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Jalen Brunson: Statistical Phenom

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Jalen Brunson is on pace for the greatest offensive season of the Jay Wright era.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis Championship-Villanova vs Northern Iowa Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

I love reading the comment sections on this site. We’ve got some really funny readers who also know their basketball. In fact, often times it’s those comments that send me down statistical rabbit holes that turn into articles. This is one of those articles, and it all started with a single line earlier this week:

“We are nearing the season’s midpoint and Jalen Brunson is currently on pace to have the best statistical season in Villanova history.” - AC.Slater

Our readers also say some crazy stuff sometimes, so I didn’t buy this at first. Sure, Brunson is having a fantastic season so far, but the whole team is. There’s no way that on this team he’s having a better season than even the three other All-Americans in the Jay Wright era.

But then I started looking at the numbers, and I quickly realized that this notion wasn’t as crazy as I first thought. In his third year with the Wildcats, Jalen Brunson has put together a season more than worthy of his preseason All-American status. But was this one of the best seasons in school history? The short answer: Probably.

Let’s start with some parameters. Like Chris, I too have a real job and a real family that for some reason don’t understand that taking an entire day off to look at Villanova statistics is a worth while endeavor. So for this article I just looked at the Jay Wright era (2002-Today). Since we’re looking for the BEST season, I also put the following parameters on the search:

  • Player had to have played at least 14 games in the season (the 2018 season players have competed 14 games so far, so this allows them to make the cut)
  • Player has to have averaged at least 10+ points in the season (I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a player’s season described as “great” if they weren’t scoring double digits)

Of the 216 individual player seasons in the Jay Wright era to date, only 55 meet these parameters. Spread that over Wright’s 17 years on campus, and you’re looking at an average of over 3 “great” players each season. Sounds about right.

Again because of time constraints, I just looked at the offensive statistics. I also just wanted to see who made the Top 5 in each of these categories. Guess what, a trend started popping up. That trend has a name. His name is Brunson, Jalen Brunson.

Points Per Game

Let’s start with the flashiest of the offensive stats, points. Brunson is leading the team in scoring right now, but where would he rank with some of the best Jay Wright’s coached?

Best PPG In Jay Wright Era

Season Player FGA FGM PPG
Season Player FGA FGM PPG
2006 Randy Foye 16.7 6.8 20.5
2018 Jalen Brunson 11.6 6.9 18.9
2017 Josh Hart 12.9 6.6 18.7
2006 Allan Ray 14.9 5.8 18.5
2010 Scottie Reynolds 12 5.5 18.2

I’ll be honest, I don’t know why I didn’t expect this, but I didn’t. I guess the mythos of names like Foye, Ray, Reynolds, and even Hart were so great that I didn’t realize that Brunson could be on pace to join them. And it’s not just that he’s outscoring all but Foye (granted, per game), it’s that he averaged more baskets and was WAY more efficient then all of them! And that brings us to shooting percentages.

Oh, but first a quick note. Number six on this list: 2018 Mikal Bridges with 17.8 points.

Shooting Percentages

If Brunson was beating out All-Americans with his FG% this season, it’s a good bet that he’s going to make the Top 5 in this list. Spoiler alert: he does.

Best FG% In Jay Wright Era

Season Player FGA FGM FG%
Season Player FGA FGM FG%
2016 Daniel Ochefu 6.6 4.1 62.7%
2018 Jalen Brunson 11.6 6.9 59.5%
2010 Antonio Pena 6.7 3.8 57.7%
2008 Dante Cunningham 7.5 4.1 54.4%
2017 Jalen Brunson 9.4 5.1 54.1%

There’s so much that’s impressive about this list that I barely know where to start. First off, Brunson’s on this list TWICE. He’s also the only guard on this list. This season’s Brunson is the only one of the Top 5 to attempt more than 10 shots and still be crazy efficient. And guess what, his 2P% is even better.

Oh, but one more note. Only one other “guard” made the Top 10: 2018 Mikal Bridges is shooting 52% from the field.

Best 2PFG% In Jay Wright Era

Season Player 2PFGA 2PFGM 2PFG%
Season Player 2PFGA 2PFGM 2PFG%
2018 Jalen Brunson 7 4.6 0.663
2016 Daniel Ochefu 6.6 4.1 0.63
2018 Phil Booth 3.2 2 0.622
2017 Jalen Brunson 6.3 3.9 0.621
2016 Kris Jenkins 3.3 2 0.603

Well, now he’s just showing off. Brunson makes the list twice again, but this season he’s shooting better inside the arc then any other “great” season player that Jay Wright has coached. Notably, this is the first time he’s joined by one of his current teammates, as Phil Booth has also been very efficient at driving to the rim this year.

Oh, one more note. Another current player is in the Top 10: Mikal Bridges is shooting 57.6% inside the arc this season.

One of the surprising story lines this year has been how well Villanova has shot from beyond the arc. For the 3P%, I also included the parameter that players had to have attempted an average of one three point attempt per game, otherwise the leaders were all big men that shot and made one long ball in a season. But once you take those out, the results are shocking.

Best 3PFG% In Jay Wright Era

Season Player 3PFGA 3PFGM 3PFG%
Season Player 3PFGA 3PFGM 3PFG%
2018 Jalen Brunson 4.6 2.3 0.492
2018 Omari Spellman 2.9 1.4 0.488
2015 Josh Hart 3.1 1.4 0.464
2018 Mikal Bridges 5.6 2.6 0.456
2018 Phil Booth 4.6 2 0.438

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!?!? Yeah, Brunson’s again leading the way, but four of the Top 5 are 2018 guys!?!? Omari Spellman is number 2!?!? I’m just so impressed that I don’t know what else to say. Is there anything this group can’t do? Oh right, free throws.

But first, one more note. The player making the most three’s per game out of this group is 2018 Mikal Bridges with 2.6.

Best FT% In Jay Wright Era

Season Player FTA FTM FT%
Season Player FTA FTM FT%
2002 Gary Buchanan 3.8 3.5 0.911
2011 Corey Stokes 3.2 2.9 0.894
2012 Maalik Wayns 5.4 4.9 0.892
2006 Allan Ray 3.9 3.5 0.889
2017 Jalen Brunson 3.8 3.3 0.876

Well, Brunson technically made this list too, but it was last season’s Brunson that was fantastic from the line. In fact, all but one of the 2018 players on this list are shooting under 74% from the charity stripe this season. For Brunson, that’s a 13% drop that was highlighted by some late misses against Butler. It’s uncharacteristic for the team’s leader not to come through in clutch time, and I’d expect him to get things back on track as the season progresses.

Oh, who’s the one 2018 player on this list shooting over 74% this season? That would be Mikal Bridges at 79.5%.

Assists Per Game

It’s one thing to score points, but it’s another to create scoring opportunities for others. That’s really where Brunson separates himself from the pack. No, it’s not going to surprise you that he’s leading the players with “great” seasons in assists. What’s going to surprise you is that he’s currently lead EVERY player that has EVER played for Jay Wright at Villanova in assists per game.

Best APG In Jay Wright Era

Season Player AST TO
Season Player AST TO
2018 Jalen Brunson 5 1.3
2011 Corey Fisher 4.8 2.3
2012 Maalik Wayns 4.6 3
2011 Maalik Wayns 4.5 2.8
2016 Ryan Arcidiacono 4.2 1.5

Brunson is truly having an amazing season. Not only is he averaging the most assists per game in almost two decades, he’s also got fewer turnovers per game than the rest of the Top 5. To be responsible for such efficient scoring, and also creating opportunities for your teammates, I don’t think there’s much debate that Brunson is on pace for the greatest offensive season of the Jay Wright era, possibly in Villanova’s history.

One last note, guess who has the second best Assist to Turnover ratio in the 2018 season? It’s Phil Booth. Were you expecting someone else?

Can This Continue?

The difference between Jalen Brunson’s season and some of the other great seasons we’ve compared him to is that his isn’t even half way over. He’s played the easier half of the schedule so far, and he’s still got 20+ games to go (fingers crossed). I’m not saying that he can’t keep some of these numbers going, he’s that good. I am saying that statistically he’s likely to regress a bit. That said, dropping from “best ever” to “all-time great” is still pretty darn good.

And one last note. Mikal Bridges is having himself one hell of a season. If Brunson doesn’t end up with the best offensive season of the Jay Wright era, Bridges could.