Over the next several weeks, we'll be reviewing the season that was for Maryland basketball. Included in this review is, of course, player recaps, looking back at what they did and ahead at what the future holds. Today, we begin with the only true freshman on the team: Baltimore-born, swaggeriffic, and exciting wing Nick Faust.
|2011 - Nick Faust
How we got here: You've heard the story at least 33 times this year, because every TV broadcaster mentioned it every game, and I'm about to do it again: when Mark Turgeon was hired, then-four-star-recruit Nick Faust asked out of his Letter of Intent. His mother, meeting with new head man Mark Turgeon, explained that they were upset Gary Williams had left, saying Gary had promised to be around "for two or three years." Turgeon, desperate to get Faust to College Park, countered wittily: "Ma'am, if your son doesn't come to Maryland, I might only be here two or three years."
Funny story. Also, in this case, useful to demonstrate just how much Turgeon thinks of the young Baltimorean, and just how much pure talent Faust has. On both counts, the answer is "a whole hell of a lot."
After all, when Pe'Shon Howard went down in preseason to injury and missed the first nine games of the season, Turgeon turned to Faust, a natural wing, over scoring machine Terrell Stoglin, a combo guard who played the point throughout high school and even for a year at Maryland. Good decision? No one knows for sure. But it allowed Stoglin to function in his more effective off-guard spot, and by the end of the year Faust had taken the position quite nicely.
Things weren't always that smooth, of course. Faust, who had entered the program with sky-high expectations, initially struggled, perhaps due to inexperience but likely also thanks in part to his unfamiliarity with the point. In his first seven games, he averaged only six points on 24% shooting despite playing big minutes. His jumper, awkward and rushed, didn't look like what was advertised in scouting reports. And perhaps predictably for a small forward asked to run the show, he struggled with turnovers, giving the ball away nearly three times a game with an A:TO ratio of just .75.
Howard would soon return, moving Faust back off the ball but also shrinking his minutes. The response was a roller-coaster one: in the fourteen games Howard played in the lineup, Faust saw his points per game rise to 7.1 but his minutes fall to 22 (he was getting 31 a game before the switch). He was shooting 36% from the field, a nice uptick, and was more consistently hitting at least six or seven points a game. Still, though, he struggled with multiple quiet outings - two points against Cornell, two points against Clemson - and was shooting only 19% from three, a shocking mark for a guy considered to be one of the elite shooters in his class.
When Howard became injured again, Faust was reinserted at the point and given major minutes, largely because Maryland didn't have the bench depth to rest him. Averaging upwards of 30 minutes a game once again, Faust's proverbial light turned on: over his final nine games, the Baltimore freshman averaged 13.4 points, nearly five rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game, raising his FG% from 33% to 45% and his three-point shooting percentage from 18% to 40%. Limit it to only the final five games, and things get even better: points per game rise to 14.2, FG% to 48%, and 3P% all the way up to 45%. The Faust of the final three weeks looked a completely different animal than the one in the first fifteen.
Part of Faust's problem early in the year was probably getting used to the pace of the game. Another part of the issue was that he didn't seem aware of just how dangerous he was off the bounce. He tried to play as an out-and-out jump-shooter in his early games, in which the vast majority of his shots were three-pointers or long twos. As we learned over the season - and, apparently, as he did as well - he's a terror going to the rim and is able to finish in a variety of ways - including, of course, the much-loved poster. Once he figured that out, he seemed to find a rhythm lacking in earlier performances.
Contrary to popular belief, though, Faust wasn't successful because he stopped shooting. In fact, he took more threes as the season went on; over those great few games late in the year he was actually shooting a greater percentage of threes than earlier in the year. This time, though, they were falling. With defenders fearing his driving ability he was getting better looks from outside, and armed with the confidence of scoring at the hoop, he was able to get his still-far-from-pretty jumper to fall with consistency.
If you're looking for that stretch of games where Faust "turned it around", a good candidate would be three games in early February against UNC, Clemson, and Duke. Faust, still miserable from deep at that point in the year, took 23 shots in those three games, of which only 4 were three-pointers. That stretch culminated with a 15-point masterstroke performance at Cameroon Indoor. With his swagger back, Faust returned to the jumper in the eight games that followed, with nearly 40% of his attempts coming from behind-the-arc. Oh, and he was hitting 40% of them, more than twice as efficient as he was earlier in the year.
The newer Faust was shooting better, yes, and that was the biggest difference for his uptick in performance. But he was also more aggressive, taking an extra three shots per game and finishing his opportunities at the rim, even through contact. The end result: an effective field goal percentage of 57% in the last five games, a mark even better than do-everything awesome machine Mike Scott of Virginia.
But we'd be doing Faust a disservice to focus only on his offense. One of the things I imagine Turgeon loved about him was his potential on defense, and that was probably the first part of his game he really grew into. As a legit 6-6, athletic, long, and quick, Faust can guard any of the three perimeter positions and do it effectively. A willing ballhawker who isn't afraid to play the passing lanes, Faust was second on Maryland in steals (behind only Sean Mosley) and if Mark Turgeon emphasized defensive pressure more, it's likely that Faust would've racked up dozens more. It was his steal on Durand Scott in the waning seconds of the Miami game that sealed Maryland's win, and Turgeon was emphatic after the game in Faust's ability to check any guard in the country. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration at this point, Faust has a bright future as Maryland's defensive stopper of the future.
The one area Faust did really struggle in was in taking care of the ball: he averaged 2.5 turnovers a game, and 3.7 over that celebrated final nine stretch. It's only to be expected with a non-point guard running the show, especially one with as loose a handle and as much flair as Faust has. It's not a major worry given that his future isn't on the ball, but he does need to tighten up that handle.
I won't blame the more cynical among you if you're just a little skeptical of Faust's hot finish. It's clear he's a talented scorer but he came a very long way in a very short time. Just a hot streak, or is this really him? If it really is, and I do believe that it is given the word on him coming out of high school, Maryland has a big-time player on its hands, and future all-ACC selection.
The Road Ahead: Faust's future is back on the wing and off the ball, thankfully. Pe'Shon Howard may or may not be healthy by next year, but either way Maryland is bringing in Seth Allen and likely at least one more combo who can run the point. With potentially three options for a lead guard (assuming Howard is healthy) I can't see Faust running the point.
Some have started to wonder if Faust is actually at his best on the ball, and with good reason - after all, didn't his huge outburst come after he started to play the point again? I readily admit that he may have needed the ball in his hands consistently for the light to turn on for him - it certainly couldn't have hurt. But with a loose handle and proclivity for turnovers - again, nearly four a game in that final stretch - he's a dangerous option to have on the ball consistently, especially given that he doesn't know the position. He may need some time to readjust to the wing in his first few games, but it's an adjustment I'd expect him to make just fine; after all, it de-emphasizes his biggest weakness (his handle) and emphasizes his biggest strengths (driving ability and shot).
And, of course, sticking Faust on the wing wouldn't squander his other tools, namely his sensational passing ability and strong floor vision. Slashers are most dangerous when they're willing to facilitate on their drive, which Faust can do as well as any non-point guard I've seen recently. As more and more teams realize they need to help out on his drives, he possesses the ability to drop the ball off to an open player down low or on the wing. In fact, I expect his time at the one will make him only more dangerous in that regard.
If Faust picks up where he left off in these last few games, it's not inconceivable that he could average around 14 points a game on upwards of 40% shooting, which would make him a very dangerous secondary scorer for a Maryland team desperate for it. If he improves even further - a very real possibility (if not a likelihood), particularly if he takes well to the wing - he'll be a contender for all-ACC teams, and fans just might start wondering how much longer he'll stick around in College Park.