efficiently in those games than Lucious. Lucious has the advantage this season so far in assist-to-turnover ratio. As I said above, Lucas needs to improve in that department.

But there’s also a reasonable explanation for it: Lucas plays more minutes with Draymond Green than Lucious does. Anyone who watches MSU basketball knows that when Green is in the game, a significant portion of the offense runs through him because he’s such a great passer. That takes some of the traditional PG responsibilities away from Lucas. Since Lucious is in the game without Green more often than Lucas is, he gets more opportunities to run the offense. This doesn’t fully explain the discrepancy in assists between the two, but it is a big part of it. And again, the sample size this season is tiny. I wouldn’t be shocked if the assist numbers were closer between the two by season’s end.

Lucas has better field goal and 3-point percentages, he scores more efficiently and he gets to the line more. I’d hardly say he has been “MIA” in big games so far, even if he hasn’t played great in all of them. Each player has a really good game in the group. Each player has a really poor game and a couple of average or below games (by their standards). There’s simply no way to conclusively say one player has out-played the other.

Last Season:

We know the story from Lucas last year. He was coming off a sophomore season that saw him win the Big Ten Player of the Year award. Last year, his stats were pretty much unchanged, save for his assists which were down slightly, and his shooting percentage, which was way up.

He also had some issues with Tom Izzo, who benched him and said he was looking for more leadership out of Lucas. Then, his season ended against Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tourney when he tore his Achilles tendon. All in all, his production was solid but it’s not a stretch to say his season had some disappointments.

But does Lucas shrink on the big stage, as Jared relentlessly points out? And is Lucious better suited to be the team’s point guard? The stats don’t lie:

Korie Lucious hit an amazing shot in the NCAA Tournament to beat Maryland. It was the type of shot Lucas has never hit on a stage like that. But don’t get it twisted: Lucious wasn’t very good overall in the tourney. He had 16 assists and 14 turnovers. He shot 37 percent in those five games.

That’s not meant as a knock on Lucious. He’s a good player who came into a tough situation and made some great plays for MSU. But other than that great shot, his performances were not what I would call “clutch.”

Overall, in big games last season, Lucas shot the ball better than Lucious, he got to the line more (which means he’s getting the opponent into foul trouble) and they had identical assist-to-turnover ratios.

Does Kalin Lucas choke in big games?

Inconclusive. He’s had bad and good games against good teams last season and this season. Even the biggest MSU fan would say that it would be nice to see Lucas have some big performances against Ohio State and Purdue. But even games that couldn’t really be considered “great” performances last year were still pretty good. Against OSU, he only shot 3-for-13, but he had eight assists with no turnovers. Against Purdue, he shot just 2-for-6, but he got to the line 11 times. Those performances, for example, could’ve been better. But it’s not as if he was a complete no-show either. And he also had some excellent games against Gonzaga, Florida, Minnesota and New Mexico State mixed in last year.

To say things like, “Shouldn’t it trouble MSU fans that he puts up terrible PG numbers against top competition?,” is hyperbole at its best. It’s cable news. Say something sensational, back it up with spotty, hand-picked stats and loudly proclaim yourself the winner of whatever imagined argument you started.

The reality shows that sometimes Lucas is pretty good, sometimes he’s average and sometimes he’s bad against good teams.

What’s with the assist-to-turnover obsession?

A major basis of Jared’s argument rests on the fact that Lucas has an assist-to-turnover ratio this season of only 1.1, which is not good for a point guard, as mentioned above.

But low assist-to-turnover ratios are not uncommon in college basketball. Lucas is at a slightly more respectable 1.8 for his career. Compare that number to these players:

  • Drew Neitzel – 2.3
  • Mateen Cleaves – 1.9
  • Kemba Walker – 1.7
  • Kyrie Irving – 1.9

You get the picture. College PGs, even good ones, rarely have really eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratios. And honestly, it’s not a good stat for tracking how efficient a player is with the ball.

A much better stat is turnover percentage. Basically, it counts how many times out of 100 possessions a player turns the ball over.

This year, Lucas has a turnover percentage of 21.6. That’s not good. In fact, it would be his career worst (previous worst was 19.9 as a freshman).

Lucious this year is at 29.1 percent. That’s not even the worst of his career — he was at 32.5 percent as a freshman and 28.0 percent last year. Turnovers continue to plague Lucious. He might get more assists than Lucas, but point guard play at MSU is all about taking care of the ball. That’s the end-all reason why Lucious isn’t the starting point guard. Lucas, for his career, is much, much better at protecting the ball than Lucious.

Lucas, for his career, averages about 2.2 turnovers per game. Lucious, for his career, averages about 1.9. On the surface, those are pretty similar numbers. But when you consider that Lucas plays significantly more minutes, thus has a lot more possessions where he’s touching the ball and could potentially turn it over, it swings things in his favor when it comes to protecting the basketball.


Lucious is certainly an exciting player with a keen sense of the ‘big moment.’ He’s talented, fun to watch and I can’t wait to see what he produces as a potential starter at point guard next year. Right now, Lucas is steady, he’s slowly but surely working his way back into form post injury and he’s Michigan State’s best option at point guard, even if his assist numbers are down from what they normally are.

Come on Jared. Do you really want to be on the side of Peter Rudy here?

  1. flint basketball says:

    well said!

  2. Jared Field says:

    Strawman reigns supreme.

    I mentioned Lucious because he has better resembled a point guard in big games for MSU this season. Never once did I say he was a great player. I merely argued that he could be a better option at PG until Lucas gets his act together.

    And why bring up numbers from his freshman and sophomore seasons? As Garth used to say, “live in the now.”

    You’re comfortable with below average PG numbers because, like most MSU fans, you love Lucas. That’s OK. But don’t change the argument and make it Lucas vs. Lucious.

  3. Patrick Hayes says:

    That’s so dumb man. Defending a side isn’t about “loving” a player. You are way too critical of a young player. Lucas isn’t the first.

    And why is it Lucas vs. Lucious? Because if you’re saying that Lucas isn’t good enough right now, you’re suggesting that Lucious is better. My contention is that, whether he has some flaws or not, Lucas is the better PG option for MSU.

    • Jared Field says:

      Defending a side doesn’t have to be about loving a player, but very often that’s what it boils down to with fans.

      How am I being too critical? I think Lucas is a great scorer and an elite athlete. I’ve not said anything to the contrary. I’ve looked at his production in big games and come to the conclusion that it’s been mediocre, especially considering he is supposed to be an elite pg.

      I’m not suggesting he is better. I’m suggesting that he deserves an opportunity. Thus far, he’s been better in big games than Lucas. Even you aren’t arguing that point.

      • Patrick Hayes says:

        Well, I am arguing that point a little. If we’re based on this season, each have had one good game, one bad game and two kinda bad games. Lucious has been slightly better in the bad games. I don’t know if I’m ready to say that makes him “better” in big games.

        If we stretch back to last year though? Lucious absolutely hasn’t been better in big games.

  4. waddmanjm says:

    Both sides have good arguments. If you’re a Spartan you stand up for Kalin. If not you speak negatively about his performance. I feel that Izzo is looking at rotation and combinations in lieu of victories early in the season. It’s pretty much the same song and dance and it works. Year in and out TI complains about scheduling and does it again the following year with results. It works.
    The Rudy thing. he has his moments when he’s on point. In most cases it’s about strategy. I think he brings up some good points. But remember even a broke watch is correct twice a day. The TI guys will come and post positives about it all. That’s cool. Because where are the TI detractors when he’s winning titles.

    • Jared Field says:

      The difference is, I’m not an MSU hater. I don’t like homerism. I’ve been rooting for MSU since the Flintstones. I’ve just never thrown in with the folks that think you can’t criticize Izzo or fan favorites like Lucas, Neitzel, etc.

      Do I think Lucious looks more like a PG right about now? Yes. Does that mean he is a long-term solution? Of course not.

      • Patrick Hayes says:

        Lucious will get his chance to be the full-time PG next year, as it should be.

        Lucas hasn’t improved as much as many thought he would after his sophomore year. But he has improved incrementally. His ability to absorb contact and the fact that his shooting percentage has gone way up the last two seasons are two things he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for. But he’s still one of the three best players on the team.

        Lucious is important both now and next year, but let’s not pretend like he’s been breaking down the door playing lights out basketball. He’s a prospect who shows flashes of great play and still makes a ton of mistakes.

  5. A. Biggers says:

    Hard to argue with that. Homework. Nice.

  6. Hoopsguru says:

    Wow – why don’t you two go out to lunch and have a 1 on 1 discussion??

  7. Sloc says:

    How about the eyeball test?… IDK what it is but the team seems to flow better with Korie on the point and last year’s tourney run was a testiment to that. Durrell and Green were allowed to take over, and the team played their best ball of the season, in my opinion.

    Now, I do believe Lucas is a better all around player since the injury. He can no longer rely on his speed, so he worked on the rest of his game this summer since he couldn’t run all over the place. The difference in obvious, but for some reason he is still getting torched by other good point guards, i.e. Kyrie and Scoop… I don’t care how highly ranked the kid was, there’s no way a freshman should put 30 on Lucas if he is the massiah you all make him out to be. You can put numbers in front of me all day long, they don’t tell the real story.

    As for his NBA status, a mid 2nd round draft choice is not impressive to me at all… a year ago I had Spartys telling me he could be a lottery pick (which was ludicrous). Again, if he’s getting torched by freshman and other “decent” college players, what’s gonna happen to him in the NBA in a point guard heavy league?

    • That’s the thing though Sloc … does Lucious pass the “eye test?” I would say he doesn’t. His production has been worse than Lucas’s in those “big stage” type games. He shot 37 percent and had 14 turnovers to only 16 assists in the tourney last year. He hit a fantastic shot against Maryland, and deserves major credit for that, but overall, he did not play well in the tournament.

      And as for defense, neither guy is going to be confused with Rondo out there defensively. Remember, Lucious took his licks against Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker this year too.

      And you’re not impressed by a player getting drafted? Only 60 guys get drafted each year. It’s an accomplishment if he goes in the second round.

      I never saw Lucas projected as a lottery pick. But at one time, DraftExpress, and ESPN all had him in the 20-30 range in their projections. Of course he hurt his stock with inconsistency last season and the injury added even more doubt to that, but to say he had no shot at being a first round pick is a stretch. He was on the fringe when he was healthy.

      As far as if it will translate to NBA success, who knows. There are very few John Wall-types who can step onto a NBA court and belong each year. Lucas obviously isn’t one of those guys. But he’s also talented, seems to work reasonably hard at his game (as you mention, he has noticeably improved at drawing contact to get to the line and his overall shooting stroke) and if he can get some of his quickness back by season’s end, there’s no reason to think NBA teams wouldn’t give him a look.

      I just want to pose this question to all of the Lucas-bashers out there: would you rather have the ball in Lucas’s hands late in the game or Lucious’s? Lucious certainly hit that big shot, and Lucas doesn’t have a signature moment like that in his career (other than the UM game, which can’t even count as a quality opponent), but let’s not pretend that Lucious hasn’t been an extremely erratic player in his career.

  8. Jared Field says:

    I wouldn’t want the ball in the hands of either. That’s the problem.

  9. Josh Glitz says:

    As I have watched games this year three things have jumped out at me.

    1. Lucas is not back to full strength yet, but is exhibiting an improved shooting touch since last year.

    2. Lucious is running the team better at the point.

    3. MSU has looked its best when both are on the court, with Lucious being the primary point.

    It is not uncommon to have 2 point guards in today’s college basketball world, and there is no doubt Sparty has two starting quality PG’s. I would like to see them share the duty more while both on the court. Rather than starting Sherman or Thorton, as Izzo has been doing, start Lucas, Lucious, Summers, Green, and Roe. With those 5 on the floor you do not lose much rebounding, can push the tempo, and have a variety of offensive threats. Lucas makes better choices in transition, Lucious runs the offense better, and Green makes everyone around him better. I feel this lineup would cause the most problems and give MSU the best chance at winning on a night in night out basis.

  10. […] Benson is the best college player in Michigan: I’ve been a rabid defender of Kalin Lucas. It’s impossible to not love Draymond Green. I think Darius Morris has potential to be very […]

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