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This is a Nate Reuvers discussion post

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What has gone wrong with the all-Big Ten big man and how can he fix it for the Badgers stretch run?

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

For most of the last two and a half seasons you could put Nate Reuvers’ name in the starting lineup in Sharpie. Before the game against Rutgers last week, Reuvers had started 93 games for the Badgers with the last 79 coming in a row. Only Brad Davison, who has started 107 games consecutively now, was ahead of him.

Due to announced “matchup issues” Ruevers had his consecutive games started streak snapped against the Scarlet Knights and now the senior big man has come off the bench for the last two games while sophomore wing Tyler Wahl occupies a spot in the starting lineup.

While the Rutgers starting five did pose a matchup problem for the Badgers, who had started to 6-foot-10 or taller players all season, it was expected that Reuvers would resume his starting role against Northwestern on Wednesday night. However, if you take a closer look at the numbers maybe Greg Gard and the Badgers were right to give Reuvers a break from the starting five.

Here are some counting stats for Reuvers. Keep in mind that the Badgers have a regular rotation of eight players:

346 minutes/23.1 per game (sixth on the team)
9.1 points per game (fifth on the team)
3.9 rebounds per game (fifth on the team)
12 assists in 15 games played (eighth on the team)
40.0/31.3/84.4 for FG%/3PT%/FT% with rankings of seventh/seventh/first
18 blocks (leads team)
Four steals (tied for seventh on team)

These are not the numbers you’d expect from a senior big man that was third team All-Big Ten last, preseason All-Big Ten this year and on the Karl Malone Award Watch List for best power forward in the country. I spent an inordinate amount of time on Wednesday night after the Badgers beat Northwestern diving down advanced stats black holes on KenPom BartTorvik and what I found did not make me happy.

Reuvers, who is listed at 6-foot-11, is struggling shooting the ball close to the basket. He is shooting 20-of-33 (60.6%) on what Torvik lists as “close twos” which puts him at No. 165 among players 6-foot-9 or taller, who play more than 50% of their team’s minutes, in the entire country.

To put it mildly, that ain’t great.

Using those same parameters but only applying them to Big Ten big men, there are only two players with a worse close two shooting percentage, 7-foot Liam Robbins of Minnesota and 6-foot-9 Lat Mayen of Nebraska, but both of them are shooting better from three on more volume.

That brings me to my next point which is: this would all probably be a minor issue if Reuvers was still shooting well from three point range which, to put it mildly again, he ain’t. A career 33.3% shooter from distance, Reuvers is shooting 31.2% from long range this year which isn’t too far off, right? Sure, but the problem arises when you look at his conference only numbers (where the competition is better and Wisconsin needs their best players to play well) and see that he has made one (1) three pointer on 14 attempts in eight Big Ten games.

Using the same height and conference parameters from before, we find that there are 11 players in the Big Ten that meet them that have also attempted over 30 three pointers this year. Reuvers’ percentage ranks tenth.

Reuvers hasn’t had a game in Big Ten play where his ORtg (points produced per 100 possessions) was over 100 (in the double OT win against Indiana he had exactly 100) and he has had only one conference game with a box plus/minus (box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court; average is 0) over 0.5 (his high was a 2.8 against Nebraska).

Both graphs here courtesy of BartTorvik.com

What I’m finding hard to do is figure out a solution. Reuvers does not seem to be handling the benching well, based solely on his play, as he had his worst game of the season against Rutgers scoring three points (his only made three in Big Ten play!) blocking one shot and recording one foul in 17 minutes. Those were his only stats from the game.

He’s 6-foot-11 and didn’t get a single rebound!

Against Northwestern he scored six points and added five rebounds, two steals, one block and one assist (but three turnovers) but had by far the highest usage rate while also having the lowest ORtg. Not an efficient performance at all.

That’s one of the main problems I came across. Reuvers has the second highest usage on the team and second highest percentage of shots taken (behind Micah Potter) while having the lowest offensive rating and lowest eFG% (and second lowest TS%) of any player in the regular rotation. So, giving him more looks doesn’t seem to help and playing him less doesn’t help either. What to do?

Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Reuvers needs to stop being a ball-stopping black hole on offense. Another knock against him is he has the lowest assist rate of any player in the rotation. Get some other guys going and maybe he’ll get going himself.
  • When Reuvers does get position down low he needs to take it up strong. Stop getting your shot blocked and draw some fouls. His free throw rate (25.6) isn’t great and neither are his fouls drawn per game (3.8) but his free throw percentage (84.4%, 27-of-32) is excellent. Greg Gard often mentions that sometimes players just need to see the ball go through the hoop and that can turn around a cold streak.
  • Continue protecting the rim well. While he only has four blocked shots in Big Ten play, his overall defense has been above average and makes him a valuable rotational piece since Potter still struggles on the defensive side of the ball, especially in pick and roll situations.

The Badgers play Ohio State on Saturday afternoon and the Buckeyes don’t have a player who stands over 6-foot-8, although 6-foot-7 sophomore E.J. Liddell is a good rim protector and rebounder, so it will be interesting to see if Reuvers is back in the starting lineup and, if not, how he’s able to play with the second unit.