The Art of Thievery: Is Lavar Batts the ACC’s next great steals artist?

If you have watched NC State play basketball this season, it’s been a bit of a shock to the system to see how this team defends. In the debut season of Kevin Keatts, there have certainly been some growing pains — on both ends of the floor. But there’s no questioning this team’s defensive effort.

The Pack ranks 132nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom; however, it’s easy to see the infrastructure Keatts is trying to put in place in Raleigh. NC State guards full-court, and is hell-bent on forcing turnovers. Here, the Wolfpack has had some success, too.

According to KenPom, NC State’s defense has a steal rate of 11.5 percent — No. 21 in the nation. This means nearly 12 percent of opponent offensive possessions end with NC State taking the ball away from them. If that holds, this would be the highest rate for the program since the 2002-03 season: 11.4 percent.

It’s also a massive leap over one season ago: In 2016-17, NC State ranked No. 306 in the nation with a steal rate of seven percent.

NC State has forced opponents into a turnover rate of 22.3 percent, which also ranks in the top 30 nationally, per KenPom. It may take Keatts another year or two to get all of his personnel on the floor; however, in the meantime, some players are really taking to the system, including Lavar Batts.


Batt the ball away

In the win over Clemson, Lavar Batts collected five steals — the most for an NC State player since Dennis Smith’s triple-double against Virginia Tech last season. It’s also one of just 44 games this season a player has come off the bench a recorded five or more steals, per Sports Reference.

Batts became just the third NC State player since the 2010-11 season to get five or more steals in a games — along with DSJ and Lorenzo Brown (three times).

On the Wolfpack’s roster, Batts ranks second with a steal rate of 3.7 percent. This means, when Batts is on the floor, nearly four percent of opponent possessions end with him stealing the ball. Markell Johnson is tops: 4.9 percent steal rate. With Johnson back in the lineup, NC State should be able to turn up the pressure even more on opponents.

The rookie point guard is one of only three ACC players currently averaging at least one steal per game while also playing fewer than 20 minutes per game.

Point guards are asked to defend a lot of pick-and-roll possessions; that’s a big part of their job description. Well, on pick-and-roll possessions defended by Batt this season, opponent ball handler have turned the ball over 23.8 percent of the time, per Synergy Sports.

Of the 55 ACC players that have defended at least 20 pick-and-roll possessions this season, Batts ranks 23rd in opponent turnover rate and 19th in efficiency — 0.63 points per possession, per Synergy.


Taketh and Don’t Giveth

On the other end of the floor, Batts has struggled to locate his shot, and carries an effective field goal rate of only 39.6 percent. Despite being a freshman point guard, though, Batts seems to already understand the value of possessing the ball.

For the season, Batts has a sub-11 percent turnover rate. In ACC games: Batts has a turnover rate of just six percent — best in the league, per KenPom.

Batts has also flashed some game as a pick-and-roll distributor, too. According to Synergy Sports, NC State has scored 1.15 points per possession when Batts passes out of the pick-and-roll. That ranks 11th in the ACC amongst players with at least 20 such possessions.


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Have yourself a night (and season), Omer Yurtseven