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Summer Camp: Mark Lyons

Lyons works out in his uni all summer.
The summer - here defined as the time between Xavier basketball games, not the time between the summer solstice (~June 21) and the vernal equinox (~Sept 21) - drags on, which means it's about time for another installment of our critically acclaimed series on the continued evolution of Xavier's returning players. Today we'll focus on Mark "Cheek(s/z)" Lyons, an explosive rising junior guard out of Schenectady, NY.

While Lyons came in the at the same time as Tu Holloway, he took a redshirt for his first year on campus. After posting 7.8-2.5-2.1 on .398/.344/.680 shooting as a freshman, he stepped up to help Holloway shoulder part of the load left by Jordan Crawford's departure last season. While his 13.6-3.1-3.1 on .408/.336/.728 is superficially superior to his line as a freshman in almost every way, it becomes more interesting - at in some ways more remarkable - as you go deeper into the numbers. While Lyons' A/TO suffered a drop-off between years (1.23 to 1.08), his PPS held steady at 1.23. Anyone who has ever tried to do more work while remaining just as efficient will tell you that that is a difficult task to achieve.

As we discussed in a feature about Lyons last year, his decision making process can sometimes dip into the "questionable" range. While we quantified that through PPR in the aforementioned article, another way to look at it is how long it takes Lyons to realize he's not shooting well. In his 32 games last year, Mark had 15 outings in which he shot worse than his season's shooting percentage and 17 in which he was better. To look at his shot attempts per game though, you'd never know it. He shot exactly 11 times per game in good shooting games and 11.0667 times per game in bad shooting games. His APG and A/TO were also near as makes no difference equal no matter how well (or poorly) he was shooting.

Another possible arena for improvement for Cheek is his lack of a jump shot. I know this otherwise excellent analysis says that he is most efficient when shooting jumpers, but that lumps everything he does that's not a near-rim event into the category of jumper. A more focused analysis shows that Lyons is at his best either shooting three pointers in a catch-and-shoot situation or putting the ball on the deck and getting all the way to the rim. If forced to pull up from the dribble outside of eight feet or so, his efficiency plummets.

The biggest step Lyons could take this summer would be to add a higher level of self-awareness to his unflinching self-belief. To both ease the load from Tu this year and prepare for a Tu-less 2012-2013, Lyons could use to develop his ball distribution skills more fully. He needs to be able to recognize when he is having an off shooting night and make that adjustment at 1-5 rather than the 1-11 he threw up against Florida or the 1-10 he posted against Butler. With the offensive firepower Xavier looks to have this season, Cheek doesn't need to try to force his way into games for the team to succeed.

Lyons does his best work at the rim.
Another huge step forward for Mark would be to develop a scoring move that takes place between the arc and the lane. A bad shooting night from deep allows teams to hang off of Lyons, which in turn takes away his ability to get all the way to rim. When Lyons tries to score from mid-range, he's a remarkably inefficient ball player. Adding a pull-up jumper off the dribble or a mid-range floater would nicely round out Cheek's scoring repertoire and give Xavier an incredible 1-2 scoring punch in the back court.

Taken in sum, Mark Lyons is an incredibly athletic guard whose manic energy gives him a chance to change every game in which he plays. The jump in production with little loss of efficiency he demonstrated from his freshman to sophomore seasons speaks to his ability (and desire) to improve his game over the summer. If he can further discipline himself with the ball and add a mid-range game, he has the ability to put himself in the same conversations as Tu next season.

You'll know it's working when: Lyons consciously backs off the offensive throttle when things aren't breaking his way. Patience, discipline, and an option other than pulling a three or charging headlong towards the bucket should be the hallmarks of a successful outing for Mark Lyons next year. When he's demonstrating those three traits, he'll punish teams for trying to lock Tu down.

You should worry if you see: Cheek shooting Xavier out of a game by trying to shoot his way into it. I admire Lyons' desire to put his imprint on every game X plays, but his "when you're off, shoot until you're on" attitude and colorful decision making can leave Xavier fans (and coaches) scratching their heads. Offensive fouls, forced shots, and turnovers will be punished with a much shorter leash this coming season. If Bad Cheek shows up, he'll spend plenty of time getting to know the walk-ons.