Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
It sounds like Mark Turgeon's willing to give Nick Faust a try at point guard once again. With few other options, it makes some sense. But will it work?
This morning, the Nick Faust-playing-point-guard idea seemed little more than a twinkle in Mark Turgeon's eye, a "hey, we might decide to give this a shot at some point down the road" half-baked thought.
Now? Uh, guys, kind of sounds like this is happening:
"Had a great practice, because he wasn't trying to shoot the ball, he was just trying to run our team," Turgeon said. "He wants to be a point. He wants to play there. It'll allow me to get Seth off the ball some.
"Nick got seven shots up the other day and two, maybe two and a half were good shots. He was good today, disciplined today, ran our team, made guys better, which Nick can do. He defended and he led. We need Seth to score. Getting Seth off the ball will help him score a little more."
Note the consistent use of "will", not "would" or "might." Maybe it's just reading too far into things, but the more Turgeon talks about this possibility, the more it sounds like it's not just some crazy hare-brained idea, but instead something that he's going to give a real run out at some point, maybe even as soon as tomorrow.
And I'm finding it tough to blame him. What Maryland truly needs right now is probably a little stability, but Turgeon's in a tough situation there, because he has to make sure he's stabilizing the right things. Getting a more stable lineup doesn't do anyone much good if the stability simply results in a stagnating offense that can't produce, because that's what the pieces add up to. Maybe more stability would mean that the current lineup would eventually start producing, but after the past two games, how many people really want to take that gamble?
I mentioned earlier today that I'd try to dig up some old stats I had crunched over the offseason about Nick at the point last year, and after some searching I did finally find them. The takeaway: there isn't all that much to indicate that the team was ever much better with Faust running point instead of Howard, but he did grow into the position and at the very least upped his own productivity, plus did little to make me think there should be any reason not to give it a try.
Looking at just ACC games from last year (plus Temple), so the numbers aren't skewed by poor non-conference opposition, gives a pretty fair breakdown between the time spent with Howard - who played the first nine ACC games plus against Temple - and with Faust - who played the final seven, plus the two ACC Tournament games. (KenPom says Pe's schedule was slightly more difficult overall, but that Faust had the tougher defenses, so it about evens out for our purposes.)
The stats of note are virtual ties. The offensive efficiency was slightly higher when Howard played, but to a negligible amount (if adjusted for competition, it probably would've been even); the team did have a somewhat higher shooting percentage with Howard, but again only by a small amount, something that was undone by the Terps rebounding much better with Faust in the game. Almost everything was the same, offensively and defensively, except for Maryland assisting more with Howard in (as expected) but turning the ball over less with Faust (not expected at all). I imagine those two stats work in conjunction: Maryland tried to run more stuff with Howard, a more traditional point guard, which led to more assists but also more opportunities for turnovers. Faust is actually a fairly responsible point guard when it comes to getting the offense into its sets, but he's also a lot more aggressive than Howard when it comes to taking his own shots. Pe' has passed up several good looks this year and last (because he's not a very good shooter and doesn't want to waste a possession), and I imagine at least a few of those have had turnovers follow. Faust, more of a natural scorer, isn't likely to be so passive, and it could mean the offense doesn't have to work as hard to find an open look.
What's so interesting about it, though, is that Faust himself seemed to improve drastically in his second go-around at the point. One of the things that Maryland really tried to get Faust to do was attack the basket more often, because on his day he's a top-notch slasher. (I bet you've forgotten that, haven't you?) When he was off the ball, he'd not touch it for several possessions at a time, and so when he eventually did get a shot he seemed to have lost a bit of concentration and was perhaps pushing. Letting him bring the ball up and get a touch every single possession seemed to settle him a bit, and it certainly brought out the best in him last year: he shot 45% from the field over the final nine games last year, compared to the 36% he shot off the ball, and his three-point shooting rose from 14% to 40%. His overall offensive rating went from 85.71 (100 is generally considered "good") to 97.81, and even that saw an even more drastic bump to 110.62 for a five-game stretch late in the year.
Point is, there's at the very least the possibility that Faust is at his best offensively when he's running point, possibly because he's more involved in the game and therefore more settled, taking better shots and not feeling as much pressure when he does shoot. Given that Maryland has struggled mightily to bring out the best in him, and given that he was considered one of their key players coming into the year, it's probably at least worth giving it a try, given little else has worked so far.
Of course, moving Faust to the point isn't just full of positives. It's unquestionable that he's something of a turnover machine, and moving him to the point didn't fix that entirely last season. (Interestingly, though, he did become more sensible with the ball, possibly because he recognized the added responsibility he had at point guard.) Even if he does temper things a bit, his handling is still much too loose for him to be an ideal primary ballhandler.
The interesting thing is that, if the move is made, it sounds like Turgeon would start Allen at the two off the ball, instead of Jake Layman moving in at the three. Basically, he'd be moving Faust to the point to accommodate Allen's ability to score without burdening him with being something he's not, all while maintaining the defensive advantage that Faust offers the team. In other words, he'd be doing something very similar to what he did last year, with Allen playing the role of a poor man's Terrell Stoglin. And one thing that Stoglin offered last year, aside from scoring, was a more natural primary ballhandler to take pressure off Faust. If, for instance, a team tried to press Faust, it's possible that he'd buckle under that pressure, because his ballhandling just isn't quite good enough. But when a team pressed, it wasn't Faust who'd try to break it, but the much more controlled Stoglin, a role that Allen himself could easily fill.
I've long been a fan of starting Layman, and situationally a big lineup, one that uses a Faust-Wells-Layman backcourt, could be quite useful. But full-time that lineup might lack a bit of scoring punch - the primary reason for making the switch, remember - and it certainly doesn't have a lot of ballhandling.
Actually, there's a very appealing balance to a lineup with Faust at the point, Allen off the ball, and Dez Wells at the three. It lets Allen, a natural scorer who can create his own shot, function with less pressure on him and in his more natural role, opening him up to be a more efficient scorer, and it simultaneously could bring out the best in Faust himself. Plus, Allen may be the best shooter on the team not named "Logan", which means there'll be a shooting outlet to punish defenses who collapse on the slashing ability of Wells and Faust. Meanwhile, it doesn't sacrifice anything defensively (Allen would presumably usually match up with the opposition point guard) and, unlike sitting Allen for Layman might do, makes sure that there's at least one strong ballhandler on the floor.
Still, that's all theoretical at this point. Faust has struggled this year and Allen's been inconsistent, and a change in position that might maximize their strengths also might do very little to actually help them. But with so little else working, there's definitely a certain intrigue in Faust moving back to the point.
Either way, most fans are right: Maryland seems to lack much of an identity, either the players in their individual roles or the program as a larger entity, and you can see it beginning to affect the players themselves. Sometime sooner or later, whether this is the answer or it isn't, Turgeon will need to pick a path and stick with it. If he does give this a shot, let's at least hope for Maryland's sake that it works, because fiddling with things even more is playing a dangerous game, even if the other options seem limited themselves.