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No, nothing is wrong with Luke Maye

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The Third-Team All-American has “struggled” early. Except, not really?

NCAA Basketball: Texas at North Carolina Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get this out of the way. No, nothing is wrong with Luke Maye. He is not slumping. He has not regressed. He does not need to go to the bench. He’s not even a major liability on defense. So, whatever internet hot takes you have seen in comment sections, or on message board and twitter, need to be immediately erased from your mind.

We should also acknowledge an obvious fact. Yes, Luke Maye’s production this year is slightly lower than during his junior season. He finished 2017-18 averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds, compared to just 13.7 and 9.3 this season. To say he is slumping, however, is a slight exaggeration.

Kevin Flaherty from 247 Sports gave a partial explanation of Maye’s production on Wednesday. (Full disclosure: I was already working on this piece when I saw Flaherty’s work and believe they complement each other). Flaherty points out that Maye is shooting almost three fewer attempts per game and struggling when shooting off the dribble (1.08 points per possession last season, but just 1-for-10 this season). He also has been unlucky on non-post up opportunities at the rim – 1.24 PPP last season compared to just 0.88 PPP this season.

Those facts match the old trusty eye test, but have been slightly masked by higher efficiency and increased shooting in post-up situations. Per Flaherty, Maye is scoring 1.24 PPP when posting up a defender and those have accounted for 25% of his shot attempts. Last year those numbers were 0.86 PPP and 17%.

Those numbers, however, only tell part of the overall story. Let’s break this down

Shooting Woes?

Check out the chart below.

Luke Maye Shooting Comparisons

Season FGM FGA FG% 2PM 2PA 2P% 3PM 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT%
Season FGM FGA FG% 2PM 2PA 2P% 3PM 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT%
2017-2018 6.8 13.9 48.6 5.4 10.8 50.3 1.4 3.1 43.1 2.0 3.2 62.4
2018-2019 4.8 11 43.4 3.8 7.8 48.6 1.0 3.2 31.0 3.1 4.1 75.7

These stats confirm that Maye is shooting less and making less. But to call it a slump? Maye is just a tick below last year’s overall production, but there are positive signs. He is also getting to the foul line more frequently, with more success. The more interesting piece of information is that while Maye is shooting fewer overall field goals, he has maintained the same shooting pace from three. That has led to an imbalance in his game.

Here’s another chart for your pleasure. These stats are from hoop-math.com. They define shots at the rim as lay-ups, dunks, or tip-ins. Basically, anything within two feet of the basket.

Luke Maye Shooting Comparison Part 2

Season % of shots at rim FG% at rim % of shots that are 2PT J's FG% of 2PT J % of shots that are 3P 3FG%
Season % of shots at rim FG% at rim % of shots that are 2PT J's FG% of 2PT J % of shots that are 3P 3FG%
2017-2018 34.7 69.3 42.8 34.8 22.5 43.1
2018-2019 19.2 78.9 51.5 37.3 29.3 31

Flaherty noted Maye has been better in post-up situations than last year, and just a little unlucky on non-post up opportunities. That doesn’t explain why Maye is shooting three-pointers and mid-range jump shots at a higher rate than last season, while attempting fewer shots at the rim. Those differences are pretty stark. Considering his increased efficiency when posting up, it’s curious to see Maye settling for jump shots.

Regardless, Maye’s 3P% shouldn’t stay at 31% and those non-post up buckets will eventually start dropping.

Playing Time

So, we’ve established some areas that may be leading to some minor and correctable shooting woes. That doesn’t explain how Luke Maye is actually shooting less than last year. With the loss of Pinson and Berry, he should have seen an increase in usage, right?

Wrong.

A fully healthy Cam Johnson, an emerging Nassir Little, and an intense focus on force-feeding Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley with opportunities has led to a decrease in minutes. After nine games, Maye is actually playing more than four fewer minutes per game (28.0 mpg) than he averaged through all of last season (32.2 mpg). Through nine games in 2017-18, Maye topped 30 minutes seven times, 32 minutes five times, and 34 minutes 3 times.

That’s a big contrast to this season where he has reached 30 minutes just four times, and reached 34 minutes just twice (Wofford and Texas). In those four games he is averaging 33 mpg, 15.5ppg and 9.75 rebounds. His major flaw appears to be shooting 6-19 from three and 20-50 overall. In other words, three point attempts accounted for 40% of his shots in those four games. he’s shooting 40% from the field, and he still is almost matching last season’s averages.

In the other five games, despite averaging 24 mpg (nine fewer minutes!), he’s still putting up 12.2 points and 9 rebounds. The difference? He’s still just 3-10 from three, but 23-49 overall. Only 20% of his attempts came from deep, and he’s more efficient from two (14-31 vs. 20-39). That’s a significant difference in output and efficiency considering the time spent on the court, which is reduced by more than 25%.

Here’s that breakdown in chart form:

Maye’s Minutes

Minutes Played PPG RPG FGA-M FG% 2PM-A 2P% 3PM-A 3P%
Minutes Played PPG RPG FGA-M FG% 2PM-A 2P% 3PM-A 3P%
More than 30 (4 games) 13.5 9.75 20-50 40.0 14-31 45.1 6-19 31.5
Less than 30 (5 games) 12.2 9 23-49 46.9 20-39 51.2 3-10 30

Usage

To take this a step farther, it helps to look at his overall usage when on the court. Both sports-reference.com and KenPom.com measure a Usage % (USG%), with slightly different definitions. The overall gist is to determine the percentage of a team’s possessions that a player has a direct impact when they are actually on the court. Shooting, scoring, assists, and turnovers are examples of being directly involved. It is not necessarily tied to playing time.

In 2017-2018, Luke Maye finished with a USG% of 25% (sports-reference.com) or 24.1% (KenPom.com). So far this season, those numbers have dipped to 22% and 21.3%. Not a massive drop off, but just enough to explain the minor drop in production. How is this possible?

The easy answer is Coby White. (Note: for clarity, the next paragraphs use sports-reference.com)

Look. I get it. Scoring point guards have overtaken traditional point guards and so-called “combo” guards are all the rage. Cool. But White has taken that to a completely different level for a UNC point guard. In eight games, he has a USG% of 27.2. Even in UNC’s system, where the point guard has a greater role than at most other schools, that’s unheard of. Joel Berry finished last season at 25%, the highest of his career. Marcus Paige topped out at 22.6 as a sophomore.

The only UNC players to have a higher usage rate since 2007, (not counting Biscuit lineups or Blue Steel), are as follows:

2007-2008: Tyler Hansbrough, 27.3

2008-2009: Tyler Hansbrough 27.4

2011-2012 Harrison Barnes 28.1

2012-2013: James Michael McAdoo 28.2

That’s it. That’s the list. Add Cam Johnson increasing his usage from 19.6% to 22%, and Nassir Little dominating 24% of possessions when he’s in the game, and suddenly the Third-Team All-American is staring up at three other players who are utilized more than he is.

I won’t debate if this is a good or bad thing right now, but it obviously has an impact on Luke’s ability to get involved as much as last year.

Miscellaneous Stats

Here is a table showing Maye’s rebounding and efficiency rates from the last two years.

Maye’s Rebounding and Efficiency

Season ORB Per Game DRB Per Game TRB Per Game ORB% DRB% TRB% ORtg DRtg Efficiency
Season ORB Per Game DRB Per Game TRB Per Game ORB% DRB% TRB% ORtg DRtg Efficiency
2017-2018 3.1 7 10.1 10.3 22.8 16.7 116.4 99.4 17
2018-2019 2.2 7.1 9.3 8.3 24.4 16.7 116.5 94.6 21.9

This is pretty cut and dry. He is rebounding at almost the exact same rate as last year, and posting similar averages, albeit in fewer minutes. His ORtg has also stayed the same. That’s hardly struggling. You can argue he should be doing “better”, but as explained above, there is plenty of competition on his own team.

Perhaps the most noticeable stat is his DRtg. That improvement combined with his similar ORtg, means he is actually more efficient this year than last year. His 94.5 DRtg is the second lowest among the starting five, trailing only Garrison Brooks. There are plenty of reasons for this and like other topics I’ve mentioned, those are best discussed another day.

Just know that Kenny Williams (99.0) and Coby White (98.0) , two players that Maye spends the majority of his time on the court with, are 13th and 14th on the team. There is a legitimate argument that Luke’s perceived weakness on defense can largely be blamed on poor perimeter D. It isn't definitive, and Maye does have some defensive deficiencies, but he hasn’t received much help on that end of the floor.

What Now?

It’s still early. The discussion laid out above has plenty of nuances, causes, and solutions. There is no “right” answer. Maye is a targeted man and has likely struggled with the increased attention. He’s forcing some looks and he’s had some bad luck with a few lay-ups rimming out. Those are correctable issues.

The lineups, minutes, and usage rates will also return to “normal”. The lineups will get whittled down, Coby White will continue to develop into the system, and most of us expect the “small-ball” lineup to eventually get more time together. Those factors should lead to more minutes and usage for Maye, and more time at the 5 where Maye (and UNC) are most deadly.

Maye is also faced with the stigma that comes with accolades and expectations. Asking anyone to improve on 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds is a tall order. Maye faces those expectations this season with a deeper bench, a supporting cast that is still learning their roles, and a finite ceiling to his skill set. Truthfully, a minor regression shouldn't be a surprise.

So, everyone, relax. Nothing is wrong with Luke. In all likelihood, he’s just getting warmed up.