With the current one-and-done system, top freshman prospects become some of the most talented players in the NCAA every season. This season is no exception with D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor. Both currently sit at the top of mock drafts and have had little trouble adjusting to the level of competition the Big Ten and ACC have to offer.
However, don’t let Russell and Okafor’s success fool you. The average freshman still has a pretty difficult time making the jump to college basketball. Using college basketball reference, I looked at player statistics by grade level. 845 freshmen have played over 100 minutes this season. The table below shows the average performance of these 845 players compared to the other three classes:
The average freshman is not only less involved in the offense, but also significantly less efficient than upperclassmen. Free throw percentage is interesting to look at because it presumably is not influenced by the role a player has on his team from season to season. Sophomores are shooting 4% better from the foul line than freshmen, possible evidence that a player’s first off-season after getting a taste of college basketball is very useful.
With the average shooting stats for a freshman in mind, now reconsider Russell and Okafor. Russell has shot 49% from two and 45% from three while taking nearly 30% of all Ohio State shots when on the floor. Okafor has shot 65% from two while taking 26% of all Duke shots when on the floor (and often facing double teams on post touches).
Graphing the usage (%poss) and efficiency (ORtg) of all 2014-15 freshmen with at least 100 minutes played further illustrates the dominance of the two surefire lottery picks:
Okafor and Russell are unmatched by any other freshman in terms of their balance of usage and efficiency. Indiana’s James Blackmon is the only other freshman receiving major minutes in Okafor or Russell’s immediate vicinity on the graph.
If a freshman on your favorite team has struggled to start his college career, it’s simply not fair to compare him to the one or two freshman sensations of that particular season. D’Angelo Russell and Jahill Okafor are amazing, but the average freshman still performs like we would expect from an 18-year-old kid.