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Breaking down James Bouknight’s start

We take a look at how the numbers from the freshman’s first three games stack up.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Bouknight is certainly one of the best freshman talents UConn has seen in a while, and his first 55 minutes of action in a UConn uniform at the Charleston Classic were excellent. His performance as UConn went 2-1 in the tournament earned him a spot on the all-tournament team and the AAC freshman of the week award.

We took a closer look at the freshman’s numbers in his first three games, and here’s what we found:

Bouknight is playing like one of the top freshman guards in the country

The 2019 freshman class has five consensus top 10 guards, all playing in power five programs. Most have Bouknight beat in the traditional stats, with assistance from quite a bit more time on the court so far. However, in tempo-free stats Bouknight is right there with them— or in some cases on top of them.

There’s no question that Bouknight’s efficiency has been elite so far. His true shooting percentage (77.5%) ranks fifth among freshmen with at least 20 field goal attempts this season, and top 20 in the nation overall. It’s no surprise he sits above these top guards in shooting efficiency so far. Nico Mannion (Arizona) and Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky) come the closest, both sitting at over 60 percent.

Bouknight also edges out Mannion to top these five consensus top ten guards in win shares per 40, a stat that estimates the number of wins a player contributes per 40 minutes on the court. Bouknight’s 0.33 win shares per 40 minutes is a team high for UConn.

Additionally, Bouknight’s presence can most be felt on the offensive end for UConn, as evidence by the 0.3 offensive win shares he’s tallied in just three games. Just how impressive is that? Well, Cole Anthony (UNC), Anthony Edwards (Georgia) and Scotty Lewis (Florida) have tallied 0.3 cumulative offensive win shares this season, but all three have at least 2.5 times as many minutes and have played in more wins so far this season. Maxey and Mannion have Bouknight beat here, but still it has taken Mannion three times as many minutes to tally 0.8 offensive win shares.

Bottom line, Bouknight’s performance is on par with that of consensus top ten recruits so far this season. If he continues to play at this level, he’ll be one of the best freshman guards in the country this year.

How does he stack up against former UConn players?

There’s been no shortage of comparisons of Bouknight to former UConn greats, most frequently Jeremy Lamb, who was the second leading scorer on the 2011 national championship team as a freshman. The comparison makes sense - their styles are similarly smooth and they’re both talented shooters. But Bouknight as a freshman, at least so far, may be even better than Lamb.

Lamb finished his freshman season with a 49 percent field goal percentage. Bouknight’s current 72.7 percent is based on a very small sample size. However, Lamb posted just one game in his freshman season where he shot above Bouknight’s field goal percentage over this three game stretch.

It took Lamb until his 7th - 9th games as a Husky to put together a string of three games similar to Bouknight’s debut. By mid December of his freshman year, he averaged 13.3 points and 6.0 rebounds for a three game stretch, but with slightly more minutes than Bouknight. The average KenPom rating of UConn’s opponents in Lamb’s stretch was 310; the average KenPom rating of teams UConn faced in Bouknight’s first three games is 72.

It’s just three games and there’s still most of the 2019-20 season ahead of us, but it’s not unfathomable that Bouknight could have a better freshman year than Lamb did if he continues to play as he has so far.

So what does all this all mean for UConn?

Even if Bouknight is as good or better than freshman Jeremy Lamb, I wouldn’t go putting UConn in your national title game - this team doesn’t have a Kemba Walker on it. But as we saw this weekend, UConn is quite good with Bouknight on the floor.

The Huskies will likely continue to look to Bouknight more on offense throughout the season. As he takes on a bigger role on the offensive end and takes more shots, the level of efficiency we saw in the first three games may not be sustainable. A step down from his debut performances still makes him one of, if not the best pure shooter on this team.

This team has also lacked a go-to player to get buckets down the stretch for some time. Bouknight looked calm in crunch time against Xavier, in just his second collegiate game. If he continues to be efficient and poised, he’ll be a great candidate to be that guy for UConn - which will hopefully help the Huskies close out more close games this season.