When Aaron and Andrew Harrison made their decision to return to Kentucky for their sophomore seasons, much of the attention went directly to the team’s chances of winning a National Title. The ‘Cats began rocketing up way-too-early Top 25 rankings and, for the most part, rightfully so. The dynamic Harrison twins will pair with an absolutely loaded front-court next season in Lexington.
The remaining talk focused on why the Harrisons chose to skip out on the NBA after a successful tournament run. Although their stock had dropped since October, both seemed destined to be selected in the first round. Nevertheless, few chose to look at what coming back for a second year could do for both players.
The debate on whether or not staying in school for more than a year actually improves a player for the next level is never ending, but that’s not what we’re looking at here. The question becomes, how do players who came into college basketball slotted as “one-and-done” lottery or first-round picks – specifically guards – progress in their second year if they chose to return? In other words, do these players get significantly better?
Thanks to Kenpom.com, I was able to track all guards similar to both Harrisons that hypothetically could’ve been first-round selections, but chose to come back for a second year since 2002. I zeroed in on bigger guards (for the most part) that were anywhere from 6-3 to 6-7. The list narrowed down to the following eight: Marcus Smart, Gary Harris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross, Jeremy Lamb, James Harden and Andre Iguodala.
From there, I looked at the change in nine categories that I deemed meaningful for guards from Year 1 to Year 2. The data can be seen below.
Although the sample size is relatively small, there were some interesting finds nonetheless. On average the players improved in each category, albeit small spikes. The biggest jump came in the ability to get to the free-throw line (FT rate). Five of the eight players saw significant improvement in that area, while just two (Harden and Iguodala) saw their free-throw rate drop from their freshmen year. The other noticeable jumps involved Offensive Rating, percentage of possessions used (or usage rate) and assist rate. Outside shooting improved just slightly for the most part on average – only Iguodala (+11%) and Caldwell-Pope (+6.9%) saw major improvement from the three-point line.