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How to fix Kentucky

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The advanced metrics provide an obvious change for the Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: State Farm Champions Classic-Kansas at Kentucky Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Most teams don’t need to make drastic changes this early in the college basketball season. Kentucky, at 1-4 for the first time in over 25 years, can’t afford to wait.

Today, we turn to the advanced analytics to find answers for the Wildcats. The metrics we will use are from EvanMiya.com, which has player ratings, team ratings, analysis tools, and much more, all available for free. I published a Twitter thread a few days ago that summarizes these findings, which I will explain more in-depth here.

It’s important to note that the sample size of data this early in the season is too small to make firm conclusions, but early trends can easily be seen.

Using the “Team Breakdown Tool,” which looks at individual player metrics, most effective lineups, and teammate chemistry, there are two main takeaways for UK.

Davion Mintz needs to be on the floor

It’s pretty simple. When the Creighton transfer is on the floor, Kentucky is outscoring opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions, as seen by the Team Efficiency Margin stat. The gap between Mintz and all other teammates in this metric is enormous. No other UK player has a positive Team Efficiency Margin. In other words, Mintz is the only player on the team who has Kentucky outscoring the opponent when he’s playing.

Kentucky players with the highest Team Efficiency Margin

We can look at how effective Kentucky is on offense and defense, when any given pair of teammates are on the court together. Davion Mintz is in all of the top five most effective teammate pairs for UK. The most impactful duo is Davion Mintz and Isaiah Jackson, which has a Team Efficiency Margin of 31.9 points per 100 possessions.

By contrast, when Brandon Boston and Jacob Toppin are on the floor, Kentucky is being outscored by 19.9 points per 100 possessions.

Most effective pairs of teammates for Kentucky

When Davion Mintz is on the floor, every single Kentucky teammate is performing better than his individual average. The chart below shows how effective each UK player is when playing with Mintz, and the Above/Below Average metric measures how better each teammate plays when on the court with Mintz, compared to normal.

How effective each UK player is when on the court with Davion Mintz

Not only does every teammate have a positive value in this category, indicating that they improve with Mintz, but the values are very high. On his own, Terrance Clarke has a Team Efficiency Margin of -0.1 points per 100 possessions. When Clarke plays with Mintz, that efficiency margin jumps to 28.2.

Brandon Boston isn’t the answer (for now)

If Davion Mintz needs to take someone’s minutes at this point in the season, it probably needs to be Brandon Boston. The highly touted freshman hasn’t performed up to par, and the analytics can back that up.

Compared to Davion Mintz’s Team Efficiency Margin of 14.3, UK is being outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions when Boston is on the court. His Team Efficiency Margin is worse than Mintz, Clarke, Sarr, and Jackson.

Kentucky’s main lineup consists of Devin Askew, Brandon Boston, Terrance Clarke, Isaiah Jackson, and Olivier Sarr. This lineup has been lackluster, particularly on the offensive end, as this lineup is only scoring 76.1 points per 100 possessions. If you swap out Brandon Boston for Davion Mintz, the team’s offensive efficiency skyrockets to 180 points per 100 possessions, a massive difference.

Efficiency numbers for each Kentucky five man lineup

Brandon Boston is in the bottom three in most effective pairs of teammates for Kentucky. Boston and Isaiah Jackson have the worst “Weighted Chemistry” on the team, which reflects how much better than average the team performs when these two players on the court together, compared to team averages when they are on the court individually. Kentucky is porous on defense with those two playing together, being outscored by 108.3 points per 100 possessions.

UK teammate pairs sorted by Weighted Chemistry

It is still very early in the season, and we know that Calipari’s elite recruits often are playing at a high level by the end of the year. That’s part of why Brandon Boston still has the highest Bayesian Performance Rating (BPR) on the team, which factors in the player’s recent history (or recruiting ranking) and predicts the impact that each player will have for the rest of the season.

Boston’s recruiting profile led to him having a very good projected BPR in the preseason. While his value has fallen in this metric over the first several games, he’s still projected to be a major part of the team’s success going forward.

Kentucky players with the highest Bayesian Performance Rating

Brandon Boston shouldn’t be moved to a bench role, but if Kentucky is looking for reliable contributors to get the team back on its feet, Davion Mintz needs to play more.