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ACC Analytics Preseason All-ACC Team 2019-20, Part 1: Pitt’s Xavier Johnson, Trent Forrest of FSU headline

With actual ACC league games (somehow) only three weeks away, it’s time to bring back our third annual ACC Analytics Preseason All-ACC roster, 2019-20 edition.

This is a simple process with only a few requirements. First off, freshman aren’t included in the pool of eligible players. For this experiment, we base inclusion only off numbers produced on the college level. (To be clear, though, we have no issue with rookies being included on other preseason All-ACC rosters.)

Additionally, there’s a small minutes restriction: to be considered, players needed to record at least 300 minutes during the 2018-19 season. And finally, there are no positional requirements, either. The roster doesn’t need to be composed of two guards, two forwards and one center; basketball exists in a beautiful, position-less state right now. That should be reflected here, too. The hope is to select the top 10 returning ACC players, based off a mix of stats, two-way production and possible NBA prospects.

Without further ado, here’s Part 1 of our ACC Analytics All-ACC team, which functions, essentially, as the roster’s second team. Check back for Part 2, which will include our first team All-ACC roster.

 

Xavier Johnson: Pittsburgh, Sophomore, PG

One of the most dynamic ball handlers in college hoops, Xavier Johnson returned to Pitt for his sophomore season amid some solid NBA Draft buzz. During the 2018-19 season, Johnson was an industrious creator for Jeff Capel. Johnson was the only freshman in the country with a 30 percent usage rate and a 30 percent assist rate, according to Bart Torvik.

Few players can match Johnson’s speed; he’s an absolute blur with the basketball. Those quicks allow Johnson to function as an uptempo offensive catalyst in Pitt’s transition attack and half-court offense. Last season, a huge chunk of Pitt’s half-court production was derived from Johnson working ball screens in 4-around-1 lineups.

No player in the ACC used more pick-and-roll possessions (260) or scored more points (203) out of the pick-and-roll than Johnson, according to Synergy Sports. On this possession against NC State, Johnson scores on a Spain action (the back screen from Au’Diese Toney) set.

Johnson told ACCSports.com that he studies Kyrie Irving to help learn the dark arts of the point guard position. Considering the craft Johnson tries to utilize at the rim, Kyrie as inspiration makes sense: over 48 percent of Johnson’s field goal attempts (51.9 FG%) came around the hoop.

(Johnson loves that little crow hop maneuver.)

Pitt frequently relies on weave action to get into its half-court sets, which Johnson can use to his advantage. Watch him turn the corner here after faking the dribble handoff; with the defense lifted, Johnson can get to the rim before the help arrives. This is so smooth.

Even when he doesn’t get to the rim, Johnson’s drives still put tremendous pressure on opposing defenses, and create open looks for teammates. Johnson was one of the ACC’s best at getting to the free throw line (8.1 FTA per 40 minutes) last season.

Johnson hunts for his own offense, but he’s perfectly adept at creating for others, too. He has great vision and is a daring passer. The Panthers scored 215 points on pick-and-roll possessions when Johnson was a passer (5.8 assists per 40 minutes), according to Synergy.

There are a few things to keep an eye on this year with Johnson, though. It starts with his shooting — from multiple levels of the floor. For a guy that can get to the hoop whenever he wants, essentially, Johnson needs to finish better. According to Synergy, Johnson shot just 42.4 percent in the half court around the basket (158 FGA).

Johnson didn’t attempt a large number of 3-pointers; about 27 percent of his field goal attempts came from beyond the arc (4.1 3PA per 40 minutes). Johnson did shoot 35.2 percent from deep, which is mostly fine. However, he posted an effective shooting rate of 42.7 percent off the catch. Granted, Johnson plays with the ball a lot, but Trey McGowens handles it, too. This is an aspect of his game to monitor. Johnson’s off-the-dribble shooting form isn’t the cleanest, either. There’s room for growth here.

Finally, Johnson recorded 5.1 turnovers per 40 minutes, which is high. It’s hard to play point guard in the ACC, especially for a freshman — one with massive offensive responsibilities, like Johnson. If he can improve slightly across the board here, Johnson emerges as a more efficient player and a more enticing prospect.

 

Trent Forrest: Florida State, Senior, PG

There may not be a more intimidating one-on-one defender in the ACC than Trent Forrest. Along with Tre Jones at Duke, Forrest is the cream of the crop when it comes to elite perimeter defenders in the ACC. A powerful guard — 6-foot-4, 210 pounds — Forrest loves applying ball pressure. He’d happily pick up full court if asked, too.

Ever since he arrived in Tallahassee, Forrest has excelled at taking the ball away from Florida State’s opponents. In each individual season of his career, Forrest has posted a steal rate above three percent. (Forrest has a career steal rate of 3.7 percent). As a junior, Forrest finished third in the ACC with a steal rate of 3.6 percent — just behind Pitt’s McGowens and some dude named Zion. Forrest averaged 2.6 steals per 40 minutes during the 2018-19 season.

Forrest is a wickedly smart basketball player who plays the game with an analytical mind. A ridiculously tough competitor, Forrest played chunks of last season with a serious toe injury, which required surgery after the season. Forrest never complained, though; he just kept pushing Florida State.

On the other end of the floor, Forrest knows where his strengths lie; as the quarterback of FSU’s offense, Forrest gets the Seminoles into their sets and puts pressure on the rim with his powerful drives. According to Bart Torvik, 78 of Forrest’s 112 field goals came around the basket.

(Forrest shot 48 percent at the rim in the half court, though. Let’s see if he can nudge that north of 50 percent this season.)

More than his own scoring, Forrest uses his dribble-drive game to draw extra defenders and dish to his teammates. Forrest has an assist rate of 24.6 percent over the last two seasons, and during his junior year, Forrest handed out five assists per 40 minutes.

The lob is obviously a big part of Florida State’s offense, but Forrest’s work in the pick-and-roll is another way to generate open 3-point looks, too.

When Forrest sees an open teammate, he doesn’t hesitate getting them the ball. In Charlotte at the ACC Tournament, Forrest sees Nickeil Alexander-Walker nudge over in Virginia Tech’s early-help defense. Before you can blink, Forrest snaps a pass right into the shooting pocket of catch-and-shoot ace Devin Vassell.

The big concern for Forrest will, once again, be the development of his jump shot. Forrest is a career 21.2 percent 3-point shooter — on a low volume of attempts: 9.3 percent of his career field goal attempts. According to Synergy, Forrest shot just 16.1 percent on off-dribble jumpers last season.

Forrest told ACCSports.com at ACC Operation Basketball that he used the time he spent recovering from toe surgery to work on his jumper. If he can make a leap similar to Terance Mann a season ago, then Forrest is an NBA player.

 

Devin Vassell: Florida State, Sophomore, SG/SF

Say hello to the ACC’s new 3-and-D overlord: Devin Vassell. While Vassell played under 11 minutes per game as a freshman, he showed plenty — on both sides of the floor.

Vassell is a really skilled spot-up player. He shot 41.9 percent on his 3-point attempts last season, with all 26 of his makes assisted. A long 6-foot-6 wing, Vassell has a smooth stroke, and he does a wonderful job getting his feet set and shooting a clean ball. While Vassell has little experience (so far) running off screens, looking for his shot, he does have the ability to shoot on the move.

These are excellent relocation skills. Going right, going left — it doesn’t matter. Vassell will get his shoulders squared and rhythm up for beautifully-arced long balls. Vassell posted an effective shooting rate of 72 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts last season — a monster number.

With his length, Vassell has the ability to lift from distance and shoot over closeouts.

Due in part to his reliance on shooting off the catch, Vassell rarely turns the ball over: 10.3 percent turnover rate (1.4 turnovers per 40 minutes).

Vassell has shown the ability to make plays on the move inside the arc, too. His numbers at the rim and on basket cuts aren’t super pretty; however, he does stuff that makes you think he’s only scratching the surface.

If defenders give Vassell space, he’s shown some initiative in attacking it. He’s certainly not afraid to stick he nose in and finish at the rim.

Of course, part of the appeal with Vassell centers on his defensive upside, too. Vassell can guard multiple positions in disruptive fashion.

He averaged two steals and 1.1 blocks per 40 minutes. According to Bart Torvik, he was the only ACC player — among those that played in at least 20 percent of their team’s minutes — to shoot 40 percent on 3-pointers, and have a 2.5 percent block rate (3.4 percent) and a 2.5 percent steal rate (3 percent).

Florida State ranked 12th nationally in defensive efficiency last season. Led by Forrest and Vassell on the perimeter, and with Raiquan Gray working the post, FSU should be very good on that end of the floor, again.

 

Chris Lykes: Miami, Junior, PG

A case can be made that no player in the ACC did more for his team last season on offense than Chris Lykes. Faced with constant double teams, ball screen traps and limited time for rest, it was Lykes Or Bust for the Hurricanes in the 2018-19 campaign. Fighting through the wear and tear, and the frustration of losing a lot in ACC play, Lykes kept coming — again and again.

In return, the 5-foot-7 Lykes posted a usage rate of 27.3 percent (15.6 FGA and 5.6 FTA per 40 minutes). Beyond that, 121 of his 171 field goals (70.8 percent) were unassisted. For Lykes, a massive portion of that work (31 percent of his possessions) came out of the pick-and-roll: 0.91 points per possession (52.3 eFG%), which ranked third in the ACC (minimum 100 possessions).

Lykes plays so low to the ground; he manages to leverage his lack of height as an offensive advantage, though. With his speed and balance, Lykes can split screens, attack gaps and zoom around picks with precision. Give this guy a crease and he’s gone. Lykes shot just under 59 percent at the rim.

Miami runs its fair share of pick-and-roll in its half-court offense. The Hurricanes change the mesh point — flat ball screens up top, side looks too — but it was all on Lykes to be their engine last season. Lykes scored 141 points (50.4 eFG%, No. 5 in the ACC) off the dribble in the half court in 2018-19, per Synergy — No. 2 in the ACC.

Miami has reloaded for this season, which should really benefit Lykes. Opponents will obviously still gear their defenses to slowing down Lykes, Miami’s primary catalyst. However, when teams employ jail-break defenses against Lykes, he should be able to solve those situations by checking the ball down to his teammates, like freshman Harlond Beverly.

 

Dwayne Sutton: Louisville, Senior, SF/PF

Most of the headlines that refer to Louisville’s returning talent start with junior shooter Jordan Nwora; however, do-it-all wing forward Dwayne Sutton is a wildly useful and important player. Sutton’s measurables may not jump of the chart, but he’s versatile and willing to guard a variety of positions.

Louisville is able to unlock its small-ball lineups, while allowing Nwora to float as a movement shooter, because of Sutton. He’s an intelligent player, constantly filling gaps wherever Louisville needs him. Sutton defends and rebounds well above his size.

During the 2018-19 season, Sutton (67 FG% at the rim) was one of four ACC players — 6-foot-6 or shorter — to post an offensive rebound rate above eight percent.

On offense, Sutton is a solid spot-up player (0.99 points per possession) who can help space the floor (34.8 3P%). He isn’t a deadeye shooter, but Sutton hits just enough 3-pointers to keep defenders honest. When needed, he can attack a closeout.

Sutton is an interesting secondary offensive creator, too. Last season, Sutton posted an assist rate of 11.5 percent. He’s a connector for this team’s offense, attack gaps and looking to make smart, simple plays.

(I think there’s a chance without Christen Cunningham this season — one of the league’s most under-discussed topics — that Sutton will need to emerge with even more off-the-dribble creation. Louisville has a ton of talent, but the Cards could slump in the half court if Fresh Kimble struggles.)

On the sneak, Sutton is also one of the league’s premier grab-and-go players.

This is where he’s able to display his terrific combination of toughness and prowess on the glass with his handles and power as a driver.

 

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