More than any other returning Longhorn, Sheldon McClellan seems to have captured the imagination of the Texas fan base. Rick Barnes thought highly enough of McClellan that during preseason practices prior to his freshman year, every time McClellan passed up an open shot, Barnes would make him run. In addition to his shooting stroke, McClellan is a guy who can get off the deck and make things happen at the rim. Slashing drives to the basket and spectacular dunks are a part of his repertoire.
Sheldon McClellan had an strong freshman season, but he is still a player who is largely defined by potential. While he is an outstanding player, there are some tangible ways that he can improve. McClellan has a reputation as a shooter, but his outside shots weren't always falling during his freshman year. Although he is a versatile scorer, he spent last season in a secondary role, while J'Covan Brown hoisted up many of the Texas shots. In his first year on the 40 acres, McClellan seldom distinguished himself on defense.
This season, Sheldon McClellan is going to be needed to shoulder more of the load on offense for the Longhorns. Just how big of an impact can he make for Texas? Answering that question requires that we take a step back and look at McClellan's freshman season. And starting from that baseline, the next step is to make reasonable -- or wild, depending our your objectives -- projections of how his play is likely to evolve.
After the jump, I take a look at what McClellan did well as a freshman, and where he struggled. I will also discuss some things that are likely to improve this year, and one component of his game that will almost certainly get worse as McClellan is asked to take a larger role on offense.
"When he's open, he's one of those guys that every time it leaves his hand, you think it's going in," Texas coach Rick Barnes. -- Austin American Statesman, December 6, 2011
By advanced metrics, Sheldon McClellan was the most efficient offensive player for the Texas Longhorns last season. McClellan led Rick Barnes' squad with an offensive rating of 117, the 156th highest offensive rating for players who qualify in Division 1 basketball (kenpom.com). McClellan's high offensive rating came in a manner that is a little bit surprising. McClellan had a freakishly low turnover rate last season, only turning the ball over in 10% of the possessions that ended with the ball in his hands. This was the 33rd lowest turnover rate in Division 1 basketball.
As a scorer, McClellan was good, but not always great. His 56% true shooting percentage was kept down in part because he only made 31% of his three point shots. While he struggled some on long range shots, the story was different from two point range. McClellan shot 54% on two point shots. A little less than half of his two point shots were at the rim; compare that with J'Covan Brown, who only took one third of his two point shots at the rim. McClellan also tied for the team lead in field goal percentage on shots at the rim, making 68% of his attempts there. Additionally, McClellan made 42% of his two point jump shots, which led the team. McClellan was also a good free throw shooter (76%) who got to the line somewhat regularly.
What is the outlook for Sheldon McClellan on offense this season?
Sheldon McClellan can be expected to take a larger role in the Texas offense. Barring injury, he will probably lead the team in scoring. Last season, he used exactly 20% of the Texas possessions while on the floor, but it is hard to imagine that number not increasing to at least 25%, as Texas will need to fill the gap left by the departure of J'Covan Brown.
If McClellan can soak up more possessions while maintaining his high offensive efficiency rating, then he has a good chance of being an all conference player. I think this is a fairly reasonable expectation, although there is an outside shot that McClellan can actually improve his efficiency this season. What would improvement take? It would simply require a few more of McClellan's three point shots to fall, while maintaining all of his other totals.
I think there is a pretty good chance that he will be able to hit threes more often this season. So why am I not predicting an increase in overall efficiency from McClellan? Because of turnovers. McClellan's efficiency was fueled by an out of this world turnover rate, and it is hard to imagine him repeating it. He could see his turnover percentage fall by 5 points, and still have an outstanding turnover rate. Assuming a larger role in the offense likely means that McClellan will handle the ball more next season. Almost all of McClellan's three point shots came in catch-and-shoot situations, where turnovers are very unlikely. 40% of McClellan's made baskets at the rim came off of assists from other players. If McClellan is going to be handling the ball more this season to make up for the loss of Brown, he will likely see his turnover rate increase. Additionally, a turnover rate as low as McClellan's just screams out "fluke," so even if his role in the Texas offense doesn't change at all, we should expect an increase in his turnover rate.
I haven't said much about defense, yet. There are two reasons for this. The first is that while advanced statistics do a great job of describing team defense, statistics derived from box score stats are lousy at helping us evaluate individual defense. This is particularly true for perimeter players; guards who don't get a lot of steals tend to not do much to show up in defensive box score statistics. The second reason that I haven't written much about defense in this article is that -- to put it charitably -- defense was not a strength of McClellan's game last year.
It seems reasonable to predict some defensive improvement from McClellan this season. He has the physical tools to be a good defender. Additionally, players like J'Covan Brown made great strides on defense during their time at Texas. There is more skill and understanding involved in being a good defender than the typical fan appreciates. It is not simply a matter of working hard and being quick enough to stay in front of your man. With experience, McClellan's defense is likely to improve.
Then there is another matter -- at a team level, not every player has to be an excellent individual defender to have a strong defense as a team. This is particularly true with perimeter players. For an example of this, let's take as an example the 2010-2011 Texas Longhorns. That iteration of the Texas basketball team was great on defense. Jordan Hamilton played significant minutes for that team, and while Hamilton's defense wasn't bad, it was not much better than "good enough." But it didn't matter. With the other players on the team, Hamilton only needed to be OK as an individual defender.
With Julien Lewis and Myck Kabongo as teammates, along with the big men inside, McClellan is unlikely to be asked to do much heavy lifting on defense. As was the case with Hamilton, if McClellan understands his help assignments and rotations, it should be good enough for Texas.
Texas basketball fans are justifiably excited about Sheldon McClellan's sophomore season. McClellan was already very good as a freshman, and will be expected to take a larger role in the offense as a sophomore. He has a mix of skills on offense that make him a very complete and dangerous player. He can finish at the rim, hit open shots, and doesn't turn the ball over.