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Freshman Phenom Stats In Review
Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, and so many other freshmen showed out last season
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Either one of these freshmen would be in discussions with the top tier of freshmen of all time, but to have them both put up unprecedented numbers at the same time was truly a gift. So, we’re going to revisit their incredible accomplishments, along with the accomplishments of other players from last year’s freshman class.
Let’s begin with Clark’s accomplishments. Clark was a scoring machine, averaging 26.6 points per game. This ranks as the fourth-highest average by a freshman in Division I history, ahead of Patricia Hoskins in 1985-86 and Kelsey Mitchell in 2014-15.
Clark racked up those points thanks to consistently high scoring, including a whopping 12 30-point games. In our database, which goes back to the 2009-10 season, the next closest freshman was Elena Delle Donne with eight 30-point games. Clark also hit the 30-point mark in five consecutive games, which is tied for the longest streak since 2015-16 by any player, let alone a freshman.
Clark’s scoring this season put her 201 points away from reaching 1,000 for her career. The Division I record for fastest to 1,000 points is 37 games. Three players have reached 1,000 in that many games, but none since 1984. For Clark to at least tie that record, she would need to average 28.7 points over the first seven games of the 2021-22 season. We’ll surely be watching this closely.
Clark didn’t just score in bunches, she also dished out the most assists (214) and had the second-highest assist average (7.1) behind only Tiana Mangakahia last year. Like her scoring prowess, Clark accomplished this with incredible consistency. Clark recorded four or more assists in 29 of her 30 games played. The next closest was DiDi Richards who did so in 25 games.
And now onto Bueckers. According to Win Shares, Bueckers provided the third-best offensive production in Division I last season, and she did so with efficiency across the board on offense. Her 1.26 points per scoring attempt ranked No. 55 in the nation thanks in large part to a 46.4% three-point percentage which was No. 25.
Bueckers’ 5.8 assists per game were the 15th-highest in Division I, which was even more impressive given her solid turnover rate. This combined to yield a 2.30 assist-to-turnover ratio, which was No. 57 in the country.
On the defensive end, Bueckers’ 4.4 win shares ranked No. 1 in Division I. It is harder to quantify defensive impact than offensive impact with the statistics that are available, but there are a few things we can point to. First of all, Bueckers averaged 2.3 steals per game which was in the top-100 nationally.
Paired with those steals, Bueckers also put up an incredible 1.6% foul rate which is top-40 in the nation. This is even more impressive given Bueckers averaged an impressive 36.1 minutes per game. To be able to stay on the court that long without losing focus and committing needless fouls speaks to her sharpness and value on the defensive end of the court.
Bueckers ranks as the fifth-highest offensive and defensive Win Shares by a freshman since 2009-10, the only player to rank in the top five in both in that span. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’ freshman year in Storrs is the only other player to come close, ranking third on defense and sixth on offense.
Putting that all together, Bueckers finished with 12.9 combined Win Shares which was best in the nation by a sizable margin. That number doesn’t quite reach the level of 2011-12 Brittney Griner, the highest Win Shares in our database, but how does it stack up against other freshmen?
It comes in at No. 2 among freshmen since 2009-10, trailing 2009-10 Elena Delle Donne and tying with 2011-12 Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. Additionally, the players ranked No. 3 through No. 6 all reached their totals in at least three more games played than Bueckers.
Clark and Bueckers were only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to elite rookie production. Destinee Wells of Belmont and Lexi Fleming of Bowling Green State mostly flew under the radar despite putting up Win Share totals of 7.5 and 7.0 respectively. Both players amassed those solid totals thanks to strong stats across the board, from scoring and facilitating to rebounds and steals.
Fellow UConn rookie Aaliyah Edwards totaled 6.6 Win Shares despite coming off of the bench in 23 of her 29 games. Stephen F. Austin’s Avery Brittingham managed 5.5 Win Shares despite not starting a single game, thanks to a 0.51 Win Shares per 40 minutes (WS/40), which is tied for the sixth-highest rate by a freshman since 2009-10 among players with 20 or more games played.
Likewise, Diamond Johnson racked up 6.6 Win Shares in just 19 games played. That makes her one of only 5 players since 2009-10 to total five or more win shares in less than 20 games played, and the only freshman on that list.
We would try to compare the nationwide performance of all freshmen to other years in the database, but the comparison is hard to make with teams playing upwards of 20 fewer games than in a typical season.
However, looking at players with 2.0 Win Shares or higher, the average WS/40 is 0.232, the highest total for a single season in our database, 10% better than the next closest season (2020, 0.211).
We’ll never get to know how the full freshman class would have played out without the precautions and modifications of the team that were necessitated by Covid, but it is entirely possible that the 2020-21 freshman class got off the fastest start of any other class in the past decade.
Will they keep that pace? Will talents like Azzi Fudd and the trio of incoming Gamecocks immediately insert the 2021-22 class into that conversation? Who knows, but everybody, regardless of petty team allegiances, should enjoy this level of excellence for as long as it lasts.