One of the strongest corollaries with VCU’s decade of recent success has been its string of terrific point guards. Behind the heady play of guys like Dom Jones, Eric Maynor, Joey Rodriguez and Darius Theus, the Rams have piled up the wins.
As time passes, we remember the conference championships and NCAA appearances and forget that people once questioned whether or not these floor generals were up to the task. Although Maynor showed flashes as a freshman in 2005-06, people worried about his awkward jumper. Joey Rodriguez’s biggest problem when he took over as starting point guard in 2009-10 was that he wasn’t Maynor. Similarly, Theus grabbed the controls after Rodriguez led the Rams to the Final Four. Try following that.
Although each torch passing felt like a crossroads to some, by the time each player graduated, they had forged an unforgettable legacy. With Theus gone, there’ll be another torch-passing in 2013-14. Logic and VCU Coach Shaka Smart have each suggested that the man to carry it – at least initially – will be junior Briante Weber. Last month, Smart praised Weber’s work ethic this summer and said the springy 6-foot-3 guard was the frontrunner at the point. “It’s certainly not set in stone, but it’s certainly his to lose,” he said. “If we played a game today, he’d get the lion’s share of the minutes.”
Although there’s an element of unknown in the transition, Smart – once a college point guard himself – has appeared confident in the face of the uncertainty. He’s been down this road before, presiding over Rodriguez’s and Theus’ breakout junior campaigns during his four-year tenure.
But maybe Smart’s confident because he’s seen in practice and film what the numbers suggest: that Weber was a viable backup point guard last season, and with increased opportunity and a terrific offseason, he can be even better.
Let’s take a closer look. After Theus injured his knee Nov. 28 in a game against Stetson, Weber served as the Rams’ primary point guard in wins over Belmont and Old Dominion. In those two games, Weber averaged 7.5 points, 6.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 3.5 steals and just 1.5 turnovers. Those are terrific stats, but that’s a pretty small sample size to work with. We can do better.
Weber was on the court for 754 minutes last season. He played 301 of those when Theus was on the bench. In those 301 minutes, VCU outscored its opponents by 75 points, an average of nearly plus-10 per 40 minutes. Let’s take it a step further, because we need to isolate Weber in situations where he was almost certainly the primary ball handler. So let’s also exclude the minutes he shared the floor with Teddy Okereafor. What we’re left with is a little more than 223 minutes – about five-and-a-half games worth. In those 223-plus minutes, VCU outscored its opponents by 35 points, which translates to an average of plus-6.3 per 40 minutes.
Although correlation does not equal causation, we can certainly start to build a case that VCU was in capable hands last year when Theus gave way to Weber. The Rams produced virtually the same number of points per 40 minutes last season with Weber running the point (76.78) as it did for the season as a whole (76.41).
Let’s also circle back to Smart’s general train of thought. He’s helped two previously unproven point guards become sure-handed floor leaders in the last four years. Let’s have a look:
With experience, players generally improve, and Smart and his staff have a proven track record of player development. Look at Rodriguez’s and Theus’ statistical jumps as juniors, and let’s concentrate on those last four columns in yellow. Listed we have assists per game (APG), turnovers per game (TOV), turnovers per 100 possessions (TO rate) and usage rate (USG). Both Rodriguez and Theus, despite handling the ball more, actually saw their turnover rates fall during their first season as the starting point guard. This is a critical – perhaps the most critical – component of point guard play, controlling turnovers. If we look at Weber, his usage rate last season is similar to both his predecessor’s freshman seasons, but with a dramatically lower turnover rate.
While any number of intangible factors (injuries, ability to handle additional responsibility, emergence of other players) could render this discussion mute, there’s a glimmer of clarity in all of this. While it can’t be proven with 100 percent certainty that Weber is the Rams’ point guard of the future, there’s certainly enough information to lead us to believe VCU will be just fine if he is.