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Villanova Basketball 2020 Player Recap: Collin Gillespie

In his junior season, Collin Gillespie took a big step forward and cemented his role as a Villanova’s lead ballhandler.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Could Collin Gillespie run the Villanova offense? Back in the summer, that question was being asked tepidly by Villanova fans. There were flaws in the then-sophomore’s game that many thought precluded him from running the offense. For some, he lacked the vision to put his teammates in a position to score. For others, his penetration game was too weak to put pressure on the defense. Only one person seemed sure Gillespie was right for the job, Jay Wright.

With Phil Booth departing and Jahvon Quinerly transferring, Villanova would roster only four scholarship guards for the 2019-20 season — Gillespie, and three freshman. Knowing all that he knew, Jay Wright entrusted the offense to Collin Gillespie. Gillespie, in turn, rewarded his coach by leading KenPom’s 15th ranked offense to a Big East title, earning Second Team All-Big East honors in the process.

Collin Gillespie Stats

2017-18 32 1 14.4 1.3 2.9 0.452 0.4 0.7 0.636 0.9 2.2 0.394 0.8 0.9 0.800 0.1 1.2 1.3 1.1 0.6 0.1 0.4 1.4 4.3
2018-19 35 35 29.4 3.3 8.0 0.409 1.1 2.4 0.476 2.1 5.6 0.379 2.2 2.7 0.839 0.3 2.0 2.4 2.8 1.1 0.1 1.5 2.7 10.9
2019-20 31 31 34.1 5.0 12.3 0.406 2.7 6.0 0.457 2.3 6.3 0.357 2.9 3.5 0.817 0.2 3.5 3.7 4.5 1.2 0.1 1.9 2.3 15.1

Junior Year Breakdown

Collin Gillespie took the leap in his junior season. What does that mean to “take the leap?” It’s when a player is given more responsibility in an offense and continues to be as efficient or improves as a scorer. As a sophomore playing as the second guard, Gillespie wasn’t asked to create offense with Phil Booth on the floor. His usage rate, a measure of how many possessions ended with a Gillespie shot or turnover, was third on the team at 19.4% among players with over 500 minutes. A whopping 81.9% of his 3PT makes, which constituted 69.9% of his shot diet, were assisted by teammates.

Fast forward one year, and with no Phil Booth or Eric Paschall, Gillespie was called upon to run the offense and take difficult shots. His usage rose to 24.5%, while 71.4% of his 3PT makes were assisted, indicating a larger share of his threes came off the dribble. His scoring diversified as well. In 2018-19, he was a catch and shoot scorer who rarely drove to the rim. This past season Gillespie took 51.3% of his shots from three and saw his percentage of shots at the rim rise to 22.3% from 18.3%.

As a junior, Collin Gillespie took more shots and diversified his scoring approach. But did he accomplish that without sacrificing his efficiency or his duties as a point guard? Since 2009-10, only one other non-senior Villanova guard was as efficient as Gillespie at scoring, distributing, and not turning the ball over.

Elite Seasons for Non-Senior VU PGs

Player Season Class TS% AST% TO% USG% PER
Player Season Class TS% AST% TO% USG% PER
Jalen Brunson 2017-18 JR 63.5% 26.6% 10.7% 26.4% 26.1
Collin Gillespie 2019-20 JR 54.1% 26.4% 12.2% 24.5% 19.2
Corey Fisher 2009-10 JR 57.5% 27.5% 15.1% 23.8% 21.9
Jalen Brunson 2016-17 SO 65.5% 26.1% 15.5% 23.0% 23.3
Maalik Wayns 2011-12 JR 54.7% 32.5% 15.7% 27.9% 21.1

Of course it was Jalen Brunson in his Player of the Year campaign. Just for kicks, I expanded to allow more turnover-happy players into the mix. In all, these five non-senior seasons combined:

  • Efficient scoring (54.0% or better True Shooting, and 19.0 or better Player Efficiency Rating)
  • High usage (USG% greater than 23.0%)
  • Great distribution (assist rate better than 26.0%)
  • Low mistake rate (turnover percentage of 16.0% or lower)

Gillespie and Brunson stand in a group of their own when you lower the bar for turnover rate. That’s some company.

As a team, Villanova remained an efficient scoring group with Gillespie running the show. The offense ranked 15th according to KenPom, and was once again among the the best in True Shooting and turnover percentage. With Gillespie sporting a pristine 12.2% turnover rate, the Wildcats emerged as one of the best in the nation at taking care of the ball, finishing 29th in all of Division 1.

Looking Ahead

Gillespie’s role is secure in the offense, but there’s still plenty for the rising senior to improve. Gillespie will continue to lead the offense, but Villanova’s depth chart is about to get supercharged at the guard spot with Caleb Daniels gaining eligibility, Bryan Antoine getting healthy, and Justin Moore coming off a stellar freshman season. With that firepower, Jay Wright can play with complimentary guard combinations and even three guard looks in 2020-21. For Gillespie, that will mean more running off screens for open catch-and-shoot jumpers and more assist opportunities with all that talent on the floor.

Offensively, Gillespie can reach a higher level by improving as a scorer. His assist and turnover rate are, as documented above, elite. However, his efficiency can still rise higher. Gillespie takes a lot of long 2PT shots in lieu of getting into the paint. Without an imposing build, VU’s rising senior captain could stand to develop a floater game. An 8-12 foot floater would allow him to penetrate deeper and utilize his touch from in-close.

A career 82.3% free throw shooter, Gillespie could find more ways to get to the line using his bag of tricks. VU’s point guard has never had the blow-by ability to get to the rim (and the line) at a high rate. However, he is a shifty player and should be capable of drawing more fouls, both at the rim and on jumpers. If he could raise his free throw rate even just a few points, Gillespie would see a major uptick in his efficiency.

The road map to “Collin Gillespie, Big East Player of the Year” is there, and that’s really wild to type. Despite the potential departure of Saddiq Bey, Villanova projects to be one of the best teams in the NCAA, and Gillespie will be the leader of that team. Two years ago it would have been crazy to write any of this, but doubting Jay Wright and his staff’s ability to develop players should be done at your own risk. Collin Gillespie is an elite point guard with the chance to finish his career as an all-time great Wildcat.