Freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo started his college career shaky, but has steadily improved throughout the course of the season. The impact metric Box Plus-Minus (BPM), which is purported to be a metric of valuing a player’s impact, severely underrates Ouedraogo, portraying him as one of the worst players in the Big Ten. This is not the case, as Ouedraogo adds value in ways the box score doesn’t track, and also the team style hampers some of his potential impact.
Underneath is a graph with the BPM of each player in the Big Ten to play at least 20 minutes per game this season:
As one can see, Ouedraogo is the worst player in the conference to play at least 20 minutes per game, according to this metric. He’s also one of only two players to register a negative score on the metric. The other being senior forward A.J. Turner of Northwestern.
Contrary to how this may appear, this is not proof of Ouedraogo’s lack of value, rather the shortcomings inherent in box score-based metrics. These include the narrow scope of the box score and failure to account relative team style. This isn’t to say that Ouedraogo is an all-Big Ten forward, but much of his value can’t be seen in the box score.
First, BPM is a composite of two different metrics, O-BPM (Offensive Box Plus-Minus) and D-BPM (Defensive Box Plus-Minus), and these two metrics are added to each other in order to obtain the greater BPM. These two scores are calculated by taking values from the box score and putting them against league averages per 100 possessions. It was created in order to gauge how historical players would stack up against modern ones, before the era of tracking data that is not measured by the box score. This is where Ouedraogo becomes undervalued by box-score exclusive impact metrics, as his value comes primarily from contributions not measured by the box score and is thus left out. His secondary contributions, namely defensive rebounding and points in the paint, are weaker parts to his game, but more important to Box Plus-Minus.
“In other words – it is possible to create a better stat than BPM for measuring players,” Basketball Reference notes in an article explaining BPM. “But difficult to make a better one that can also be used historically.”
Ouedraogo has a score of 0.9 in D-BPM, largely due to his rebounds (he leads the team in rebounds with 6.3 per game) and his small steal and block production, where he averages 0.4 and 0.3 per game, respectively. However, where Ouedraogo suffers, according to BPM, is with his offense, his O-BPM is -4.1, the lowest in the Big Ten amongst players who played at least 10 minutes per game.
Ouedraogo’s weakness on the offensive end may come from his lack of efficiency in the post, where he’s currently shooting 42% on 88 attempts, which equals .84 points per shot. Without any ability to space the floor (Ouedraogo has taken no 3-pointers yet this season) and a team-worst free throw percentage of 47.7%, Ouedraogo appears to be a major offensive liability.
However, this is not the full story. Ouedraogo is consistently one of Nebraska’s only players in the post during any given possession and this disadvantages him in a number of different ways. If Ouedraogo catches the offensive rebound, the space will be constricted enough to make a putback infeasible because Nebraska hardly ever crashes the offensive glass. Ouedraogo may go against two or three bodies in the paint in order to try and get a layup. When he’s forced to, perhaps because of a bad decision, try the layup, it’s never an uncontested shot. Ouedraogo is asked instead to make kickouts back to one of Nebraska’s off-ball guards, who re-initiates a halfcourt set.
Ouedraogo is also expected to grab the defensive rebound, something he’s steadily improved throughout the year. His defensive rebounding rate has gone from a 15% in the first game against UC Riverside to a more respectable 18.3%. This ranks him around average for forwards with more than 150 minutes in defensive rebounding rate (see graph below), though it should be noted that Ouedraogo is Nebraska’s main rebounding presence and may be expected to average more given his role.
Some of Ouedraogo’s missed rebounds are due to the way Nebraska can vacate the post after a miss by the opposition. Nebraska wants to throw the ball out in transition, and as a result, Ouedraogo is sometimes left alone in the post against one or two players, both of which may be taller than him. Defensive rebounding rate measures the percentage of available rebounds to a player, but doesn’t measure the number of rebounds a player could’ve feasibly grabbed. There are times when slightly lax reflexes means the ball hits Ouedraogo on the hands and rolls out of play, but as the year has developed those moments have become more sparse.
Here’s one example where, against Northwestern, Ouedraogo is able to use quick reflexes to throw a hand into the passing lane and force the steal. Note also how Ouedraogo is given help in the post by junior guard Thorir Thobjarnarson:
After a defensive rebound, Ouedraogo is expected to make the outlet pass to an lane-filling guard in transition. This means that Ouedraogo rarely gets a chance to benefit from the easy points, which Nebraska thrives off of in the fastbreak.
Ouedraogo is only allowed to take shots during putback attempts which, as covered, normally don’t work out well for him, or through dedicated half-court sets, which Nebraska also stalls in. The diet for his scoring production is inherently inefficient due to the system which Ouedraogo plays in. Hoiberg spaces his guards far out to the perimeter and leaves Ouedraogo stuck either in the high post alone or floating around and setting screens.
In this example, Ouedraogo hesitates for a second too long off of the set dedicated for him, taking the dribble instead of going for the layup right off the catch. At the same time, the post completely collapses for him, and part of that is due to junior guard Dachon Burke Jr.’s poor spacing and sophomore guard Cam Mack’s collapsing to the basket instead of fading back out.
Ouedraogo’s screen setting and operation in the pick-and-roll is the most valuable part of his offense. He has a large frame and quick enough feet to be set well, also being able to explode to the basket after Mack wraps around him. Ouedraogo has no threat on the pick-and-fade, so defenses can play him straight up to generally decent results, but his screen setting can be the main initiator for many of Hoiberg’s half court offensive sets. In the cases where Mack drives into the lane off the pick and draws players away from Ouedraogo in the opposite low post or rolling to the basket, Ouedraogo has shown ability to finish the layup.
Hoiberg’s system isn’t designed to make Ouedraogo look good. He’s not given a steady stream of good offense and is expected to be the team’s only real post presence on both the defensive and offensive ends. As a result, BPM undervalues Ouedraogo significantly on both ends, unfairly so due to its limitations.
In recent weeks, freshman forward Kevin Cross has steadily been given more minutes, with him and Ouedraogo competing for the same spot. The two are now nearly equal in the number of minutes they play per game. Cross brings a different dimension to the offense, able to fade out to the 3-point line which the other guards more room to operate. His passing is also better than Ouedraogo’s, generally hitting deeper outlet passes and making intelligent reads while driving. Cross, however, doesn’t have Ouedraogo’s stature or rebounding acumen, and making a decision on their status on the team shouldn’t be done with BPM exclusively in mind, as BPM doesn’t capture the full range of Ouedraogo’s impact.