It’s been nearly a month since I wrote Part I of the Illinois Basketball Summer (i.e., Fall) School series on sophomore guard Brandon Paul.
Needless to say, the time hasn’t been there for me to finish up, although the month-long gap was way too freaking long of a break.
With that said, I apologize and finish up my season preview of Paul after the jump.
That will leave me with just Tyler Griffey, who will be taken care of in only one part prior to the start of the 2010-2011 season.
And without further ado, let’s address Mr. Paul, whom I still think will be the key to whether Illinois is merely a talented or transcendent team in the next couple of seasons.
Recapping Paul’s Freshman Season
For a complete game-by-game breakdown of Paul’s freshman season, see Part I.
For a brief recap, see below.
Rocking a nasty fo-hawk, Paul burst onto the scene during his first two games as an Illini, not only starting along with fellow freshman D.J. Richardson but setting a school scoring for a freshman with 22 points in his debut against SIU Edwardsville.
Paul followed up with 21 points during Illinois’ second game against Northern Illinois, creating much excitement with his athleticism (the likes of which haven’t been seen at Illinois in quite some time) and aggressive style, and setting the expectations a bit too high while his three-point shot was falling early in the year.
After quickly bursting onto the scene, Paul’s first season in an Illinois uniform was mostly marked by the usual up-and-downs that characterize many freshman campaigns. At times, Paul was brilliant. In other cases, he was very inconsistent, raw and out-of-control.
During non-conference play, Paul struggled during a disappointing Las Vegas weekend marked by two crushing losses, bounced back with a huge performance against Clemson on national television, struggled during a neutral-site loss to Georgia, and bounced back with an energetic game against Gonzaga, although he missed a game-winning three at the end of overtime that was the result of poor game management more than anything else.
Entering Big Ten play, Paul was still a starter for the Illini, but not for long as his minutes and confidence took a dive.
Paul struggled during the first half of the Big Ten season opener against Northwestern, but sparked the Illini with several big three-pointers and much better defense in the second half.
After a quiet first half in the next Big Ten game against Iowa, Paul was benched for the start of the second half and would not start the rest of the season.
Paul was nonexistent during tight victories at Indiana and at home against Penn State but played better (if not still out of control) at Michigan State before his frustrations boiled over in the second half, resulting in a technical foul.
Paul would respond with a strong first half at home against Purdue before losing his shooting stroke in the final 20 minutes of that loss. During a disappointing team loss at Northwestern, Richardson and Paul were arguably Illinois’ best players, with the junior trio of Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis really disappointing.
During the rest of Big Ten play, Paul’s game was often a tale of two halves. Paul had a great first half at Penn State before losing some discipline and fouling out in the last 20 minutes. Paul did a decent job on the boards (6 rebounds in 11 minutes) during another ugly victory against Indiana and then had a brutally ineffective performance at Iowa.
Paul proved to be an energetic spark in the second half of a huge win against Michigan State, providing a great effort on the offensive boards, before doing very little during a stunning victory at Wisconsin.
Like his teammates, Paul was off during a Valentine’s Day blowout to Ohio State at the Assembly Hall.
Paul followed with a great first half and quiet second one during a tough loss at Purdue, did a nice job on the boards during an ugly win at Michigan, struggled mightily with his outside shooting but contributed on the boards during a season-defining home loss to Minnesota, provided a nice spark before tapering off in the second half of a loss at Ohio State, and played a bit out of sorts during a home loss to Wisconsin to end Big Ten regular season play.
With Illinois having lost 5 of its last 6 games to end the Big Ten regular season and needing at least one victory and possibly two wins in the conference tournament, Paul was much more solid, even if his statistics didn’t show it. Paul played under better control in a huge win against Wisconsin and during the first half of a classic, double-overtime loss to Ohio State, during which he fouled out.
While Illinois would be NIT-bound, Paul was effective for the third straight game by playing within himself during a first-round victory at Stony Brook.
Paul wasn’t brilliant but was much steadier during a second-round victory against Kent State and proved to be one of Illinois’ few athletic pieces during a season-ending loss to a Dayton team that ran the Illini out of the gym.
All in all, Paul flashed some potential as a freshman but ultimately was too raw for the Big Ten, relying way too much on the three-point shot and often going outside the confines of the Illinois motion offense to try and create his scoring.
While Paul has the talent to be a star and potential NBA draft pick, he needs to step up his focus and consistency with the competition really picking up in Champaign.
How Paul matures as a player during his sophomore season will be huge in determining his individual development and the team’s success in the next couple of years.
Paul’s Freshman Numbers
● 36 games played (started 14 times)
● 682 minutes played (18.9 minutes per game)
● 7.8 points per game (fifth on the team in scoring)
● 279 field goal attempts (93 makes)
● 33.3% from the field
● 129 three-point attempts (36 makes)
● 27.9% from the three
● 1.00 points per shot
● 90 free throw attempts (58 makes)
● 64.4% from the free throw line
● 3.1 rebounds per game (third on team with 42 offensive rebounds)
● 46 assists (1.3 assists per game)
● 46 turnovers (1.3 turnovers per game)
● 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio
● 5 blocks (0.1 blocks per game)
● 29 steals (0.8 steals per game)
● 1.7 fouls per game
Paul’s Top 5 Games as a Freshman
Scores 20 points during his first true “road game,” proving to be a menace in the passing lanes and at attacking the basket and shooting the three while the Illini make a stunning comeback.
Illinois gets the upset on Gameday as Paul is a force in the second half, both in the passing lanes and on the offensive glass, all the while finishing with 8 points and 6 rebounds in 21 huge minutes.
Misses a game-winning three at the overtime buzzer but scores 17 points and provides a spark as Illinois rallies during an amazing comeback yet disappointing loss to the Zags. Also had an incredible tip slam on a rebound in the second half of this stomach-churning game.
Sets Illinois freshman scoring record with 22 points in his debut, which will turn out to be a season-high.
Follows up with 21 points in his second collegiate game.
Paul’s Bottom 5 Games as a Freshman
Scoreless and looks unconfident while getting just 7 minutes during a tight home victory against the Nittany Lions.
Scores just 5 points and turns the ball over 3 times in 23 minutes of Illinois’ first loss of the season, resulting in his benching the following night (another Las Vegas loss, this time to Bradley).
Struggles during this neutral-site loss to the Bulldogs, forcing his offense way too often and hitting just 4 points in 15 minutes.
Is out of control and inefficient (2 points on 1-for-7 from the field) during an ugly road win at Iowa.
Illinois wins this tight game at Indiana, but Paul is benched and gets just 8 minutes; he will not start the rest of the season.
The Summer between Paul’s Freshman and Sophomore Seasons
Along with teammate Tyler Griffey, Paul played on a college travel team that went undefeated in Germany and Belgium as part of the Global Sports Academy.
With Illinois assistant head coach Jay Price leading that team on the sidelines, Paul got some good developmental time at the point guard.
Through the first week of basketball practice, Paul has reportedly been one of the best Illinois players, which is a very encouraging sign.
The Brandon Paul Scouting Report
To me, Paul is the symbol of a new era of Illinois basketball, one marked by incredible athleticism after three or four years of the Illini being too slow and rooted to the ground.
In simple terms, Paul is as good of a natural athlete that Illinois has had in a long time, arguably since Kendall Gill.
For all of his athletic skills, Paul is still very raw as a basketball player.
At times, Paul is the most exciting player on the court, given his abilities to attack the basket, finish strong and acrobatically at the rim, and use his length to alter or swipe shots from behind (see the Clemson game).
At other times, Paul is the most frustrating player on the court, relying way too much on the three-point shot and forcing his game outside the context of the Illinois offense.
With that said, Paul does know how to play the game; he just needs to slow it down and be more even keel.
In the pick and roll game, Paul was a better distributor than I remembered upon reviewing 32 of 36 Illinois games last season. If he can be more consistent, Paul could be a dangerous backup point guard to Demetri McCamey, at least in spot duty.
When attacking the rim at opportune times, Paul is one of the most dangerous players in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, Paul too often forces his drives, resulting in crazy and awkward shots, some that he hits but many that he misses.
As a freshman, Paul was way too reliant on the three-point shot. Approximately 129 of Paul’s 279 shots (46%) came from behind the three-point stripe. While Paul can get hot from three, he either rushes or goes up way too mechanical on his outside shots, as evidenced by a 27.9% clip from behind the three.
Paul is not an efficient scorer at this point of his career; he needs to take less threes and work around the glass, where he is a dangerous slasher/finisher and incredibly underrated rebounder.
Defensively, Paul has the potential to be a game changer. When getting into the passing lanes last season, Paul was a huge spark for the Illini (see the Clemson victory).
Quite simply, Paul needs to make defensive a much higher priority. As for the Illini coaching staff, it needs to extend the defense out farther when Paul is in the game. Illinois has the depth and needs to bring more pressure, not necessarily full court but much higher in the half court.
When examining Paul’s game, it’s clear that he was a kid who got by in high school with his incredible athleticism.
As a freshman, Paul minimized his athletic skills by playing too fast and shooting too many threes.
If Paul can improve his consistency and play within himself (as he started to show late in his freshman season), all the while developing into a game changer on defense, he may be the X-factor for the Illini not only this year but in the following seasons.
Looking at Paul, I see a kid who is reminiscent of not only Gill but Luther Head, who took a few years to become a consistent force.
In the best case scenario, Paul has the ability to break through as a junior and senior, possibly making himself a Big Ten player of the year candidate and potential NBA lottery pick.
In the worst case scenario, Paul will resist the system and grow frustrated, thus never realizing his potential at Illinois.
Let me make it clear that I believe in this kid big time. With that said, Paul will need to stay the course his sophomore season as minutes will be tough to come by and some growing pains are to be expected.
Currently, Illinois is getting hyped because of its senior and freshman classes.
Ultimately, I think Illinois’ current sophomore class of Richardson, Tyler Griffey and Paul will be the key players in determining whether the Illini get back to the Final Four in the next 3 seasons.
It’s pretty clear that Richardson and Paul will be solid players by the time they are seniors.
If Paul reaches his incredible potential, Illinois will be a legitimate national-title contender when his career is all said and done.
5 Areas of Improvement for Paul’s Sophomore Season
1. Be More Consistent and Make Better Decisions
This assessment sounds way too vanilla but it applies to Paul, who was too often “a player of two halves” as a freshman.
Quite simply, Paul needs to be under better control and let the motion work rather than thinking that he needs to take the game in his own hands.
Paul went “1 on 5” too many times as a freshman, resulting in some terrible shots and bad turnovers. Paul’s 1:1 assist to turnover ratio leaves a lot to be desired.
When Paul played under better control during the Big Ten Tournament and NIT, he was a much more effective player, even though he wasn’t always the most efficient shooter.
With Illinois deeper than ever, Paul doesn’t have the luxury of being so up and down as a sophomore.
For Paul, it begins with slowing the game down.
2. Get in the Defensive Passing Lanes
Paul is a scorer at heart, but it’s his defense that’s most important to the Illini.
Paul has the potential to be a homerun hitter in the passing lanes, sparking Illinois fast breaks and many easy points not only for himself and his teammates.
I would love to see Paul make his defense a higher priority than his offense as a sophomore, and the coaches utilize his athleticism and skills with more on-the-ball pressure, extending above rather than below the three-point line.
3. Work the Glass and Baselines
Paul is an incredible leaper with pogo-stick jumping abilities.
When getting on the glass last season (especially on the offensive end), Paul brought a whole another element to the Illini (see the home games against Michigan State and Minnesota).
Due to his athleticism and rebounding skills, Paul has the ability to keep many Illini possessions alive and score his fair share of points.
Additionally, Paul would also be well served to float on the baselines and attack the rim with more regularly.
4. Become a Distributor
Watching Paul during the Illini Tale of the Tape series, I’m convinced this kid can fill some minutes running the point, at least in the pick and roll/pop game in the half-court set.
Paul is a very underrated passer who didn’t show off these abilities enough last season because he was too much concerned with his own offense.
While I doubt that Paul will be the backup point when all is said and done, he does have the abilities to do so.
The question is will Paul be consistently able to slow down his game and cut down on his overaggressive mistakes to demonstrate his passing touch?
5. Be More Selective on the Threes
After shooting 46% of his shots from three and hitting on only 28% of his shots from beyond the arc, Paul needs to take his game into the lane.
Paul is too good of an athlete to rely so much on the three-point shot.
While Paul can certainly get hot from beyond the three, he loses his effectiveness when falling in love with and rushing this shot.
Projecting Paul’s Sophomore Season
Expect Paul to be the first or second Illini off the bench at least at the start of the season, with McCamey, Richardson and Richmond starting on the perimeter and Davis and Tisdale up front.
Illinois could be very exciting to watch with a small ball lineup of Davis, Jereme Richmond, Paul, Richardson and McCamey.
If Paul is more consistent, he should get about 20 minutes a game.
If he is inconsistent, Paul could be surpassed by Joseph Bertrand or Crandall Head.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to predict what Paul will do as a sophomore.
I think he’ll get a few more minutes than the 18 he played last season and average around 8 or 9 points.
To be quite honest, I’m not worried about Paul’s numbers.
I’m more interested in seeing if he can play under better control, take smarter shots and make more of an impact on both ends with his athleticism.
If Paul is able to start putting these areas of his game together, he could be a breakout star not only in the Big Ten but on the national scene as a junior.
With that said, I expect Paul to have a more consistent sophomore season, though he will have some up and downs and lose a little bit of Weber’s confidence at least once during the year.
As stated earlier, if Paul can fight through this season and come out a more focused, prepared and efficient player, the sky’s the limit for this high flier.
In just days, we’ll start to find out about Paul and the rest of his teammates.
I will get Tyler Griffey done in the next few days (probably in one part) and start previewing this season.
Until later today and the Illinois Sunday Morning feature and Orange and Blue Game.
Topics: Assembly Hall, Bill Cole, Brandon Paul, Bruce Weber, Chasson Randle, Crandall Head, D.J. Richardson, Demetri McCamey, Illini Basketball, Illinois Basketball, Jereme Richmond, Joseph Bertrand, Meyers Leonard, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Tyler Griffey, U-of-I Basketball, University Of Illinois