Could Adrian Nelson be coming to an ‘All-Horizon League’ team near you?

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You know about Trevon Faulkner. You’ve been introduced this year to Marques Warrick. But one Norse men’s basketball player is quietly putting together one of the best seasons in entire league. Here’s your yearly reminder that Adrian Nelson is good at basketball.

It does sound kind of crazy, calling Adrian Nelson, the 6’7″ Center (by necessity) for the Northern Kentucky Norse one of the 15 best players in the league. Many around the league sleep on the Norse big man. They look at the roster card, see a guy standing 6’7″ anchoring the defense and immediately write the Norse off as “undersized.” And sure, on paper, we might be. Against the “biggest” team in the league, Wright State, we are. Loudon Love proved to be just too much last year – not just for Nelson, but for every big man the Norse threw out there. But as easy as it is to write Nelson off, he continues to give everyone a reason to believe.

Scoring Efficiency

Nelson has been one of the most efficient players in league play the entire season. This not only bears out in the stats and advanced analytics but in the tape, too.

Screen & Roll Mastery

The Norse have used Nelson quite a bit in screen and roll situations, and while Nelson does not have a “pop” option in his bag, he does very well rolling from the top of the key down the lane. He gets a good percentage of his points in the pick and roll game, and using him in that way is so helpful for the Norse because they have two guards in Trevon Faulkner and Marques Warrick that are great at attacking the basket and setting those screens 3-5 feet above the 3-point line helps them get the space they need to truly dominate. And if they get stopped, Nelson is there on the roll. This also bears itself out in the numbers.

photo by: NKU Norse

Scoring Efficiently > Scoring in volume

Nelson is shooting an astounding 69.2% from the field, which is good enough for #2 in conference (Dylan Carl, the 6’11” Center for Purdue-Fort Wayne is averaging 73.4% on his 2pt field goals). Nelson is also averaging what some would think is an underwhelming 8.1 points per game, but it’s important to understand two things when looking at these numbers:

  1. The first thing to understand is that he has increased his Conference points per game average from 3.1 to 5.4 to now 8.1 in his three seasons at Northern. This steady and consistent growth demonstrates a trajectory that is bound to end up in double figures by next season. Something to keep in mind here is that Adrian is averaging 8.1 points per game on less than 5 field goal attempts per game in conference play. That type of efficiency is good for a 7-footer, but for a guy who is 6’7″ and doesn’t shoot 3-pointers, it’s astounding.
  2. The most important thing to understand is that Adrian just is not a volume shooter. The offense does not run through him, and likely never will. But that shouldn’t take him out of the running for a Second or Third team “All League” consideration. When Nelson gets his opportunities, many of which he creates for himself via his tenacity on the offensive glass, he gets it done at rates that equate to the top players in the league (Adrian would be in/around the top-10 in the country but does not qualify for the leaderboard).
photo by: NKY Tribune

Still not convinced? Okay.. I continue

Glass Eater

Digging further into the stats will reveal what Norse fans pretty much have always known. Adrian Nelson is hungry. And the only thing that feeds his appetite is EATING BOARDS.

Total Rebounding Numbers

Just how hungry is he? Well, Adrian currently ranks 4th and 2nd in TOTAL offensive and defensive rebounds, respectively. But that doesn’t really do Nelson justice because the Norse have only played 19 games, whereas teams like Oakland have played 23 total games. A better indicator of Nelson’s rebounding prowess will be by looking at his per game numbers.

photo by: Cincinnati Enquirer

Rebounds Per Game

When you look at total rebounds per game, Nelson ranks 4th. This is a good mark, too but still perhaps not good enough to make the case that he’s really THAT good on the glass. But wait, there’s an advanced metric that really isn’t all that tough to understand, which better explains a player’s rebounding abilities. This is called “rebounding percentage”, in other words, it calculates what percentage of the teams rebounds a specific player accounted for while they were on the court.

Rebound Percentage

This stat is the true measure of a good rebounder because it shows exactly how much of an impact they were able to have on the court, while they were on the court, despite who was on the court with them. In the advanced metrics of rebounding percentage, Nelson is 2nd in the league in Offensive Rebound %, 2nd in Defensive rebounding %, and 1st in TOTAL rebounding %. All of this combined is enough for me to say that Adrian Nelson is at least a top 3-4 big in the league, making him worthy of a top 15 spot in conference, one of the 3 “All League” teams. Right? I guess we can take a look…

Compare & Contrast…

Getting into the business of projections is where things can get a little complicated. We believe in fairness around here, so In order to project Nelson into a “top 15” situation, we first have to remove the players we know are already going to be on a 1st, 2nd or 3rd team and work from the rest. Here’s are the players that our metric predicts as our all-Horizon League “top 10” as of this week. I’ve removed their specific ranking so we don’t give anything away too early – and added them to the team that we project they will make.

FIRST TEAM:

  • G – Jalen Moore // Oakland
  • G – Trevon Faulkner // Northern Kentucky
  • G – Tanner Holden // Wright State
  • F – AJ Bramah // Robert Morris
  • C – Loudon Love // Wright State

SECOND TEAM:

  • G – Antoine Davis // Detroit Mercy
  • G – Amari Davis // Green Bay
  • G – Marcus Burke // IUPUI
  • F – Naz Bohannon // Youngstown State
  • C – Grant Basile // Wright State

So our metric output for this week has Adrian Nelson outside of the top 10, which is understandable – but what about 3rd team? Is there a chance for him to make it? That really depends on what voters deem important. Historically, the makeup of an “All Horizon League” team is 2-3 guards, 1-2 forwards and [maybe] a Center if one is good enough. I know, that’s not really helpful, but these “All” teams are pretty loosely defined. The Horizon League is a very guard heavy league, so for the purposes of a 3rd team list, we’re going to learn more on the side of 3 guards, 2 bigs (either 2 forwards or 1 forward and 1 center). With that line of thinking, we believe that Adrian will have to be either the best or second best Forward (or Center) left off of the 1st or 2nd team. After assessing all of the main statistics that are important for “bigs”, it seems to me that Adrian’s compeition is with two other players: Elijah Goss of IUPUI and Daniel Oladapo of Oakland, and it could really go in any direction. Here is are how their stats break out, in conference play:

NAME/STATs (per game)Elijah GossDaniel OladapoAdrian Nelson
Points9.313.68.1
Rebounds10.39.78.5
Assists0.61.90.7
Blocks0.40.30.6
Steals0.71.30.8
Field Goal %47.10%59.50%74.60%
Total rebound %*1815.30%18.60%
Total Win Shares**0.61.71.6
* = total rebound percentage, an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor.
** = win shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his offense and defense.

Just looking at some of these key stats. Daniel Oladapo leads in points, assists and steal per game. He comes in second in rebounds per game, FG% and total win shares. He’s last in blocks and total rebound percentage. Elijah Goss is first in rebounds per game and that’s it. He comes in second in points and blocks per game, along with total rebound percentage. He’s last in assists and steals per game, field goal percentage and total win shares. Finally, there’s Adrian Nelson, who leads the three in blocks per game, field goal percentage, and total rebound percentage. He comes in second in assists per game, steals per game, and total win shares, while coming in last in points and rebounds per game.

Digging deeper into the stats

What do these stats mean, though? Well, let’s be honest about something. “Per game stats” do play into POY rankings and 1st/2nd/3rd team placement, but they really do not reflect how good or effective a player really is. Should Adrian Nelson be punished because he plays less minutes than these two? He leads the entire league in rebound percentage, so if you give Adrian 3-4 more minutes per game, he likely beats these two in rebounds per game, right? On the other hand, why should Adrian and Daniel get a huge boost because they play for a better team? Win shares lean heavily towards Adrian and Daniel, and kill Goss because IUPUI just doesn’t win games. Thus, the total WS stat shouldn’t play too much into this, right?

I guess the point I am making here is that there’s no real distinction between the three players. Do you give it to the overall best producer based on the superficial “per game” tallies they’ve accumulated? Then I guess you rule out Adrian Nelson. Do you dig a little deeper into some of the more advanced analytics and weight players’ efficiency? Then you have to give Nelson the nod. Do you factor in wins and if the player plays for a good team? Nelson and Oladapo are your guys. Or do you look into seniority, in which Goss is a senior and was on an “All League” team last year.

The point of this entire article is that Adrian Nelson has lived up to our preseason expectations and had a breakout year, but through no fault of his own has almost gone unnoticed due to the awesome performances of late by his teammates. This suits him though. He’s not the most flashy. He’s not the most talkative. He’s not the most active on social media. He’s just there. He’s always there.


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