I’m a big believer in ownership. And not like a “possessing something that’s all mine, totally bought and paid for,” kind of ownership because I actually don’t own much of anything in that regard. But more like the “openly admitting when I’m wrong and then taking responsibility for it,” kind of ownership.
So let me own this: I’ve been a little harsh in my criticism of John Fulkerson.
I don’t really like to be overly critical of collegiate players on social media because, well, it’s kind of tacky. (DISCLAIMER: This is just my opinion. I think no less of you for saying what you want about whomever you want – that’s your choice, and you do you.) I don’t know what these men and women go through, what their routines are like or how strenuous their days of study halls and practices and classes really are. I mean sure, I have some idea, but I don’t really get it.
Unfortunately, I’m not perfect, and I do occasionally succumb to voicing various complaints and critiques. It happens. Fulkerson’s name has been in my feed often enough and, most of the time, the refrain hasn’t been positive (I usually refer to him as the “Great White Hope,” and I mean it sarcastically).
Sure, Fulkerson doesn’t really pass the eye test: He sometimes looks awkward on the floor, and he’s all knees and elbows, but he’s been much better than what I give him credit for.
He doesn’t play a whole lot, so his box scores and per-game averages don’t jump off the page. In about 12 minutes per game, he’s averaging 3.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, less than one block and less than one assist. Try to contain your excitement.
For guys like Fulkerson, guys who don’t play as much, it’s important to look at per 40-minute stats. They level the playing field. For example: If Fulkerson scores 10 points and Grant Williams scores 20 points, but Fulkerson played 10 minutes while Williams played 35, Williams’ box score looks better, but Fulkerson actually had the more efficient game.
Basically, instead of looking at production per game, these numbers look at production per minute and give you a picture of productivity that isn’t affected by one guy logging more minutes than the other.
His shooting and scoring numbers per 40 aren’t spectacular, 58 percent and 11.3 respectively, but they aren’t that terrible, either. They’re at least better than Yves Pons, Jalen Johnson and Derrick Walker’s numbers, if nothing else. But that’s not where Fulkerson’s value lies.
Outside of Kyle Alexander, Tennessee doesn’t have a lot of tall, capable basketball players. Walker and Fulkerson are the only other two guys who play that are taller than 6-foot-7, and Walker only plays about five minutes a game. So it’s important that when Fulkerson plays, he does what tall basketball players should do – play defense and rebound.
Per 40 minutes, Fulkerson is third on the team in rebounding (8.8), second in blocks (2.3) and tied for first (yeah, that’s right TIED FOR FIRST) in steals (1.5).
In some of my previous work, I’ve talked about Tennessee’s offensive rating. It’s a way to measure a team’s offensive efficiency, but it’s really just how many points that team scores per 100 possessions.
The same stat is available for individual players, too. Fulkerson’s offensive rating is 124.4, which is an estimated measure of his points produced per 100 possessions, and it ranks him third on the team behind Williams and Jalen Johnson. His defensive rating, or estimated points allowed per 100 possessions, is 93.3 and second on the team to Williams.
As things are with any statistic, it’s a good practice to consider context when making a judgment. Fulkerson doesn’t play more because he isn’t a skilled scorer -- sometimes it seems he’s as liable to airball a layup as I am – and because he fouls a lot (He’s second on the team in fouls per 100 possessions).
He’s not God’s gift to Tennessee basketball or one of the “best,” players on the team just because his per 40-minute stats are good. But the next time you want to make fun of him because he looks like a baby deer taking its first steps when he runs down the floor, remember some of these numbers.
Because when you look beyond the box score, he’s one of Tennessee’s more productive players.
*All stats were collected prior to Tennessee’s game against Mississippi State and are courtesy of sports-reference dot com*