Creighton received great news this week when the NCAA granted Grant Gibbs a sixth year of eligibility.
The move makes the Bluejays a legit contender for the Big East title, because not only do they get Gibbs, but they also get a better Doug McDermott. They get a better Ethan Wragge. They get a better Will Artino.
Gibbs makes everyone on the court better, and he was a key figure in making Creighton one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball last season.
Gibbs’ impact cannot be quantified by hard numbers. Those are impressive. Gibbs averaged 8.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game last season. He had a 34.3 assist rate, which ranked 42nd nationally, according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (subscription needed).
But that doesn’t tell the whole story, because Gibbs is a much better passer than the 42nd-best in college basketball.
More than just the assist numbers, it’s how he gets those assists. It’s the types of passes he delivers.
Gibbs’ passing made the game a lot easier for several of Creighton’s most important players, and obviously, if you’re talking Creighton, everything starts with McDermott.
Creighton does a good job of putting McDermott in scoring situations. It’s not a game of just “throw your star the ball and let him go one-on-one.” His amazing shooting numbers—57.3 percent inside the arc and 49 percent outside—come from good offense and his teammates understanding where to get him the ball.
No one does a better job of putting McDermott in scoring situations than Gibbs. He assisted on 84 of McDermott’s baskets last season, and most of Gibbs’ passes lead to either threes or layups.
These numbers—using play-by-play data—show McDermott’s baskets that Gibbs assisted on.
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Gibbs’ specialties are his ability to hit shooters right in their shooting pocket, and the ability to deliver pinpoint post-entry passes—which is a lost art in basketball.
McDermott obviously benefited from both types of Gibbs’ passes. Wragge, Creighton’s three-point ace off the bench, had 23 of his threes set up by Gibbs last season. But the player who was rewarded the most was Gregory Echenique.
Echenique lived on the blocks. According to Hoop-Math.com's numbers, 73 percent of his shots came at the rim—and Gibbs set him up often. Gibbs assisted on 48 of Echenique’s 138 baskets last year, and all of those points were scored in the paint. Echenique was an expert at sealing in the post so he could simply turn and finish.
It takes a good passer to lead to those easy buckets, and Gibbs probably deserves some credit for Echenique’s stellar 76 percent shooting at the rim.
This is good news for Artino, who is 6’11” and will be the biggest question mark for Creighton heading into the season. Artino will likely be the lone newcomer to the starting lineup now that Gibbs is coming back.
Who should be the Big East favorite now that Grant Gibbs is returning to Creighton?
Artino, much like Echenique was, will be depended on to score from the blocks and be another weapon to take some of the attention off McDermott. Artino averaged only 7.9 minutes per game in 2012-13 and obviously did not get to play as much with Gibbs. But when he did, Gibbs made him better too. The big man had 12 of his 53 buckets assisted by Gibbs.
Several months ago, Creighton did not know if McDermott would return for his senior season, and most thought that Gibbs had already finished his collegiate career. The Bluejays were looking at a potentially rough first year in the Big East.
Now, on paper it’s easy to make an argument for Creighton as the preseason favorite in the league. And Gibbs does a lot more than just make his team better on paper.