If you casually glance at a list of the national leaders in points per game this year, it’s likely that most of the names will be unfamiliar to you. There are no Jimmers or Kembas this season, no guys who score a bunch of points for nationally prominent teams. Sure, Damian Lilliard and Doug McDermott are efficient workhorses for Weber State and Creighton, but their names register more with wonks like us than the casual basketball fan. So instead of a national scoring list populated by future NBA ballers, we’re left with one comprised largely of mid- and low-major players scoring gobs of points in small arenas.
When examining the list of the 20-or-so top scorers in the nation, one storyline does stand out: the presence of the Summit League. The conference currently has five players ranked No. 17 or higher in points per game. While this quintet is putting up these point totals with varying degrees of efficiency, they’ve nonetheless been a part of a process that has seen the conference increase its offensive firepower in recent seasons. For instance, the league-wide average for adjusted offensive efficiency this season is hovering right around 103 points per 100 possessions, per KenPom.com. That would shatter previous marks since the league overhauled its membership and its moniker in 2007-08.
Moreover, two teams are currently in KenPom.com’s top-25 in adjusted offensive efficiency, and another ranks 55th. While many of these teams will leave a bit to be desired on the defensive end, there’s no arguing that this has been an entertaining league this season given all of its offensive potency, lead of course by five of the top scorers in the country.
These five players would stack up well against the top five from most mid-major conferences. And given that one of them will likely be playing in March, it’s important to have an idea of what they are all about. The following table presents their names and key offensive stats. The number listed in the first column is their rank among national scoring leaders.
The first player listed might be the most well-known name of the five here. Hamilton helped lead Oakland to the NCAA tournament a year ago, where he scored 25 points on 19 shots against a Texas backcourt that featured defensive stalwart Dogus Balbay and current San Antonio Spur Cory Joseph. In that game, most of Hamilton’s misses came from beyond the arc, but he was a sensational 8-of-10 from inside the arc despite being the smallest guy on the court at 5-11. This year, his scoring is up but his two-point field goal percentage, which was 62 percent last year, is down to 49 percent.
While the Golden Grizzlies are capable of putting together stellar offensive performances, there have been times when some of the young shooters have gone cold. As a result, Hamilton has had some games where he’s forced things a bit, which has negatively impacted his overall efficiency. That said, he currently has a career-low turnover rate (17 percent) and a career-high free throw rate (44 percent). These improvements have helped him maintain a solid offensive rating given the scoring load he carries. With his ability to get to the basket at-will against Summit League opponents, Hamilton will likely keep up his current scoring pace while boosting those shooting percentages a bit along the way.
The most efficient scorer in the Summit League has been Morrison. The Kansas City native is the opposite of a high-volume scorer. Indeed, he produces plenty of points on relatively few shot attempts. He’s currently connecting on 51 percent of his twos, 46 percent of his 3s, and 84 percent of his free throws. What’s amazing about his accuracy is that most of his shots are jumpers either from mid-range or beyond the arc. In other words, he’s not benefitting much from a bunch of high-percentage buckets – he’s hitting tough shots.
Morrison’s Oral Roberts team is also off to an 8-0 start in league play, outscoring conference opponents by 0.15 points per possession. Unlike most of his counterparts, the 6-6 forward’s team can win games without him having a big night. The Golden Eagles are just that balanced this season. So while Morrison may not join the other four as a top-20 scorer at season’s end, he is the most likely to be wearing a ring when it’s all said and done. There may not be a better high-usage, high-efficiency guy to carry the Summit League scoring torch into March.
Wolters, who rivals Hamilton for honor of the league’s top point guard (Ed.: Damn straight he does.), has taken his South Dakota State squad to new heights this year. He had a breakout performance at Washington in December, scoring 34 points on 20 shots and notching seven assists to zero turnovers in an SDSU win. While his jumper leaves a bit to be desired – he’s making just 27 percent of his three-pointers – Wolters is at his best when he’s driving the lane and scoring with his signature floater. And if a shot isn’t there, he has a tremendous ability to find an open man, usually on the perimeter where four of his regular-rotation companions are connecting on 44 percent of their frequent 3-point attempts.
Despite lacking the top athleticism of some of his scoring counterparts, opposing squads still struggle to defend him off the dribble, which results in him taking many trips to the free throw line. His free throw rate in league games (41 percent) is down from his overall rate (47 percent) largely due to the fact that opposing Summit coaches are almost mandating that their players refrain from fouling Wolters. He’s just been that good at burning teams by racking up the freebies.
As a sophomore under then-head coach Dane Fife in 2010-11, Gaines emerged as an efficient scorer from the wing position who impressed with his athletic ability and quick burst. Though he led the team in scoring last year, he was still waiting his turn to become the go-to man, deferring to four-year starter Ben Botts. Now playing for a new coach and alongside a wealth of newcomers, Gaines is the definitive go-to man in Fort Wayne this year, though that hasn’t always been a good thing. The 6-5 swingman has learned the hard way of the tradeoff between efficiency and possession usage. His once sterling marks have come down to earth a bit in 2011-12 as he’s taking about 36 percent of the team’s shots in his minutes.
Fortunately, the IPFW roster got an injection of experience with newly eligible players joining the fold at the midway point of the year, which has allowed Gaines to take a more manageable role on offense. He’s averaging about 20 points on 12 shots per game in January, and he’s gotten back to nixing three-point attempts in favor of trying for trips to the free throw line. Gaines thrives when he’s flying toward the basket, and if his young teammates can improve their perimeter game, it should continue to open up opportunities for him to showcase his best talent.
Young may be the most physically gifted player in the Summit League. A 6-6 senior from Indianapolis, Young has an athletic makeup that makes many wonder – including draftniks — if he could follow former IUPUI player George Hill to the NBA one day. Young’s also an accomplished college basketball player who recently broke the 2,000 mark for points scored in his IUPUI career. For the first time, though, Young is attempting to carry the Jaguars without a high-scoring sidekick. Like we’ve seen with Hamilton and Gaines, Young’s lack of a consistent second-option has resulted in some nights where he may score 20 points on 20 shots.
The key for Young going forward is to take a few steps away from the three-point line in favor of more high-percentage buckets. His threes simply aren’t falling this season, and with his physical talents, he has the ability to score much more efficiently in a league like the Summit League. Whether he makes that adjustment or not, you can be sure the scouts will be watching him closely.