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Villanova Basketball 2019 Player Recap: Collin Gillespie

With considerably more responsibility as a sophomore, Collin Gillespie improved as a scorer and ballhandler, demonstrating he could lead the Wildcat offense.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Villanova vs Purdue Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Sophomore year can be tough — You need to think about picking a major, your classes get harder, social life can get trickier, and you lose four players to the NBA and have to step in as the third scoring option.

After a freshman year learning from one of the all-time great college basketball rosters, Collin Gillespie was thrust into the spotlight and more than doubled his minutes played. Out of necessity, the Villanova guard was called upon to both handle the ball and be the third option on a tournament-bound team. It was in many ways a baptism by fire.

To his credit, Gillespie responded well to the added responsibility, improving his raw numbers while staying relatively efficient as a scorer. In year three, the rising junior will be asked to do even more as Villanova’s primary ballhandler.

Breaking Down Year Two

As a freshman, Collin Gillespie played in almost every game and received most of his minutes in lopsided scorelines. Typically surrounded by exceptional scoring talents, Gillespie only used 13.3% of possessions, scoring 4.3 points per game but doing so on 45.2% shooting from the floor, 39.4% from three, and 80.0% from the line.

Gillespie’s final performance as a freshman, which came in the National Championship, was role-player’s masterclass. In 16 minutes, the then-freshman was a +19, chipping in four points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one devastating shot clock violation forced against Charles Matthews.

Bigger things were expected of Gillespie this season, but very few would have predicted the Villanova guard to be the third leading scorer on the team. In fact, VUHoops readers projected in Wisdom of the Crowds that Gillespie would average 5-8 points per game this season. The expectation was that the Archbishop Wood product would, as just a three star recruit, require more time to mature to the college game.

In an ideal world Jay Wright has the time Gillespie might have needed, but with the departures of Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman, this year’s Wildcats needed scoring and ballhandling. As a result, Collin played a quasi-combo guard role, sometimes handling the ball, other times deferring to Phil Booth and playing off-ball. In all, he held up pretty well.

Gillespie’s shooting numbers dipped, but that is to be expected when a player’s usage rate rises from 13.3% to 19.4%. Collin finished the season shooting 40.9% from the floor, but by taking a majority of his shots from three and getting to the line and converting, Gillespie kept his true shooting over 58%, good enough to rank 274th in the country among all players. Gillespie improved his assist rate as well, dishing out 2.8 per game, and managed to only see a small rise in turnover percentage. Defensively, Gillespie took his lumps but held up well and performed admirably in Jay Wright’s switch-heavy scheme, especially on big men.

Collin Gillespie is Villanova’s Future at Point Guard

Finally, the hot take. There has been much debate about Collin Gillespie’s ideal role, and a sizable contingent of my colleagues and readers believe Villanova’s soon-to-be junior guard is best suited as an off-ball player. While I can see the argument — he’s an exceptional catch-and-shoot scorer — Villanova should want Gillespie to develop as a point guard, both because it’s his best path forward and because the team desperately needs it.

Let’s start with the latter reason. Gillespie is the only returning Villanova player, let alone starter, that handled the ball from the lead guard position last season. The only other alternative for the Wildcats is to hope Jahvon Quinerly returns (an “if” right now), and that he improves as a decision maker and can be trusted by the staff. Make no mistake, Villanova wants Quinerly to come back and step up, but even if he does, Jay Wright will opt for the proven commodity.

Blind resume anyone?

Blind Resume

Player MP PTS USG TS% 3Pr AST% TO%
Player MP PTS USG TS% 3Pr AST% TO%
Player A 29.4 10.9 19.4% 58.8% 69.9% 19.0% 13.9%
Player B 31.1 9.9 17.4% 53.6% 63.1% 21.1% 13.3%

Player A is obviously Gillespie, but Player B? That’s sophomore year Ryan Arcidiacono, the same player whom Jay Wright, out of necessity, entrusted as the lead ballhandler.

The makeup of both players as sophomores is strikingly similar — heavy reliance on the three but low usage rates, similar minutes and points, and favorable assist and turnover rates. The now Chicago Bulls combo guard was given the chance to develop over time with the trust of Jay Wright and his staff because he was careful with the ball and made winning plays. Gillespie will be given the same opportunity for the same reasons.

Even today, Gillespie has a considerable advantage over sophomore Ryan Arcidiacono as a scorer, having a much better true shooting percentage on higher usage rate. Despite not demonstrating much blow-by ability yet, Villanova’s guard gets to the rim twice as often as sophomore year Arch, 18.3% of the time to Arch’s 9.6% per Hoop Math. In fact, in his senior year, Arch was still only getting to the rim for 18.1% of his shots. Gillespie’s ceiling as a scorer is more enticing than Ryan Arcidiacono’s at the same point in both players’ development.

As far as passing and protecting the ball, we are limited to assist and turnover rates, as well as the eye test. The assist rate for Gillespie (19.0%) puts him in the neighborhood of not just Arch, but a freshman Jalen Brunson (19.1%) and a sophomore Scottie Reynolds (20.8%). He will never be as dynamic as these two VU legends, but he can create open shots for his teammates at the same rate. The turnover rate, meanwhile is in the safe range for what he was asked to do in the Wildcat’s offense this season.

This isn’t to say Gillespie is fully actualized as a point guard yet. To really assume the role like those before him, CG will have to improve his ability to credibly attack the defense off the bounce. This past season, Gillespie’s dribble drives were not purposeful or effective enough to collapse the defense. His ability to get all the way to the rim, shield the ball, and finish was on display only a handful of times, and without a credible drive-and-finish game, defenses could lay off and close down passing lanes.

Gillespie has good athleticism though, and with better handle and more physicality he will improve next year as a scorer at the rim. As an excellent free throw shooter (83.9%), he should seek out contact more often to earn easy points. Additionally, with the ball in his hands more often, we should get a better look at the Villanova guard’s pick-and-roll game, which should benefit from the threat of his 3PT shot. If leveraged successfully, Gillespie should force his defender to come over the screen, allowing him to play from a point of advantage. This ideal development is no sure thing, as Ryan Arcidiacono found it only in his senior preseason after a disappointing junior year.

I would not be so bold as to presume the ‘Gillespie is a point guard’ argument is settled by these numbers. There are still many areas where the rising junior can and must improve. I mean to lay out the stats and comparisons above to paint a picture of favorable development. Whether you like it or not, Gillespie will be the lead ballhandler, and for that reason we should hope he takes the next step forward as a junior.