Continuing our projecting the future series, wherein we use raw data to glimpse into what a player’s future holds, we move onto Dez Wells. Wells is the Terrapins offensive linchpin, capable of scoring outbursts that change the tides of games. Last season, Wells showed flashes of being an absolute superstar on the court with his gravity-defying dunks and end-to-end scoring plays. His athleticism is second to none on a basketball court, and yet his playmaking ability is on the higher end of wing players.
Wells still struggled with consistency issues; one game he would have 23 points, and yet in another a mere nine. Despite contributing in other manners, Wells failed to continuously hold momentum for more than a single game, rarely extending hot scoring streaks more than one or two games. He also had a major issue with turnovers, something that severely hindered his ability to burst into the superstar range. His decision-making at times is far and away his most suspect aspect of his game, and takes away from everything else he does well.
So where can Dez Wells, the mercurial guard/forward, go from here? For that, I always look at statistical measures to get a gauge on players potential. But in this case, with a guy like Dez Wells, it’s important to take into account style of play. There are plenty of 6’5ish guys who weigh around 220, but there aren’t many who have the rare combination of explosiveness, speed, and athleticism that Wells has. You could look at a guy like P.J. Hairston, who has the same measurables as Wells, and yet they are nowhere near the same player (with P.J. being a far superior shooter but way less athletic.) Wells is a dunker-slasher with a mix of some great court vision and defensive prowess.
Who does Dez Wells remind me of? I would get killed for even suggesting this by a lot of people in the know, but I’m going to say it anyway: Vince Carter. Yeah, it just sounds ridiculous without any perspective. A potential Hall of Fame shooting guard who once gained comparisons to Michael Jordan because of his high-flying dunking and outrageous aggressiveness versus a guy who couldn’t even get his team to the tournament. It’s here where I have to again stress perspective when considering this comparison.
When we think of Vince Carter, we think of Vinsanity. We think of Shawn Bradley getting dunked on in the Olympics. We think of those monster jams in the NBA and his pouting with the Toronto Raptors. But the casual fan doesn’t think of Vince Carter as a sophomore in college; a young, 20 year old without a defined game just yet. It took years to become the player Vince Carter’s reputation suggests, but it had to start somewhere. So let’s start with Carter’s freshman and sophomore year in college with the North Carolina Tar Heels, and see if some of the statistics match up with Wells output from last season (and the season prior.)
Dez Wells per game totals:
Vince Carter UNC per game totals freshman and sophomore year:
Now looking at Wells’ first year in comparison to Carter’s statistically, they are tougher to compare. Wells played ten more minutes per game on a very talented Xavier team, and while his role was limited, he had logged a lot more minutes at that point in his career. Carter, meanwhile, was playing behind both Jeff McInnis and Antawn Jamison on the court at both the guard and forward positions. While Carter logged a good amount of minutes, he wasn’t nearly as large a role player for the Tar Heels.
But the the similarities are still present even with the difference in minutes. Look at the shooting percentages, which are almost identical at 50% to 49%. The three point attempts and percentages are nearly the same. Steals? The same. Assists? The same. Turnovers? You guessed it. Dez Wells averaged about two more points than Carter, but he played a lot more minutes. His rebounding numbers also reflected that, as did his trips to the line. To that point in their career, they are similar enough to merit comparisons.
When you look at their sophomore seasons as a whole, that’s when the comparisons start to stick. With both players averaging the same amount of minutes, the end result is that the two are almost identical to one another. Wells and Carter both shot 52% from the floor, 33% from three point range, averaged around the same amount of rebounds (4.9 for Wells, 4.5 for Carter), and even the same amount of points per game (13.1 to 13.0 in favor of Wells.) Still, at this point I’m entirely unconvinced that Dez Wells can ever become Vince Carter. Yes, they play similarly in that their games are predicated on dunking and spotty deep shooting, but it’s not enough evidence for me to christen Wells with the Vinsanity label.
I decided to dig deeper and look at some slightly more advanced statistics, to truly separate these two players who appear to be on incredibly similar routes of production increase. I used Statsheet.com to compare both their sophomore season’s here (I cannot provide you with an image as it won’t embed, but you can open another tab and follow along using that link.) By doing this, I was able to start to see slight differences between the two players, but also even more similarities.
For one, Dez Wells is not nearly as offensively efficient as Vince Carter at the same age. Carter finished the season with an offensive rating (the equation is (points produced/possessions) x 100) of 125, whereas Wells had a big dip with 105.7. That suggests Carter is much more efficient than Wells at scoring, but it doesn’t make sense why. Vince Carter wasn’t a jump shooter at all at this stage in his career, and all his shots came almost entirely off dunks, athletic layups, and the occasional long two/three pointer. Sound familiar? It’s Dez Wells. They should match up in efficiency with shots like those, but they don’t. That’s because the real game-changer was in their free throw percentages and turnovers.
While Dez Wells is considerably better than Carter at getting to the free throw line (his FT rate was 36.3 to Carter’s 31.6), Vince Carter hit 75% of them. Wells barely connected on 70% of his free throws, and that, realistically, is the biggest difference between the two. Connecting on free throws is what differentiates super-efficient scorers from efficient scorers. Those 5 percentage points are enough to skew the scales in favor of Carter, even if Wells managed to get to the line more. But not 25 whole points.
That’s where the turnover rate comes in. Wells was one of the worst ball-handlers in the ACC last season, and it’s what absolutely killed his efficiency numbers. Whereas Carter turned the ball over on 14.4% of his possessions, Wells turned it over 23.8% of his possessions. Their total turnovers were massive with Carter only having 47 (very few) to Wells 108. While they may score in the same manner and at the same rate, they do not play the same game. Vince Carter is simply hyper-efficient as a sophomore, because he doesn’t turn the ball over.
Still, the two are very similar (albeit slightly different) players in a number of other categories. Their true shooting percentages are near identical at 60.9% for Carter and 58.4% from Wells (again, that’s where FT% comes in). Wells and Carter are both considered great rebounders, and yet they do it in different manners. Wells is far superior on the defensive glass, nabbing 153 total DREB to Carter’s 94, but Carter is a good amount better on the offensive glass with 58 total OREB to Wells 33. Offensive rebounds tend to generate putbacks and points, and that could also lead back to efficiency since those are high percentage shots.
Wells may be a slightly better rebounder, but he is definitely a better, more willing passer. His assist totals (113 to 83 total AST) and assist percentages (22% to 16%) are a fair amount higher than Carter’s. What’s positive about that number is that passing players who take risks with the ball early in their career tend to end up being very good passers in the future. That applies mostly to point guards, but it’s also relatively true to swingmen as well. Vince Carter was a playmaker, and i’m saying now that Wells could be even better.
So where will Wells end up next year? Honestly he’s on a trajectory to be very similar to Vince Carter:
As you can see from the table, Vince Carter just got a lot better at what he did best, which was being a good rebounder and an even more efficient scorer. 59.1% from the floor for a guard, forward, and even center is an amazingly good percentage. Carter upped his three point percentage significantly, which made him even more lethal as a scorer considering no one could guard him athletically.
For Dez Wells, in many ways, he’s on the right track to becoming college Carter. Wells absolutely has to shore up his turnover numbers, and I definitely think he can do that. His turnovers are a result of having the ball in his hands far too often, and with a real point guard that number is almost guaranteed to go down. If he can return to his freshman year turnover numbers (with the same amount of minutes), he’s actually already done.
Now the three point shooting is the biggest thing Part B. Can Wells improve his three point shot? That’s something that I can’t project, since it’s really just indicative of practice and effort levels. If Wells wants to up his percentages drastically, he can. 33% to 41% isn’t unfathomable; instead of 3 of 9, he’s 4 of 10. It’s just one more shot, but it’s all up to him.
With Wells athleticism and high-flying ability, combined with an NBA-ready ability to finish around the rim, Wells potential is limitless. When I compare him to Vince Carter, I compare him to not Vinsanity. I’m talking about college Carter, who, as you can see, is actually pretty damn similar to Dez Wells. When you consider how amazing Wells was during the latter part of the year, when his team needed him, I can get the comparison. When Dez Wells is playing at his best, he is almost always the best player on the court. It’s a matter of upping that consistency, and that takes practice.