As Colby Jones was dragging a misfiring Xavier team through a needlessly dramatic victory over Butler last night, I tweeted out that he was JP Macura with different hair. Immediately after firing it off, I began to wonder whether or not the shoe actually fit. Let’s set about inspecting the claim.
Xavier has had three wings (or big guards, depending on your preferred nomenclature and how you see each guy) who landed with immediate impact in recent history, throwing in Naji Marshall with the two previously mentioned.
When I started digging into the numbers, I was blown away by how good Colby actually is in comparison to the other two, both of whom were excellent players in their own right. In scoring, JP averaged 5.4 PPG as a freshman and Naji 7.7; Colby is averaging 8.2. JP got 1.2 boards and 0.6 assists, and Naji 4.4 and 1.6; Colby is getting 4.6 and 2.8. The caveat to counting stats like this is how they compile in minutes, and it’s true Colby is averaging 24.8 MPG to Naji’s 21.8 and JP’s 13.2.
Of course, that also speaks to how much Travis Steele trusts him as a freshman with big minutes, often in crunch time against tough opponents.
Advanced metrics also show Colby more than holding his own with the other two players. He slots almost exactly between JP and Naji in rebounding percentages on both ends of the floor. Both Naji and JP were solid ball distributors who grew in that part of the game as their careers progressed, but Colby currently blows them both out of the water in assist rate. Naji and JP were both good defenders, but Colby beats them both in block rate and is on par with JP’s excellent steal percentage (well ahead of Naji’s number).
A couple of things that stick out are Colby’s usage rate and his shooting numbers. While JP and Naji tended to get fewer minutes and use more possessions, Colby’s usage rate is just 17.5% and his shots rate is just 13.2%, comfortably behind Naji and basically being lapped by JP, which shouldn’t be surprising. Colby clearly has a different assignment on the court than either of those two guys did.
He also finds his points in a different way. Freshman JP took more than 60% of his shots from behind the arc; Naji and Colby each take about a third of their shots from deep. Naji was an excellent 58.7% on two-point shots as a freshman; Colby is an otherwordly 64.7%, currently third in the Big East.
Speaking of the Big East, Colby has 10 career games, and 8 of them have come in the Big East. JP played 166 minutes before facing a Big East opponent; Naji played 320 minutes of ball before hitting league play. Thanks to the coronavirus and the general weirdness of this season, Colby had 38. He got no cupcakes at home to start the season; his baptism was a road Shootout followed by home to Oklahoma. After that welcome to D1 play, he was immediately into conference games.
All that adds up to a player who has elements of what made JP and Naji special players along with a generous dose of his own style. He doesn’t have the unabashed aggression on offense that JP had, but he has the same knack for putting himself in the right place at the right time. He’s not quite the vacuum Naji was on the boards, but his nose for the ball was on display as he racked up a double-double last night. Colby shows the versatility and basketball IQ that made JP and Naji indispensable parts of the program during their time here; he can legitimately slot in at 1-4 at either end of the floor as the need arises for X.
Both Naji and JP wear intense competitors and bloodless in the clutch. As Colby demonstrated dramatically in burying Providence with a game-winning three and routinely in the effort it takes to keep moving the team forward, he wears the mantle of Xavier’s next big guard well.