There is a distinct difference between watching a college basketball game and one from the NBA. When you head over to the Verizon Center in DC to watch the Hoyas play, you will most likely see scores in the 50s. Go to a Wizards game the very next night, and it would be a disappointment if they didn’t score more than 80 points. Sure, NBA games are eight minutes longer than college games, and the shot clock is ten seconds shorter. Just by these simple rules alone, the NBA is designed to produce these higher scores and understandably so. The NBA is a business; high scores make people more excited, and that brings in revenue. In no way do I intend to argue that the NCAA isn’t a business; that’s a question for another day.
Stylistically, however, there is a significant difference between how a college basketball game is played versus an NBA game. Defense, above all else, is a highly emphasized aspect of college basketball that seems lost to the viewer at the NBA level. That is certainly an exaggeration, for teams like the Pacers and the Bulls pride themselves on winning games in the 80s, but for the most part, a college game will be played at a much slower pace. Rule changes in the NCAA are seeking to make college basketball more like the NBA, but nonetheless, the difference still remains.
So why is this important? No particular reason, for these leagues just represent two different styles of basketball, equally fun and entertaining. I would like to take note, however, of an individual and a system that seems to have broken the tradition of college basketball. Actually, this individual has broken the standard of NBA basketball. Who am I talking about? Why, Jack Taylor of course!
Jack who? That’s what I said when I read the headline a year ago. “Jack Taylor breaks NCAA scoring record.” Why hadn’t I heard of this kid before? Surely he must be a popular and prominent player if he was able to break the NCAA scoring record. Turns out, nobody knew who Jack Taylor was, save for fans of a small school in Iowa, Grinnell College. Overnight, Jack Taylor became a popular name. He was on every sports section in every newspaper and all over ESPN. And then he vanished. Has a rise and fall to fame ever been this short? The answer is probably yes considering the state of Hollywood today, but Jack Taylor’s was especially interesting. His was interesting because he did something no one would have thought possible: he scored 138 points in a single game.
No, that was not a typo. Jack Taylor scored 138 points in a game, breaking the NCAA basketball scoring record by a long shot. The box score was simply shocking: 52/108 on field goals and 27/71 on three point field goals, all in only 36 minutes of playing time. I had never seen more ridiculous numbers in my life. After a week, it hardly even mattered. His name resurfaced from time to time, but after his magnificent performance, Jack Taylor disappeared. At least until recently.
About two weeks ago, Jack Taylor hit the news lines again. “Jack Taylor does it again.” He really did do it again. Jack Taylor scored 109 points in a game against Crossroads College of Minnesota. Not as stellar as his 138 performance but still very impressive. In fact, Taylor shot the ball more efficiently in his second 100+ point performance, shooting 35/70 on field goals and 24/48 from 3. His only limitation was time: Taylor only played 29 minutes in this game. Had he played the full 40, who knows what would have happened. Jack Taylor, I assumed, must be really good.
Then I started to read about the Grinnell system. Here are the basics: Grinnell doesn’t play defense. The majority, if not all, of their games end in the 100+ point range, usually above 150. Grinnell plays very little defense, scores in transition very effectively, and takes a high volume of shots, especially from beyond the arc. The whole system is predicated on having a roster full of guys who can catch the ball anywhere within a reasonable distance of the hoop and get a quick shot off. They take the tradeoff of the opposing team getting a layup if they can get an easy three point shot out of it. In light of these facts, Jack Taylor’s numbers are really not all that surprising.
How good is Jack Taylor really? Is he a superstar, or just a product of the system he plays in? Is he a great shooter, or does he just take so many shots that a few of them are bound to go in? I tried to look for precedents in the NCAA but found very few. Other players who had scored lots of points did so in an era where statistics were not recorded, or not recorded reliably. I decided, instead, to turn to the NBA, specifically targeting some of the most outstanding performances ever. I immediately thought of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance and Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game. I collected data from Jack Taylor’s two games, as well as data from the Kobe Bryant game, the Wilt Chamberlain game, Michael Jordan’s 69-point performance in the playoffs, David Robinsons 71-point game, Tracy McGrady’s 62-point game, and LeBron James’s 56-point game. I wanted to simply compare great scoring performances to see how Jack Taylor stacked up.
One of the most basic things to look at is the number of field goal attempts. Wilt Chamberlain came close to Jack Taylor’s 109-point game by a margin of 63 to 70, but no performance even comes close to the 138-point game. The numbers for 3-point attempts are even more staggering. In both instances, Jack Taylor took significantly more three-pointers than the other players. The closest margin is still about four times fewer than Taylor’s lower volume game. Looking at free throws, Jack Taylor did not get to the charity stripe very often. This leads me to believe that Jack Taylor is taking a significantly higher number of outside shots than other players.
These numbers don’t reflect how many minutes the player actually played. So I took each of these numbers and divided them by the numbers of minutes played to get an average number of shot per minute played. Simply put, the per-minute numbers are astounding. In terms of FGA/minute and 3FGA/minute, Jack Taylor’s numbers are much higher than any other player’s. Just think about what these numbers mean. In his 138-point performance, Jack Taylor shot the ball, on average, 3 times per minute. He scored, on average, almost 4 points per minute. I’m not sure there is a way to rationalize these astonishing statistics. His scoring numbers are through the roof.
In terms of taking lots of shots, Jack Taylor beats the rest by a huge margin.
However, this is still not telling of his skill. For this, we need to turn to percentages. We need to understand the percentage of shots each player made. We need to understand how effective each player was with his shots. It takes very little skill to take shots but considerably more skill to make them. Let’s take a look at the table.
His 3-point percentage is a little bit harder to consider as a factor. Because players shoot much fewer three than Jack Taylor did in his games, it is harder to tell how these players would have performed had they taken a bunch of threes. For example, David Robinson shot 50% from three in his 71-point game. Why? Because he only took two. Jack Taylor’s 50% from three point range in his 109 point game is certainly impressive given the large volume of 3 pointers he took. To me, Jack Taylor appears to be a decent player who is pretty good at shooting threes.Taylor’s field goal percentages and 3-point field goal percentages paint a very different picture than one of a supremely talented shooter. Jack Taylor’s 138-point game and 109-point game rank last and tied for second-to-last, respectively, amongst the players listed. In his 138-point game, Jack Taylor shot a meager 48% from the field. This is much lower than the 60.9% shot by Kobe, the 62.2% hit by Jordan, and the 63.4% posted by David Robinson.
Even more important to look at then those numbers are the true shooting percentages and effective field goal percentages. The true shooting percentage takes into account all shots taken by a player, including free throws. In his 138-point game, Jack Taylor ranks last amongst the players analyzed. In his 109-point game his numbers shot up to .703, third amongst players analyzed behind Kobe and Jordan. Effective field goal percentage is similar to a normal field goal percentage, but accounts for the fact that 3-point field goals are worth an extra point. Once again, Jack Taylor ranks near the bottom in his 138-point game but near the top in his 109-point game.
It is important to note that none of these numbers account for things like defensive skill or the difference between guarded and unguarded shots. It is definitely possible, if not highly likely, that the defense Jack Taylor was facing was far worse than an NBA defense.
Jack Taylor is a good shooter; that is hard to dispute. However, his gaudy point totals appear to come about from unusual circumstances. I used the number of shots each player took and their minutes played to determine the number of shots taken per minute played. In both of Jack Taylor’s games, he took significantly more shots per minute than any other player. In his 138-point game, Jack Taylor took 3 shots per minute of playing time! The next closest was Wilt Chamberlain at 1.313 shots per minute. The disparity gets even higher when you look at 3 pointers. Taylor shot 1.972 3-pointers per minute in his 138-point game. The next closest to that is Kobe with .310. Jack Taylor can shoot the ball, but it his large volume of shots taken that allow him to put up crazy numbers like 138 points.
Now for the fun part. With all these numbers available to me, I wondered what it would be like to see an NBA legend play in the Grinnell offensive system. I chose three very talented scorers: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan. Here is a basic compilation of each player’s career statistics.
Using these numbers, I calculated how many points each player would score in a game in the Grinnell system. Here’s how: I used Jack Taylor’s average shots/minute totals for field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws to determine the rate at which each player would shoot. I then multiplied each of these by the average number of minutes each player plays per game. This calculation gave me how many field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws each player would take. I then used each players individual shooting percentages to calculate how many shots they would actually make, given the number of attempts. This gave me the number of field goals made, 3-point field goals made, and free throws made. Here are the numbers.
Note: For the “(138)” rows, I used Jack Taylor’s average shots/minute in his 138 point game. For the “(109)” rows, I used Jack Taylor’s average shots/minute in his 109 point game.
According to these calculations, LeBron would be the highest scorer at 152 points. Jordan falls just short of LeBron, with Kobe rounding out the bottom of the three. It is important to note that these numbers do not account for things like tempo, a team’s style of play, the defensive ability of the opposition, or the natural usage-efficiency tradeoff. These numbers are merely a fun way to show how these players would have performed during a completely average performance if they played in the Grinnell College system.
In conclusion, it appears as though Jack Taylor’s staggering numbers are due to a combination of skill and pace. Certainly the incredible volume of shots taken in the Grinnell system gives Jack Taylor the opportunity to score over 100 points. However, as far as I know, there haven’t been any other Grinnell players who have scored over 100 points, so it is clear that Jack Taylor is a good enough shooter to warrant his high number of shots. If he can keep up his efficiency numbers, I would not be surprised if his name hit the headlines again this season.
Image courtesy of the Washington Post
Data taken from basketball-reference.com
Georgetown University Class of 2017