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Maryland men’s basketball film breakdown: A look at Donta Scott’s terrific start

Scott’s body transformation and buy-in have him looking like a superstar through five games.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 20 Hall Of Fame Tip-Off - Maryland vs Miami Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to the first rendition of the 2022-23 Maryland men’s basketball film room. I will be breaking down film from Maryland’s games throughout the season, starting with a look at the remarkable start to forward Donta Scott’s senior season.

Maryland is 5-0 and ranked at No. 23 for the first time under Kevin Willard after dominant wins over Saint Louis and Miami.

After entering the season with little expectations, Maryland is turning doubters into believers and will likely exceed its preseason projection to finish 10th in the Big Ten.

Willard’s offensive philosophy of play hard on defense and do what you want on offense is working, and there has been no greater beneficiary than Scott. After an inconsistent and disappointing junior campaign, Scott shedded close to 30 pounds and trimmed his body fat by 7%.

Earlier this season, Willard said he believes Scott can average 18 points and 10 boards per game and should be a First Team All-Big Ten selection. Many who have watched Scott over the years scoffed at that notion. But through five games, Scott’s body transformation is noticeable and he is proving his coach right.

Scott is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses given his guard skills on the perimeter as a ball-handler and shooter, but also his presence as a forward in the mid-post and low block. The Philadelphia native is a legitimate three-level scorer with unmatched versatility, showcased this weekend with 25- and 24-point performances against Saint Louis and Miami, respectively.

Let’s dive into the film to see what has allowed Scott to shine this season.

Scott operates as an offensive threat all over the court, starting with the mid-post.

When Scott gets a touch in the mid-post, it’s like when a shark sees blood — he craves it and is ready to attack. He has the footwork, strength and finishing ability to operate in that realm, and he’s dominated in those spots so far this season.

The coaching staff knows this and puts him in those positions often.

Scott initiates the play from the top of the key by passing to the left wing. He gets a screen to create some space and face-cuts his man to earn position in the mid-post, where he’s delivered a bounce pass. The rest of the team clears out and Scott goes to work. He simply backs down his man, overpowers him to get to the left block, spins over his left shoulder and shoots his patented right-hand hook.

If that play looks familiar, well, it’s because it is. In fact, it’s literally the same exact play that Maryland ran against the same opponent earlier in the first half — another isolation opportunity for Scott to back his defender down to the left block and shoot a right-hand hook.

Scott’s hook shot is his bread and butter. He’s shot it on 16.4% of his field goal attempts this season and is scoring 1.4 points per possession when he attempts it, which rates as excellent in the 95th percentile, according to Synergy.

Scott likes to operate on the left block so he can go with the right hand hook, but he is more than capable of posting up on both sides. In fact, on his post-ups this season, 60% have been on the left block, while 40% have been on the right block.

Here’s an example of the exact same action on the opposite side of the floor.

Good coaches put their best players in positions to succeed, and Willard is doing that early on with Scott.

Scott’s weight loss doesn’t mean he’s lost his strength. Not one bit. That’s the challenge for opposing coaches. Who do you stick on a guy that is shooting 47% from three and 54% on two-point field goals, who can take a guy off the dribble, knock down a midrange jumper but also use his strength to overpower opponents on the block?

Here’s another set that puts Scott in a position to overpower his defender in the post.

Scott fakes the dribble hand-off with guard Don Carey on the left wing and enters the mid-post to start backing down his defender.

Here’s the exact same action in a different game. Against smaller defenders, Scott can play bully ball and thrive with these looks. Against stiffer competition in the Big Ten, the Terps might need to get creative to get Scott opportunities where he doesn't have to work as hard and can get touches closer to the rim.

This is a time Maryland uses Scott as a screener — which Willard has not done a lot of this season. Scott slips the screen and Jahmir Young delivers him the ball at the, you guessed it, mid-post. Scott uses a pump-fake and beautiful footwork to get him a turnaround hook shot going back to his right hand on the baseline.

This is just an impressive drive from Scott. One of the noticeable differences in Scott’s game this season — although it’s early — from last season is his smart shot selection. Scott often settled for ill-advised jumpers last season instead of attacking his defenders by getting downhill and driving.

This play is indicative of progress in Scott’s game. Instead of settling for that 3-pointer, which he’s made at a higher clip this season, he shot-fakes, gets his defender to jump and uses a hop-step to get near the rim before he finishes through contact.

When Scott is a threat from three, he’s truly a lethal offensive player. Teams can’t close out hard on Scott because of his blow-by ability, but if they close out soft, he will make defenders pay with a smooth catch-and-shoot or one-dribble jumper. Scott is scoring 1.26 points per possession on his catch-and-shoot jumpers, which ranks as very good and in the 71st percentile, per Synergy.

In his sophomore season as a complimentary piece, Scott shot 43.8% from three on 3.6 attempts per game. Last year was a different story. Scott shot a poor 29% from three on 4.2 attempts per game. To see Scott regain his stroke from his sophomore year through the early going of this season is an encouraging sign for Maryland.

He’s attempting 3.8 threes per game and shooting it at a 47.4% clip. It remains to be seen if that’s sustainable throughout the entire season given the load Scott has to carry as the star, but those are promising numbers for the Terps.

Willard wants to push the tempo this season, which leads to a parade of threes for the Terps, particularly in transition. The above clip shows Jahari Long leading the break where he finds Scott running parallel to him on the left wing. Long delivers a perfect pass for Scott to step in and nail the deep ball.

Here’s a similar transition sequence with Long running the break again. This time, Miami learned its lesson and does a better job of locating Scott in transition. Hart helps his teammate buy some time by setting a screen which leads to a poor close out from Miami’s defender. Scott gives a quick shot fake into a dribble to create space and nails a contested three.

This is a similar play from earlier designed to get Scott a touch in the post, but with slight variation. Scott still initiates from the top of the key with a pass to the right wing and goes to screen Long’s man. But instead of Scott establishing position in the post, the ball is delivered to Long at the top of the key, who receives a ball screen from Patrick Emilien going to the left. After he sets the first screen, Emilien immediately goes down to tag Scott’s man, freeing him up for a catch-and-shoot look at the top of the key.

Donta Scott’s defense has been just as impressive as his offense.

While his scoring prowess warrants the headlines, Scott’s defensive jump from what was displayed last season to what everyone is seeing this season is even more impressive.

Maryland as a team has been phenomenal defensively with Willard, implementing various junk defenses including presses, man-to-man, and different zone looks. Willard’s teams at Seton Hall were known for playing sound, hard-nosed defense and he’s brought that defensive intensity to Maryland.

Maryland is allowing just 57.8 points per game and holding teams to 22% shooting from three, the eighth-best mark in the country.

The Terps are connected defensively, and like the offensive side of the ball, the best players set the tone. Coming off a season where Scott ranked in the seventh percentile in points per possession as a defender and graded as poor, according to Synergy, he looks like a completely different player. He’s as locked in as anyone defensively. That can be attributed to the great shape he’s in due to weight loss.

This possession is a perfect encapsulation of how Scott is bought in defensively. He’s in a solid help position to prevent the Binghamton guard from driving. Depending on the scouting report, he may be slightly too far away from his man, but when the pass is thrown, he covers a ton of distance and closes out hard. The most impressive part of this play is his recovery after the blow-by on the first closeout. A lot of defenders would just give up on that play, but Scott turns his hips, recovers and has a great contest on a pull-up jumper.

Here’s another example of Scott’s improved perimeter defense. Scott is in the right position in case Julian Reese needs help. Scott stunts at the offensive player, forcing him to pick up his dribble in an awkward spot. He then kicks it out to Scott’s man, prompting Scott to cover some distance, which he does with a great close out that clearly impacts the shot.

Scott is in a solid help position to prevent a left-hand drive, and when the ball is kicked, he uses great closeout technique to make it a difficult corner shot.

The film shows Scott still sometimes gets caught ball watching, which leads to late closeouts. But the effort and intensity is certainly there, which is all Willard and Maryland fans can ask for.

These two clips are from last year. It’s night and day watching Scott’s defensive intensity from last season to this season. In the first clip, Scott shows little effort on the closeout and has his hands down. In the second clip, Scott gets caught ball watching, doesn't have his back to the baseline and completely loses his man, leading to an open three in the corner.

There has been none of that from Scott this season. Remember that seventh percentile Scott rated in defensive points per possession last season? It’s jumped up to 70% through five games of this season.