Youth has taken center stage for this Liberty basketball team in a big way. Freshmen Colin Porter and Zach Cleveland have played their way into the regular rotation, with Porter already starting at point guard in his first year. Now that we are 11 games in, there is a decent enough sample size to evaluate how they are fitting into this Flames squad and contributing to winning thus far.
Porter has shown a lot of promise so far in his young college career, being second leading player on the team in assists thus far with 3.8 per game and taking real authority within an offense filled with experienced players. Porter’s ability to make quick lob passes in rhythm has put more pressure on the rim, creating some fun highlights with alley-oops to Joseph Venzant, Blake Preston, and Zach Cleveland.
According to Synergy Sports, 9% of our shots at the rim in the 21-22 season were dunks, which was in the 56th percentile amongst division 1 teams. This year, though only 11 games in, 17.2% of our shots at the rim are dunks. This would be in the 93rd percentile of all teams and ranked 23rd in the nation.
A bucket is obviously a bucket no matter how it is gotten, but this number shows that we are getting more open/uncontested looks in the paint, something that our new floor general has absolutely contributed towards. In addition to his playmaking,
Porter has been exceptionally efficient in his shooting opportunities, going 12 for 21 on catch and shoot threes and 6 for 14 on dribble pull up threes. On catch and shoot jumpers, Porter is averaging 1.727 points per possession (PPP), which would be the 14th highest in the nation among players with at least 20 catch and shoot possessions.
In a young season, Porter has displayed a shooting versatility that will be a lethal combination with his playmaking if he can maintain an efficiency even in the same ballpark with more volume in the future. His offensive skills are undeniable and it grows clearer every game that Liberty might have found their lead guard of the future in the true freshman.
I thought Cleveland showed a lot of potential as a very solid post-playmaker and slasher coming into the season, and so far he has been on track to be an extremely solid player in years to come. He is averaging 1.346 PPP in shots at the rim (70th percentile among D1 players) and displayed good footwork and poise when working in the low post. He has the strength to bully his way down low and can finish with touch or ferocity.
What is most intriguing to me is his passing ability on the perimeter and in the high post. Cleveland never panics with the ball in his hands, but makes quick, accurate passes that often catch the defense out of position and lead to open looks or driving lanes. He is 4th on the team in assists (2.0) despite playing only 14.5 minutes per game compared to those above him in the column (Porter, Rode, McGhee) who play an average of (24.3, 25.3 and 29.2 minutes respectively). This number is even more impressive given he has a 4 game stretch in the first round of games this season where he had only 1 total assist across those games. He has stepped up more and more as the season matures and is on a great development track.
Cleveland has impressive handling and facilitating skills for a big and even brings the ball up to start up offensive sets from time to time. The coaches clearly trust him in this role as a first year player and his opportunity should only grow as he continues to play with high IQ and efficiency. He does multiple things very well and adds another dynamic piece to the Flames rotation.