(Photo: Kyle Gorcey, RMU Sentry Media)
The speed was what stood out first. Then you saw the ball-handling. From the ball-handling came the agility that seemed almost instinctual. And, of course, there was the confidence, the kind that comes when you blend all of those different skills.
All too often, those things would come together and the ball would -- sometimes improbably -- end up in the basket.
I guess you could say this was my first observation from Marcquise Reed at the PBC Pro-Am over the summer -- that this kid could score. It was painfully obvious, so much so that I kept thinking to myself that there was no way he was playing against high schoolers a month or two ago.
About six months later, that immense promise that people like myself wrote and tweeted about back in July has translated to actual games, and done so quite well. Not even 20 games into his college career, Reed is Robert Morris' leading scorer at 14.4 points per game and on Monday, he was named the Northeast Conference rookie of the week for the fourth time this season. No freshman has received the honor more than twice.
Even for those like myself who envisioned Reed making an immediate impact, this has all come as a bit of a surprise. In a large group of newcomers in Moon Township this season, he's proven to be the best.
What's more is that title may not just apply to this year; it's quite possible that Reed is having the best freshman season in the recent history of the Robert Morris program.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Reed's freshman campaign isn't just that he's scoring (though that's still impressive). Rather, it's that he's excelling in the kind of areas in which freshmen typically fail. He's taking on a much larger workload than a freshman usually does (he's using 29.5 percent of the Colonials' possessions while he's on the court) and the statistic that's usually underwhelming for first-year players -- field goal percentage -- has been yet another barometer of Reed's success, as he's making his shots at a 51.6 percent clip.
Using a group of vital offensive statistics, here's how he compares to some of the best freshman campaigns at Robert Morris over the past 10 years:
Though a couple of others come close -- most notably Abraham and Chappell -- it's reasonably to argue that Reed's freshman numbers, at least thus far, are better than those of any Robert Morris player over the past 10 years, the most successful epoch in program history.
There's been more to Reed's offensive success than those numbers listed above. Though his team is still relying too much on 2-point jumpers, Reed's one of the few players who can knock them down with regularity. According to hoop-math.com (a must visit for most any devout basketball fan), 53.2 percent of his shots are 2-point jumpers, making it, by far, the biggest component of his offensive identity. In turn, he's draining 51.5 percent of those attempts. You don't need me to tell you that's a good mark.
Coaches often bemoan the decreased presence/effectiveness of the mid-range jumper, a take which can be a little curmudgeonly, but one that also rings true at times. To see a freshman be this good at those kind of shots speaks further to the kind of debut season Reed's having.
And all of this talk about his offensive prowess is ignoring the impact Reed has made on the defensive end this season. Going into today, he ranked 24th among all Division I players in steal percentage (4.5), which measures the percentage of possessions that a player records a steal while he's on the court. This season, as a team, the Colonials are 16th among Division I teams in that category, as they're coming up with steals on 12.8 percent of their opponents' possessions. Last season, that number was at 10.5 percent. It was a good figure, but the improvement this season signals that Reed's made his presence felt and elevated his team's defensive effectiveness in the process.
On a team that entered the season surrounded by unproven commodities and unanswered questions, Reed has delivered in a more profound way than perhaps anyone could have imagined it. And because of that, a Robert Morris season that briefly appeared to be lost has a renewed sense of purpose at a crucial point in its schedule.
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