Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Continuing our series, one of the most noticeable regressions by the team from this year to last happens to come from junior G-F Nick Faust. Faust, who seemed to be coming into his own as a player over the last twelve games last year (12.4 PPG, 4.3 REB, 46.2% FG, 37% 3PT) has taken a major step back in his development this season. Career lows in field goal percentage (33%), points per game (8.8), and three point field goal percentage (18%) have led to Faust being cauterized by the fan base.
But what happened? Faust was projected to make a pretty significant leap this season given how he finished the last, and the fact that he has struggled so much out the gate means someone or something has changed. Some could argue it is his confidence; his shots aren’t going in because he doesn’t think they’re going to fall. But anyone watching the games knows Faust isn’t lacking for confidence, ever, especially as a shooter. He’s still a very solid defender, but that’s not the primary focus of this diatribe.
For Faust, the regression as a player seems to be stemming from his prolonged shooting slump, and his desire to shoot more than last season in spite of it. Judging by the sounds I’m hearing from most observers it’s starting to feel like Faust is getting the Pe’Shon Howard treatment, where any shot he takes is a bad shot because so few are going in. That would work, except that Faust is getting clean, wide open looks to go along with his standard off balance, poorly timed jumpers and wild drives to the rim. He’s taking the same shots he used to take, and even working to get open more often, they just aren’t falling in.
I’ve done his shot chart all season long, and it breaks down like this (in a nice pie chart!):
And here’s the breakdown of his shooting percentages from each location:
Layups: 12-of-28 (42.857%)
Dunks: 6-of-8 (75%)
Jumpers: 3- of-12 (25%)
3-Pt FGs: 7-of-37 (18.918%)
If this isn’t evidence enough of what Faust is clearly doing wrong, then I’ll gladly explain. For starters, despite historically being an inconsistent and poor shooter at best, over 50% of Faust’s shots are jumpers or three pointers. In this case, the stats back up what we’re seeing on the court; Nick Faust has been hanging around the corners looking for easy points that just aren’t coming. If he shot as well as Layman, this might be admissible on court, but he’s crippling the team with those shots and there’s no other way around it. But why is he taking more threes?
Well, part of that reason is because he’s just getting open looks. Very few of Faust’s three point attempts this year have been contested or from NBA range with tons of time left on the clock (even though we’ve seen both enough that it feels like deja vu every time). Maryland has actually been great at finding him in the corners; that’s a credit to his improved off-ball movement, which he clearly worked on. Given that he shot 35% from deep last year (an OK number), he probably thinks that’s a shot he can make, and evidence suggests he may be able to better than he is now.
(Side note: His missing all these corner threes is actually a big reason why Maryland’s assist numbers are so far down. They’re finding open shooters, but the shooters aren’t hitting them. It isn’t just him that keeps this number pegged at such a low clip, it’s Layman too.)
But another statistic that is somewhat startling is that even though Faust is driving to the rim for layups, he’s not hitting what should be an easy shot. Hitting a little under 43% of the easiest shots in basketball is bad for morale, because if you can’t hit that then you’re not going to be making much of a dent in the box score. Even at the college game, that number should hover closer to 50%, but 43% still isn’t dreadful from there, particularly because Faust can draw contact.
That’s the one stat I didn’t add in: so far, Faust is 16-of-23 from the charity stripe, good for about 70%. That’s not bad, and is right in line with his averages. True shooting percentage takes into account that some players score points getting to the line, and you do that by driving, which Faust is still kind of doing. His true shooting percentage is down because of his three point attempts, but if you take those out it’s actually pretty good. So even if he isn’t converting at the rim incredibly well, he makes up for it at the line.
Why Is Faust Struggling; How To Fix It
There’s no simple solution for Nick Faust. On one hand, his DNA is hardwired to take shots whenever he gets them. Faust is not going to pass up an open look from three because that just isn’t his game. I’m not sure I would advise that he stop shooting wide open three pointers; that’s bad basketball, especially when he shot 35% on them last season. Faust is essentially filling in the shots taken (and made at a high rate) by Logan Aronhalt last year. Aronhalt hit his corner looks with much efficiency, and while Faust is a massive upgrade defensively from him, he is a significantly worse shooter from the same spot. Perhaps Faust has to continue to move off the ball to different spots on the floor, because he flat out isn’t a corner three point shooter.
On the other hand, because he’s taking so many and shooting them so poorly, it is clearly hurting the team offensively more than most other players on the floor. Faust is probably the fifth look on this team after Wells, Layman, Smotrycz, and Mitchell; this is where Mark Turgeon should have spelled that out for him. Once Seth Allen returns, Faust may even be the sixth look; either way, he’s got to reign in his propensity to hang back and shoot rather than drive the ball. Nick wants to score points like a shooting guard should, but that isn’t his role on the team right now, nor should it ever be.
Now, one of the reasons he’s missing some of these shots because he isn’t that good at shooting 3’s, but another reason is that he’s logging a whole lot of minutes at the guard position this season. Maryland is short on guards thanks to attrition, transfer and injury, and Nick Faust is constantly asked to D up the opposing team’s best back court player; as such, he’s second on the team in minutes at 267 (or 30 minutes a game) and probably first on defensive energy expenditure. If you’re going to be a jump shooter, you’re going to need fresh legs. Turgeon is putting a lot on Faust, and while he may appear to be in great shape and we’re less than ten games into the season, these kids have been playing year round. There’s a good chance Faust is going to be
What Faust should be focusing on is becoming more of a defensive stopper and a glue guy who can score the occasional fastbreak point, beat double teams and drive to the rack, and maybe convert some three-point plays. If Faust took his seven to nine shots a game and used them with high percentage looks closer to the rim, he’d be scoring the exact same amount he is now, only he’d be doing it far more efficiently and saving energy for the defensive end. The sooner he realizes that, on this roster, he’s not the alpha, the beta or the gamma, the better this team will get.
That being said, there are obviously going to be games where Faust has it going; he’s got one of the most aggressive mentalities on the roster and that intensity is not something you easily replace. We can’t fail to realize the defensive impact he’s had this season; Faust has some of the quickest hands in the country right now, and he’s stealing almost two balls a game. One reason turnovers hasn’t been derided that much this season (though it is still present) is because Maryland is forcing turnovers exponentially better than last.
Faust is going though a cold spell, he’s not taking bad shots. But anything empirically you look at says one thing to Nick: stop shooting three pointers; move closer to the rim.