The 5 Best High-Usage Players in College Basketball
In his seminal work on basketball statistics, Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver introduced the concept of “skill curves,” which illustrated that as a player’s usage increases, his efficiency drops.
Much has been written on this topic, and while there has been debate over the nature of this relationship, it makes intuitive sense that an individual who is more involved in his team’s offense will be less efficient than a player who has a smaller role.
The game’s elite, though, manage to limit the effects of this tradeoff, maintaining a high level of efficiency while also using a high rate of his team’s possessions.
Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine leads the nation’s crop of high-usage/high-efficiency players, producing 128.0 points per 100 possessions (Offensive Rating), while using 28.5% of his team’s possessions when on the court (Usage Rate).
Valentine is one of 10 players nationally with both a Usage Rate above 28.5% and an Offensive Rating above 120.0. With apologies to Kay Felder and Kyle Wiltjer, here is a closer look at the five players in this bunch who play in “Power 5” conferences.
Denzel Valentine, G, Michigan St.
Offensive Rating: 128.0
Usage Rate: 28.5%
The senior guard is having a historically good year for a Spartans team that is the best team in the country, according to our power ratings.
Valentine leads the Big Ten in points per game (19.6) and assists per game (7.2) and is also averaging 7.6 rebounds per game; this puts him on pace to finish the season as the first player since assists became an official stat in 1983 to average 19 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds per game, according to ESPN.
His rate stats are equally impressive, as Valentine is third in the Big Ten in Effective Field Goal Percentage (58.7%), first in three-point percentage (41.6%) and first in Assist Rate (44.1%; Assist Rate is the percentage of teammate’s field goals assisted by the player when he is on the floor).
Overall, he is third in the Big Ten in Offensive Rating and fifth in Defensive Rating, giving him the conference lead in both Win Shares and Win Shares Per 40 Minutes.
Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma
Offensive Rating: 125.8
Usage Rate: 30.6%
Joining Valentine among National Player of the Year frontrunners, Hield has been arguably the nation’s most captivating player and might be the college game’s version of Stephen Curry.
It’s high praise, but the numbers back this up. Despite the fact that his team has faced the nation’s fifth-toughest slate of opposing defenses (per KenPom), Hield is on the precipice of joining the 50-40-90 club.
The senior is shooting 51.1% on two-point field goals, 48.1% on three-pointers, and 89.4% at the free throw line; if he can raise his free throw percentage by 0.6%, he would be the fourth player since the 1994-95 season to make at least 50% of his twos, 48% of his threes and 90% of his free throws, while also averaging at least 10 points per game.
Hield’s 25.4 points per game lead the Big 12 and are second nationally to Howard’s James Daniels (who is shooting only 38.9% from the field).
He also leads the country in three-point makes and is fifth in three-point attempts, and like Valentine, Hield leads his conference in both total Win Shares and Win Shares per 40.
Malcolm Brogdon, G/F, Virginia
Offensive Rating: 123.6
Usage Rate: 28.5%
Due to their slow pace, Virginia’s offense is consistently overlooked, despite being one of the best in the country.
A case study on the value of tempo-free stats relative to per game stats, Virginia ranks 13th in points per possession but is tied for 207th in points per game. This is wholly due to their glacial pace, as the Cavaliers are tied for dead last in our possessions per game ranking.
Brogdon has been the catalyst for this offense, posting a 56.0% Effective Field Goal Percentage, while averaging a team-high 18.5 points per game (and 35.9 points per 100 possessions).
The senior’s jump shot has been a strength, as he is 54-for-122 on two-point jumpers (44.3%, per Hoop-Math), while shooting 41.5% on 5.3 three-point attempts per game.
Isaac Haas, C, Purdue
Offensive Rating: 121.3
Usage Rate: 30.7%
The 7'2" sophomore is one of two centers on Purdue who are at least seven-feet tall and currently backs up senior AJ Hammons.
Haas makes the most of his 14.8 minutes per game, though, and leads the Boilermakers in points per 40 minutes (27.0) and 100 possessions (39.5). He has dominated inside, shooting 75.8% at the rim according to Hoop-Math, and ranks ninth in the Big Ten in two-point percentage (57.1%) and True Shooting Percentage (61.4%).
He also has a 10.4% Offensive Rebounding Rate that would be eighth in the Big Ten had he played enough minutes to qualify.
Jaysean Paige, G, West Virginia
Offensive Rating: 121.2
Usage Rate: 29.0%
Nominally a reserve, Paige has emerged as West Virginia’s leading scorer and top offensive threat.
Though he has started just one game all season, he is still averaging 22.0 minutes and 14.3 points per game. Like Brogdon, Paige’s team’s slow pace weighs down his scoring average, as according to KenPom, the Mountaineers rank 246th in average possession length (their frenetic press on defense pulls up their overall ranking in possessions per game).
The senior ranks fifth in the Big 12 with a 52.9% Effective Field Goal Percentage, excelling as a slasher. He takes 41.3% of his shots at the rim and makes 60.9% of them, according to Hoop-Math; the national averages for all players are around 32% and 55%, respectively, so these are especially strong marks for a guard.
Aside from his shotmaking, Paige also takes good care of the ball, posting the sixth lowest turnover-per-possession rate among qualified Big 12 players.