clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Villanova Basketball Advanced Stats: The Darrun Hilliard Projection

New, 30 comments

Looking back at what he did at Villanova, and how he might be able to contribute in the League.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

As part of a larger offseason series on Darrun Hilliard - #1 in our hearts, #6 for the Pistons - we'll be taking a general look at his life and prospects in the NBA. The first portion is a stats-centric, roster-independent look at the skills he displayed in college, and how they might translate to the NBA.

First and foremost, he's got real NBA range; it's likely the biggest reason he got a hard look from so many different franchises during the pre-draft process.

Let's check out his shot charts from the last two seasons, from overall and then including only shots taken from behind a super-imposed NBA 3 point line:

2014-2015 Overall

HillOvera
2014-2015 NBA 3

2015NBA3

2013-2014 Overall

2013-2014O

2013-2014 NBA 3

2014NBA3

(Quick and dirty explanation of these charts - feel free to skip if you're uninterested - the location data is gathered from shot charts logged on major sport sites and graphed in Excel => the relatively choppy graphic quality. The methodology for graphing and picture quality/colors/diamonds vary slightly, as the data sources change. Generally, larger diamonds mean more shots were logged from that given 1'x'1 square on the floor. The colors are a comparison of the (player/team) shooting percentages from a certain zone of the court vs. NCAA average shooting percentages from that same zone, with red being good in comparison, and blue being bad. The darker the blue and the reds get, the further you're going from the middle of the spectrum. The zones themselves generally differentiate between restricted area and non-RA paint shots, then divide the mid-range and 3 pointers into 5 different portions of a semi-circle)

An impressive number of his overall 3s came from a range beyond the NBA 3 point line. Hilliard attempted 72 from deep, by my numbers*, during his junior campaign, and 107 from beyond the NBA arc as a senior. These long 3s accounted for more than half of his overall attempts from three over the past two years; and, incredibly, he shot better the further he got from the basket:

*There are a few games missing from each dataset; the totals referenced won't exactly match his season totals.

NBA 3s

Other 3s

Year

3PM

3PA

FG%

3PM

3PA

FG%

2013-2014

32

72

44.44%

30

74

40.54%

2014-2015

42

107

39.25%

30

84

35.71%

He made more baskets from NBA 3 range in both years, while shooting between 4-5 percentage points better from the deep arc. And while, perhaps, we can't quite consider this a normalized shooting percentage, it's trending toward well more likely than not, after around 200 attempts, that Hilliard is in fact an excellent shooter from beyond the NBA 3 point line. While there are a number of factors that could potentially negatively affect such an assumption - including the likelihood of better contests in the NBA by players superior in discipline, athleticism, and length, any potential psychological effects of actually having that deeper line on the floor in front of you, and the fact it's simply a relatively small sample - it certainly appears Hilliard has demonstrated the ability to be an excellent shooter in The League.

But that's certainly not all he was as an offensive player in college. And while he likely never will (or could) act as the focal point for an NBA offense in the way he did at Villanova, the skills he developed along the way could help flesh out an offensive game in the NBA extends beyond a spot-up shooter.

During almost all of Hilliard's tenure - but especially the later years, when he was asked to carry a larger offensive load - Villanova has lacked a true point guard/take em' guard type. Whether by design or adaptation to the personnel on hand, Jay Wright crafted an offense that depended on high screens, smart perimeter ball movement, and a collection of able (but far from elite) ball handlers to force some bend in the defense and generate open looks at the rim or from 3.

It's not a real knock on the system, or the players - it's worked great, as Villanova has pushed to two of the best offensive teams (by adjusted offensive efficiency) of Jay Wright's tenure these last couple years. But the team really hasn't been able to rely on one guy to initiate offense for everyone else; it's had to be a group effort among the guards and wings that dotted the perimeter. Everyone (mostly) out there needed to be able to drive an open lane, move the ball smartly inside and out, and shoot from deep to make it work as well as it did. And Hilliard grew handsomely into this role during his junior and senior campaigns.

Setting Others Up

For most of the last two seasons, Hilliard played the role of No. 2 initiator (typically behind Ryan Arcidiacono, though he played a fair amount of minutes with just Dylan Ennis/Tony Chennault out there) from the perimeter - and functioned as the best 1-on-1 creator within the offense. Often asked to dribble into the teeth of the defense and create for himself and others, Hilliard performed admirably for a SG/SF with a handle best described as ‘developing,' especially in his junior year. He posted an assist rate of 19.30% as a junior (good for 460th overall in the country), and finished second overall in assists on a team that ranked among the top 25 in assists per made field goal in the country. The distribution and approximate location of these 90 created baskets can be seen in the table below, pulled from hoop-math.com:

Name

Assists

% total assists at rim

% total assists on

2pt Jumpers

% total assists on 3s

Darrun Hilliard

90

34.40%

14.40%

51.10%

Only 20 of these assists came in transition, meaning that Darrun averaged over 2 half-court assists per game in 2013-2014. His excellent outside shooting and ability to beat defenders one-on-one sucked help defenders in and enabled him to make smart, solid passes for easy baskets - a huge plus for a Villanova team that needed that ability to run successful offense. The one drawback to his increased focus on ball handling and playmaking that year was a sky-high turnover rate: the 19.30% TO rate matched his assist rate on the offensive end.

A lot of that can be chalked up to his less-than-tight handle, in my eyes (I don't have the statistics on-hand to back this up), but I'd wager a large proportion of those turnovers were of the lost ball variety, rather than ‘bad pass'. And, while painting one type of turnover as immaterial because it doesn't reflect on his passing ability is a bit of cheating, my overall point is this: he's a competent distributor off the dribble, with good vision and the capability to keep an offense humming when a window for driving at the basket is open to him.

And, the turnovers are ultimately something he did a great job of cleaning up in his senior year. While he continued to be one of Villanova's most important creators off the dribble, he cut his turnover rate by 43% (to 11.1%, which was top 100 in the country - for a guy using 23.4% of his team's possessions and 28.5% of its shots) while continuing to dish - though at a slightly reduced rate (19.3% assist rate to 15.9%). The 74 dimes he handed out last year followed the distribution seen in the table below:

Name

Assists

% total assists
at rim

% total assists
on 2pt Jumpers

% total assists
on 3s

Darrun Hilliard

74

37.80%

10.80%

51.40%

While creating for others will likely never be an elite NBA skill for him, he certainly has demonstrated a track record of being able to do it at a competent level. Just being able to drive in past a close-out and make simple, logical basketball plays has great value for guys who are primarily 3 point shooters, and it's something he was more than capable of at the college level.

And Hilliard does have a little off-the-dribble juice to his game; but, as it's clearly (in my mind) the skill of his that has the smallest chance of translating perfectly to an NBA environment, I'll try not to spend quite as much time on it.

Hilliard's been one of my favorite all-time Villanova players for a few years now, but his lack of truly elite athleticism and speed was something I believed could keep him off the draft radar - part of the reason I didn't put together this kind of research pre-draft was down to superstitious fandom (DON'T JINX IT!). He flashed an excellent dribble-drive game during his career, but too much of that came against more-good-than-great college teams - it's really difficult to project much of what he showed there against the superior athletes and professionals of the NBA.

Skill

But there's certainly some serious skill in his game. Though he lacks an explosive first step, he has a fluid handle and canny ability to use subtle changes of speed and direction in his drives to create space for pull-ups and looks at the rim. He showed great basketball IQ and knowledge in his handling of picks/screens set for him, as well: he knew how best to exploit the coverage the other team was using.

Too much space, and he'd launch a wet off-the-bounce 3 (though he was possibly a little too quick on the trigger for these); cover too tightly, and he'd find a way to squeeze past the coverage to the lane. Hilliard also displayed excellent body control while driving, using it to ‘box out' contact from help defenders to keep space for the finish, and slither among the trees with a silky eurostep for an open look.

Statistically, he was Villanova's best player off-the-bounce for the last two years: he typically finished in the top 1 or 2 among Villanova's non-bigs (for the uninitiated, that was just JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu ) in field goal percentage and percentage of total attempts at the rim. The majority of these attempts were unassisted, too: just 31.40% of his ‘non-transition' rim attempts were assisted in 2013-2014, with 35.50% of the same in 2014-2015. He converted about 54% of these looks in the half-court between the two years - not spectacular, but around average for all NCAA players that took more than 60 shots last year (which includes big men). And, including his finishes in transition, he converted 58.16% of his attempts right at the basket last year - above average for an NCAA guard.

His forays to the rim (and excellent pump fake) usually bore fruit at the free throw line, too. During his sophomore and junior seasons, when his usage/shot rate sat more around secondary contributor than main option, he drew fouls at well above-averages rates, finishing with FTR's of 52.8% and 44.0%, respectively, with a healthy average of 4.7 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. This dropped quite a bit his senior year; he was settling for a few too many mid-rangers and threes as the focal point of the offense, ranges from which he was unlikely to draw quite as many fouls (FTR of 26.7%, with 3.8 fouls drawn per 40). His conversion rate from the line varied in the low seventies during his sophomore and junior years - healthy, but not spectacular. This jumped to nearly 80% last year,  a trend that hopefully bodes well for his time in the D-League and (eventually!) the NBA.

Between the rim & arc

He also has a minor hint of a mid-range game, mainly predicated on pull-ups and running floaters, that could serve as a functional tool to him at the next level. Here's his mid-range chart:

MidRange

In the areas between 4 feet and 22 feet from the basket (a very broadly defined ‘mid-range' for the NBA - you can see the more detailed breakdowns in the chart itself), he hit 41.61% of his 137 shots. While this number isn't elite, it is (generally) about average for the NBA. It should never be a major part of his game in the professional game (just as it wasn't at Villanova), but it does exist.

Defense

Well. After that probably-far-too-thorough look at Hilliard's offensive abilities and how they might translate to the Pistons (and/or the D-League affiliate), we have to spend some time on his defensive abilities. Fortunately for your eyes, there just aren't as many statistics I can tease out of my/KenPom's/hoop-math's data on this side of the ball. But make no mistake - defense is something Hilliard excelled at in college, and he will likely need to prove at least competent at the NBA level at the same if he is to have a lasting career there.

The first thing that stands out about Hilliard's defense is his length; he stands at 6'6", with a 6'8" (or 6'9") wingspan. Given the physical freaks that ply their trade in the NBA, I can't go as far as calling that reach spectacular - but it is an excellent asset that compliments his overall game, especially on defense. Jay Wright utilized him as the point man of a 1-2-2 press Villanova's frequently employed over the last two years - especially aggressively last year. Darrun, an excellent on-ball defender of positions 1-3 in college, fit perfectly into this role, as it was typically very difficult for shorter guards to pass over and around his frame. This role, and his suitability for it, certainly helped contribute to Darrun's excellent steal percentages in college. He ranked in the top 300 in the country in steal rate for 3 straight years, and clocked in at nearly 4% (#55 in the nation) during his senior year.

Steal percentages have been pegged as one of the best predictors of college-to-NBA success. There are several different theories on this, as it's certainly doesn't logically jump out as an obvious factor. Steals can be a proxy for athleticism, which is a plus in the League. Having a discrete skill, such as defending (in general or on-ball) also counts toward success in sticking. Some of it, though, must be tied up in the fact that steals are so valuable in the game of basketball - at every level.

Hilliard's length and excellent on-ball defense have allowed him to swipe at an excellent rate throughout his career - and finish baskets like these. The obvious value of the steal is that it takes a possession from the other team (in which they score no points), and sets up a chance at an easy basket on the other end. I wanted to make sure Darrun's high steal rate his senior year wasn't only down to his presence at the top of the press (where he obviously won't be during his professional career). So I counted all his steals that took place in possessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, in an attempt to eliminate those generated by the press by a rough proxy.

The results showed only 9 of Hilliard's 60 steals from my play-by-play records (he had 63 total last year; two games were impossible to record) occurred 10 seconds or less into the opponent's possession. While this is a somewhat sizable portion (15%) of Hilliard's steal total, if I pro-rate his remaining 54 steals (adding the missing 3) over the same assumed number of plays that produced his 3.9% steal rate, we're still looking at a steal percentage of 3.34%, good for somewhere between 100th and 150th best in the country. So while being the point man in a semi-pressing scheme chalked up a few extra steals for Hilliard, it did not lead to the bulk of them.

And this certainly passes muster with the eye test. An engaged Hilliard was a terror for most wings and shooting guards he was assigned to cover. He's a smart defender with very good footwork, solid shot-contesting (though not blocking - doesn't really have the ups to be elite there), active hands, and good anticipation. While I don't have access to the vaulted ESPN Stats and Info-type data that could tell you how well the player Hilliard was defending shot, I can use some proxies to assure you it probably wasn't very well.

Utilizing lineup data gleaned from play-by-play logs that include substitutions, I can isolate how well Villanova played with and without Hilliard in the lineup. And some of the data on the defensive changes show significant effects - check this out:

Defense

MIN

TO%

FTR

D Rtg

% Shots 3P

FG% 3P

A/T

With Hilliard

907.82

21.65%

27.84%

0.89

31.58%

30.23%

0.87

Without Hilliard

391.50

17.65%

34.78%

0.92

33.04%

33.68%

0.93

With Hilliard in the game, overall, the defense was about 3 points per 100 possession better - the 3rd biggest jump/fall on the team, behind Dylan Ennis and Daniel Ochefu. The forced turnover rate jumped 4 percentage points when Hilliard was in the game, with a corresponding fall in the assist to turnover ratio by the opposing team. And, perhaps most significantly, Hilliard contributed in a big way to clamping down on the 3 point line. Not only did teams struggle to hit from beyond the arc while he was in the game (a drop of ~3.50% in field goal percentage), then also took less of those 3s - a factor that may be more under a team's control than the percentage the other team hits. Hilliard was an outstanding individual defender for much of his career, and developed into a smart, knowledgeable team defender over the same time. I wish I could come up with better visuals and stats to show you this, but it's been a long article already.

In summary

Hilliard should be an excellent shooter from beyond the arc the day he steps on a professional court. He's flashed enough of a toolbox as a college star to profile as something more versatile and dangerous than a simple spot-up shooter, in his ideal development world. And on defense, while he probably won't reach elite status in the NBA due to his athletic ‘limitations,' I'm betting he has the tools to be a versatile, average to above-average defender. His size for the position combined with his potential to contribute on both sides of the floor make me relatively optimistic he can crack an NBA roster and stick in the League beyond his rookie contract.

Whether he goes farther than that is ultimately up to him, his work ethic, and his ability to keep developing. After watching him take a step up year after year at Villanova, I believe in Darrun Hilliard.