In a Monday interview with Sports Radio 810’s Soren Petro, Kansas coach Bill Self admitted that he had high expectations for sophomore forward Carlton Bragg.
“Replacing Perry (Ellis) is a pretty big ask, because he was just a model of consistency for us,” Self said. “But as far as raw talent, Carlton ranks up there high like some of those other good power forwards we have.”
So where will Bragg need to improve to live up to the ‘Perry standard?’ And in what areas could he exceed the production that Ellis gave the Jayhawks?
Let’s take a closer look at their stats from a year ago.
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Offensive rating, usage percentage
Ellis — 120.1, 24.3
Bragg — 106.1, 22.6
Ellis was a much more efficient player than Bragg last season, averaging 120 points created per 100 possessions. He also took on a larger offensive role, ending 24 percent of KU’s possessions while he was on the floor compared to Bragg’s 23 percent.
Bragg has some ground to make up here, though it might not be where you’d expect.
Effective field-goal percentage
Ellis — 56.4 percent
Bragg — 56.9 percent
For those unfamiliar, effective field-goal percentage is the same as field-goal percentage, only it gives 1.5 times the credit for three-pointers because they’re worth 1.5 times the points. In this overall shooting stat, Bragg actually was slightly better than Ellis, as both players made an impressive 55 percent of their two-point attempts.
So why does Bragg’s offensive efficiency lag behind Ellis’? There are two main reasons.
Ellis — 11.8 percent
Bragg — 21.9 percent
One of Ellis’ greatest strengths at KU was his ability to take on a large offensive load while being sure-handed. He ranked 194th in turnover percentage his senior season, which helped keep an otherwise-turnover-prone KU team at a roughly average mark nationally.
This will be one of Bragg’s biggest challenges. His turnover rate was nearly double Ellis’, so making better (and safer) decisions is an area where he’ll need to show growth.
Free-throw rate, free-throw percentage
Ellis — 39.0, 79.5 percent
Bragg — 15.6, 64.7 percent
Here is the other major offensive category separating Ellis and Bragg. Though he was undersized at times, Ellis still found ways to maneuver in the post, drawing fouls at an above-average rate while ranking as one of the best big-man free throw shooters in the Self era.
Bragg will likely struggle to get this same kind of production. From what we’ve seen so far, he appears more comfortable settling for mid-range jumpshots; playing with physicality inside doesn’t appear to be something he’s comfortable with at this stage in his career.
Many of those “free” points that Ellis picked up last season are unlikely to be replaced, though that doesn’t mean that Bragg can’t help the Jayhawks in other ways.
Offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage
Ellis — 6.9 percent, 14.5 percent
Bragg — 14.1 percent, 16.9 percent
Bragg appears to have much more ceiling than Ellis on the glass, as he doubled Ellis’ offensive rebounding percentage a year ago while also posting better defensive rebounding numbers.
“Carlton, he has the ability to be a better rebounder than Perry, there’s no question, because he’s bigger,” Self said. “He’s 6-10. He’s got to get stronger and everything.”
Even if he does get stronger, Bragg figures to be a better offensive rebounder than defensive rebounder simply because of his body type. Offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding are separate skills, and while players that can anchor in their spot for boxouts tend to be better defensive rebounders (think Landen Lucas), springier guys like Bragg tend to be better on the offensive glass while being able to squirm their away around defenders for loose balls.
If Bragg would have played a few more minutes, his offensive rebounding percentage would have ranked 31st nationally, meaning his best path to more efficient offense could be cleaning up the shots of teammates rather than creating his own attempts.
Block percentage, steal percentage
Ellis — 1.8 percent, 0.9 percent
Bragg — 2.2 percent, 2.5 percent
From an activity standpoint, Bragg also has potential to help the Jayhawks defensively. His steal rate was tied for best on the team among guys who played at least 20 percent of the minutes (with Devonte’ Graham) and was nearly three times higher than Ellis’ mark from last season.
Those steals often add extra value for KU, as the Jayhawks ranked as the 11th-best transition shooting team last season according to Hoop-Math.com. One would figure that KU would continue to be dangerous on fast breaks this season with the return of Frank Mason and Graham to go with top recruit Josh Jackson.
Bragg will have a tough task trying to match Ellis’ offensive production from last season. The biggest challenges for Bragg should be improving his decision making to reduce turnovers while also finding more ways to get himself to the free-throw line. The good news is that, shooting-wise, Bragg’s numbers were similar to Ellis’ a year ago, and he’s likely to extend his range more to the three-point line after taking over a starting spot.
Even if his efficiency numbers aren’t as strong as Ellis’, Bragg has potential to give contributions elsewhere. He has a chance to be an elite offensive rebounder, and creating steals could provide extra value on a KU team that has struggled to create havoc the past few seasons.
Self said Monday that Bragg “probably needs to take as big a step” as any KU player this season.
That might not mean playing exactly like Ellis, but with the skill-set he’s shown so far, Bragg might not be far off from providing different contributions that still could help the Jayhawks to a top-five-type season.