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Scotty Hopson: More Opportunity, More Turnovers

Last Friday Dane Bradshaw was on The Sports Animal discussing Scotty Hopson's inconsistency, and his assist/turnover ratio was brought up.  It was an interesting conversation, and after doing some additional research, I think it's the one that most clearly defines some of the issues - positive and negative - with Hopson's play.

The inconsistency Scotty's been labeled with was a product of his scoring numbers in his first two seasons.  When he came to Knoxville as the Vols' first McDonald's All-American since Vincent Yarbrough, most of us expected him to excel immediately.  But Hopson had to find his way on a team with Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince, and Bobby Maze - upperclassmen with strong personalities and plenty of scoring power.

Scotty spoiled us by scoring 17 in his very first game.  He finished the year averaging 9.2 points per game, he just had wild swings:  Hopson hit double figures only 13 times in 34 games, and only three times did he do so in back-to-back games.  He'd score 6 against Georgetown then 16 against Gonzaga; 9 at Temple then 2 against Marquette.  His most telling stretch came from January 13-24:  5 against Kentucky, then 19 vs South Carolina and 11 at Vanderbilt, then 1 against Memphis.  Guess which games the Vols won.

Later in the year Hopson scored 21 against Mississippi State, and we were already asking if it was his breakthrough performance.  Still, Hopson was just a freshman, and inconsistency was to be expected.

It's not that Hopson hasn't improved since then - his scoring has improved every year, and most of his important offensive numbers are better this year than they've ever been:

  • 09 - 9.2 pts, 2.7 reb, 42.8% FG, 62.5% FT, 35.7% 3P
  • 10 - 12.2 pts, 3.4 reb, 44.5% FG, 58.8% FT, 33.3% 3P
  • 11 - 16.5 pts, 3.5 reb, 44.2% FG, 76.1% FT, 37.1% 3P

Hopson has improved over his career, and especially this year his three point and free throw percentages (as you'll recall, he missed one against Michigan State in the Elite Eight and worked hard to improve over the summer) are vastly improved. 

So, are we just incredibly unfair to Scotty?  Did we label him "inconsistent" during his freshman year, and we just keep holding on to it?  Did we burden him with unrealistic expectations as a freshman, which have prevented us from appreciating his maturation over his entire career?

Have our frustrations with Scotty this year been imaginary?  Or is there another way to look at it?

Last year Hopson was a more consistent scorer overall, but saved his vanishing act for the biggest stages, which made it seem worse than it really was.  Hopson averaged 22 in his first three games, then went 5 for 18 against DePaul and Purdue.  He also had duds at Memphis (3 of 11, 8 points), in the first two rounds of the SEC Tournament (2 of 19, 8 points), and in the Sweet 16 (3 points).  However, the Vols were good enough to win five of those six games, losing only to Purdue at the buzzer.

This year, Tennessee is not good enough to win when Scotty disappears...but Scotty has really only disappeared twice in twenty-one games.  Against Oakland and USC, Hopson went a combined 2 for 12 with 15 points (thanks, free throws).  They are the only two games this season where Hopson hasn't hit double figures, but their close proximity to both each other and his greatest performance at Pittsburgh (27 on 10 of 13) made us revisit that inconsistent theme.

Tennessee can't win without Hopson, and Hopson can't win without Tennessee:  Scotty had 24 against Charleston and 20 against the Gators, and the Vols lost both at home.  So the common theme in UT's struggles hasn't been Hopson's scoring.

Which brings us to turnovers.

Hopson averages 2.6 turnovers per game.  It's the 10th worst number in the SEC...but that's not necessarily an insane average, especially given the number of times Hopson touches the ball.  Last year J.P. Prince averaged 2.4 turnovers per game, but that was arguably worse than what Hopson's doing because Prince saw fewer touches.

But when Prince also did was distribute the ball.  J.P. filled the stat sheet in every category, including both assists and turnovers.  Scotty, on the other hand, is out there to do only one thing:  score.

I don't think any of us would call Scotty Hopson a selfish player, and I've yet to hear Bruce Pearl or Tony Jones say Hopson should pass more.  But it's not Scotty's game to create opportunities for someone else...he's creating opportunities for himself.  With more opportunities this year, Hopson is scoring more...but he's also giving it away more.

In 14 wins, Hopson averages 2.4 turnovers.  In 7 losses, he averages 2.9.  There's something here.  And in both wins and losses, Hopson simply isn't an assist guy.

Hopson's assist/turnover ratio is 0.55.  That's 54th in the SEC.  It's also a far cry from all the other non-centers on this team:

So, everything Scotty does seems bigger, because when he gets the ball it's all or nothing.  Hopson has had more than three assists once this year (four at Arkansas).  He's had more than three turnovers seven times.

At this point, I think this is who he is.  The scoring inconsistencies are virtually non-existent.  But every one of his opportunities becomes magnified, because when he gets the ball he's looking to score...which is interesting, because one of the earlier criticisms of Hopson was that he was unwilling to do just that.

They've coached him up well enough to make him believe he's got to carry the load.  And he does - Hopson has played the most minutes, and taken (and made) the most shots.  They're not going to change him into a great passer at this point, and that's okay.

So in part, some of the turnovers can be excused because they come with the territory:  the more your team relies on you, and the more you make it your business to score every time you touch the ball, the more chances you have to turn it over. 

This is a really long and drawn out way of saying "stop turning it over quite so much", but that's really all there is to say.  He's scoring points, he won't become a player that passes all over the place.  The more confident he becomes in attacking the rim, the more secure he's also got to become with the basketball.

How far can Tennessee go with 16.5 points but 2.6 turnovers from Scotty?  Because that's all we get - he's not a rebounder, he's not an exceptional defender, and he's not a distributor.  He scores, and he turns it over.  As long as he's not really off on both on the same night (which has only happened once:  8 points, 6 turnovers against USC), I think the Vols can still get where they want to go on his shoulders.  But if Scotty wants to help his team and his own NBA Draft stock, he can continue to improve the way he has over his entire career...and make the most of his extended opportunities, instead of giving them away.