College basketball pundits have long argued over the best way to judge a team, whether it be NET ranking, offensive and defensive efficiency, the “eye test” or something completely different. By any of these measures, Duke has not lived up to its preseason expectations. The simplest way to gauge the Blue Devils season thus far is their record: an unimpressive 5-3.
A rough start could be made worse by the absence of sophomore point guard Tyrese Proctor — who sustained a sprained ankle in Duke’s 72-68 loss against Georgia Tech. The Sydney native has orchestrated the Blue Devils offense and his 6-foot-5 frame makes him a versatile defender.
The loss to the Yellow Jackets showed that Duke is a different team with Proctor on the court than it is without him, and the numbers back it up. Let’s dive deeper into just how much Proctor means to the Blue Devils, and how they can recoup the deficits his injury may cause.
While sophomore center and preseason AP All-American Kyle Filipowski leads Duke in many of the basic offensive categories — points per game, shots and free throws attempted and usage rate — Proctor is the Blue Devil with the ball at the start of nearly every possession. He is responsible for 28.1% of the team’s assists and dishes the ball efficiently, as his assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.5 is in the 98th percentile nationally.
Figure 1 shows the distribution of Duke’s scoring in an assist network among its seven leading passers. A line from one player to another represents an assisted basket and the thickness of each line corresponds to the number of assists between this passer-scorer combination. Two things stand out immediately from looking at this graph: Filipowski has the thickest lines pointed towards him, which tracks with his scoring role, and Proctor has the most significant outward-pointing arrows. In fact, Proctor has at least five assists to three different players — Filipowski, junior guard Jeremy Roach and freshman guard Jared McCain.
Those passes account for more than 35% of each of those three player’s total baskets. In other words, Proctor is responsible for more than one out of every three made baskets for Filipowski, Roach and McCain.
However, Proctor is not purely a passer, as his scoring numbers also make up a significant chunk of the Blue Devils’ attack. He is the third leading scorer on the team with 82 total points and an efficient 56.5% true-shooting rate (a measure similar to field goal percentage that includes free throws). While he attempts just 2.7 free throws per 40 minutes, Proctor is shooting a team-high 86.7% from the line, among those with more than three attempts.
Although he does not often score in transition — he has just five fast-break points all year — Proctor is also essential to pushing the pace for Duke. Without him on the court, the Blue Devils average more than four fewer possessions per 40 minutes. Pace is not the only area in which Duke falters without its starting point guard, though, as it suffers in nearly every efficiency measure without Proctor.
Without Proctor, what happens?
The first time the Blue Devils played any significant minutes without Proctor was Saturday against Georgia Tech. While the Yellow Jackets played an impressive offensive game, finishing with a 57.5% effective field goal percentage as a team, they did not significantly overwhelm Duke on defense. Georgia Tech finished with one steal and forced only six Blue Devil turnovers.
This means that Duke had plenty of offensive possessions — in fact, the Blue Devils attempted nine more shots than the Yellow Jackets — but could not convert their chances into points.
Figures 2 and 3 show the differences in efficiency levels with and without Proctor on the court measured by three key statistics: effective field goal percentage and offensive and defensive efficiency.
Effective field goal percentage is calculated by weighting 3-point attempts to account for their added value, and both offensive and defensive efficiency are a measure of how many points a team will score or allow per 100 possessions. For example, a team with an offensive efficiency of 110 and a defensive efficiency of 90 will, on average, score 20 more points per 100 possessions than it gives up (this is referred to as net rating).
Without Proctor, the Blue Devils suffer on both ends of the court. Their net rating drops from plus-27.1 to plus-3.1, with the majority of this gap coming on the defensive end. Moreover, opponents see a 7.1% increase in effective field goal percentage, while Duke’s drops by 4.8%.
While some of this difference can be accounted for by Proctor typically sitting in the second half of some early-season blowouts — and the overall intensity of the game decreasing — the 38-plus minutes he did not play against Georgia Tech are consistent with these metrics.
In that game, the Blue Devils’ net rating was minus-6.3. Without question, this is at least in part due to Proctor’s absence. After he went down just 1:14 into the contest, the Yellow Jackets immediately went on a 9-0 run and never looked back. Duke faced long, empty possessions and finished with a 45.2% effective field goal percentage, lower than every game besides the loss to Arkansas.
Should Proctor miss an extended period of time, head coach Jon Scheyer and the Blue Devils will need to find a way to make up for his production. While no single player can replace the potential lottery pick, Scheyer can take a page out of “Moneyball” and recreate him in the aggregate.
Who will step up?
The immediate replacement for Proctor in the starting lineup appears to be freshman guard Caleb Foster, who played a career-high 36 minutes against Georgia Tech. In that game, he scored 12 points and committed just one turnover, but also shot 1-for-4 from the line and had just one assist. This season, while Foster was on the floor he assisted just 10.7% of his teammates’ baskets.
While he is a very different player than Proctor, and does not have the same experience running the point, Foster brings a different set of skills to the table that may be advantageous at a time when Duke is struggling. He leads the team in field goal percentage both at the rim and from midrange, shooting 80% and 57.1%, respectively.
On the defensive side of things, Scheyer will likely turn to junior guard Jaylen Blakes. Last season, Blakes saw an increase in playing time after Roach went down with an injury, and impressed Scheyer enough to earn two starts.
From a statistical standpoint, Blakes is a defensive hound. He sits in the 96th and 98th percentiles in steal and block percentage, respectively. More impressive is his ability to maintain these numbers without fouling; Blakes has just five fouls on the season, and sits in the 97th percentile for personal foul efficiency.
Figures 3 and 4 show how a combination of Foster and Blakes can account for a missing Proctor. To make this visualization, 40 minute averages for each category (points, rebounds, turnovers, steals and assists) were used in order to properly scale rates for playing time. In addition, different combinations of Foster’s and Blakes’ playing times were used in order to compare their projected effectiveness. Each line represents a different allocation of minutes per game, with “30F 10B” signifying 30 minutes for Foster and 10 for Blakes, “25F 15B” signifying 25 minutes for Foster and 15 for Blakes and “20F 20B” signifying 20 minutes for each.
With 30 minutes per game for Foster and 10 for Blakes, the Blue Devils come as close as possible to matching Proctor’s scoring and assist rates, nearly matching Proctor’s 40-minute average of 14.7 points with 13.2. This follows, as Foster is a more frequent scorer than Blakes.
However, defensive metrics are heightened as Blakes’ playing is increased, a reflection of his prowess in that area. In addition, Blakes has been safer with the ball, so turnover rate is improved as his time increases. The “20F 20B” line, colored green, gives Duke 1.85 steals per game and 1.15 turnovers per game.
The one area in which no combination of Foster and Blakes comes close to matching Proctor’s production is assists. With the unique and top-end passing ability Proctor brings, it is likely that Duke will need an increased effort from all five players on the court in order to make up the gap.
Whether Scheyer opts to play a defensive game and give more minutes to the experienced Blakes, or give free reign to the freshman and hope his efficiency from the field continues, it will take a heightened performance from every Blue Devil in order to get back on track without Proctor. The second-year head coach will have to get creative at a critical time in the season, as Duke will round out its non-conference gauntlet with a matchup against No. 6 Baylor Dec. 20.
Editor’s note: All statistics used in this article came from CBB Analytics.
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.