Marcus Capers has long been lauded for his defensive prowess -- with his long arms, quick feet, tremendous leaping ability and (this year) strength, he fits the profile of a lockdown defender. And around these parts, that's enough to make you a fan favorite.
But with Tony Bennett as coach, Capers found it difficult to stay on the floor last year, due in large part to his offensive deficiencies. He was a black hole with the ball in his hands, unable to contribute points because of his lack of ability to shoot or drive to the basket in Bennett's restrictive half court offense. It reached its watershed moment against UCLA, where Capers inexplicably found the ball in his hands from 3-point range with the Cougs down by two in the final seconds.
Worse, as the team's primary backup point guard he wasn't a great passer and he was turning the ball over a tremendous amount -- nearly 25 percent of the possessions he used last year ended with him giving the ball to the other team.
It all added up to an incredibly poor 71.9 offensive rating -- meaning he essentially was 30 percent worse than the average offensive player in college basketball. (For context, even Nik Koprivica was able to put up a 78.0 last year with all of his troubles.) Essentially, the Cougs were playing four on five in their offensive sets when Capers on the floor last year.
Not any more.
Capers' offensive rating has shot up to 115.3 this year, meaning he's now essentially become nearly 15 percent better than the average player despite possessing essentially the same skill set as he did last year.
What's been the difference? I think there are a couple of big reasons.First of all, Capers was miscast as a point guard last year. Granted, it was out of necessity, as Tony Bennett needed someone to bring up the ball and initiate the offense so that the team's best perimeter weapon -- Taylor Rochestie -- could actually get the ball in spots where he could score.
But it's become abundantly clear that Capers is not a point guard. With Reggie Moore and Xavier Thames on the roster this year, it's freed Capers to play exclusively off the ball, and he's proven very good at finding gaps on the defense and darting to the rim. He's shooting over 53 percent from 2-point range, excellent for a guard. Capers is playing with a confidence and attitude that we simply didn't see last year -- I can't even count how many times he made a mistake last year and hung his head because he knew Bennett was going to yank him off the floor -- and it's translating into results.
Second, Bone's system (stop me if you've heard this one before) is perfectly suited to Capers' freelancing style. He's free to run the floor and crash the offensive glass, and he's done it with abandon, picking up more than 9 percent of the available offensive rebounds when he's on the floor. That's a far cry from the 2.4 percent he posted last year in the Bennett system, which mandates guards get back to prevent transition baskets. It's allowed him to score putbacks and draw fouls that he wasn't drawing last year.
Ah, those fouls.
This year, Capers is drawing 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes, more than double his rate of last year. His free throw rate -- the ratio of free throws to field goal attempts -- is 34th in the country. And while that's almost always considered a positive, some are quick to point out that he's shooting 60 percent from the free throw line and claim that it effectively negates his very good free throw rate.
I beg to differ. And so do the numbers.
Essentially, there is no such thing as a bad trip to the free throw line. A player shooting 60 percent from the free throw line is scoring approximately six points every five possessions he heads to the free throw line. That's 1.20 points per possession ending with the player at the free throw line, and there's no way around it: That's excellent production. (Average is about 1.00 point per possession, or 100.0 offensive efficiency.)
But some would say that theoretical math isn't concrete enough, not taking into account missed front ends of one-and-ones or whatever. Fine. I went back and tracked every trip to the free throw line Capers has made this year, and here's what I found.
- He's gone to the line 20 times
- On those possessions Capers has scored 29 points -- 1.45 points per possession.
- If you remove the three buckets he's scored on fouls from the equation and leave only the free throws, it's still 1.15 points per possession.
- On only three of those possessions have the Cougs walked away with zero points -- twice when he missed two free throws, and once on the front end of a one-and-one.
I'm not advocating that Capers should be in the game when the other team is in an obvious foul situation, but I think it's fair to say that the negative effect of his poor free throw percentage is greatly exaggerated. Stop holding your breath when he gets fouled. It's a good thing.
And it's time to embrace what the numbers are telling us: Marcus Capers is a one-dimensional player no more.
Check out Capers' stats from last season and this season side by side here.