Currently Auburn is having, by any statistical measurement, its best basketball season since the first Bush administration. The Tigers look like a dangerous team, a team that is never out of its element, and a team that is extremely fun to watch. The Tennessee game had me out of my seat on multiple occasions, and not to leave the room! Auburn basketball has become appointment television and by television I mean “try to get the espn3 feed to work most of the time.”
If you read the roster, you might make the mistake of assuming the few new faces are making all the difference for this team. Articles have been written about how DeSean Murray and Chuma Okeke have changed this team, and they are making a difference, but largely the guys from last season are playing huge roles again this year, and are flat-out better. How much better? Let’s look at some advanced statistics from basketball-reference.com to see if I can explain just how much Auburn basketball has improved. (All of these stats are from prior to the Ole Miss game.)
ORB%, DRB%, and TRB% are all estimates of the percentage of rebounds a player grabs when he is on the floor. This is one of my favorite stats because it shows just how well or poorly a player is doing more than looking at the number of total rebounds he had. Horace Spencer was one of the most frustrating players on the team last season for me, because I felt he was underperforming as a rebounder. Bruce Pearl compared him to Dennis Rodman when he was recruited, and Spencer didn’t out-rebound some of Auburn’s guards last year. Spencer’s ORB% was 7.9 last season, and this season he is up to 10.1. His DRB% was 14.6 last season and this season he is grabbing 25.5 percent of all available defensive rebounds. Horace Spencer has gone from being a rebounding liability to an anchor on the glass. Does the addition of DeSean Murray help him grab rebounds? Probably. Watch how many times teams focus on boxing out Murray, leaving Spencer or Anfernee Mclemore free to grab uncontested boards. It happens. That said, Spencer has worked hard on his body this off-season and is a much stronger presence defensively and on the glass. His rebounding is a huge reason Auburn’s rebounding has gotten so much better, and a huge reason why Auburn has won a lot of these games early this season.
Player Efficiency Rating
PER is John Hollinger’s stat for rating a player’s impact on the game by boiling down all other metrics into one concise rating. A league average player is set at a PER of 15, and in the NBA anything over 16.5 is thought of as a quality season for your 3rd offensive option. Anything over 22 is All-star caliber, and anything over 25 is borderline MVP. Last season, Bryce Brown had a PER of 12.2. There isn’t a player on the team this season who gets any meaningful minutes posting a PER that bad. This season, Brown is at a 16.6. That’s really good! That’s exactly what you want from Bryce Brown! Auburn doesn’t need Bryce Brown to be sitting in the 20s, it just can’t win if he is below 14. A jump in PER from from 12 to 16 is huge. Brown’s improvement in efficiency is a huge reason why Auburn isn’t missing Danjel Purifoy on offense as much as I thought it would.
You know what’s bigger than a 4 point jump in PER? a 5 point jump. Anfernee McLemore is more than an Auburn Fan Favorite, he is an advanced stats darling. McLemore had an amazing PER of 20 last season and this season he is posting an obscene 25.8. Is he Auburn’s best player? There’s a case to be made that he is the most valuable player on the floor for the Tigers. McLemore was good last year on defense, but he is so good this year defensively.
Anfernee McLemore is blocking 17.7% of all opponent two point field goals attempted while he is on the floor. Last year his BLK% was 8.2%, so we are talking about a massive improvement in his ability to alter shots. He does everything for Auburn. He has even started taking and making three pointers this season. Next season—when Austin Wiley is a deserved millionaire on an NBA roster— Auburn will be OK thanks to the amazing play of Anferee McLemore. I hate that we had to learn that by not having Wiley this season.
Add those improvements to the ever-consistent play of Son of Crow’s All-time Favorite Auburn Tiger Mustapha Heron, and you can easily see how this team started so hot. Every guy is playing better this season than last season. I haven’t even gotten into how Jared Harper’s sophomore season is looking identical to Russell Westbrook’s sophomore season. If Auburn were to get Wiley and Purifoy back, and those two were to have improved as much as their teammates did in the off-season, we would be talking about one of the greatest Auburn teams in history.