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Arizona basketball: Comparing Justin Coleman and Parker Jackson-Cartwright

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How similar are these two point guards?

California v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When the Arizona Wildcats landed Samford graduate transfer Justin Coleman in April, he immediately drew comparisons to former UA point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright.

Why? They are both under six feet tall. Coleman is listed as 5-foot-10. Jackson-Cartwright was listed (generously) at 5-foot-11.

But just how similar are these two point guards? Let’s take a look.

Scoring

The most glaring discrepancy between Coleman and Jackson-Cartwright is their scoring numbers.

Jackson-Cartwright wasn’t much of a scoring threat during his four years at Arizona. As a senior, he averaged 7.8 PPG. That was a career-high, but still not an inspiring mark.

Jackson-Cartwright was mostly a spot-up shooter, as he took more 3s than 2s and averaged less than two free throw attempts per game.

When he drove the lane, he was much more likely to create a shot for a teammate than himself. Jackson-Cartwright only averaged 5.9 field-goal attempts in 32 minutes and his shot percentage — the percentage of his team’s shots he took while he was on the court — was a minuscule 13.0.

Meanwhile, Coleman was a more willing, and able, scorer at Samford, averaging 13.5 points per game. He averaged 10.5 shots in 32.5 minutes, and had a shot percentage of 23.1.

Now, Coleman and Jackson-Cartwright had different roles offensively — Coleman had to score more because he had less talent around him — but their shot distribution is different, too.

Coleman took roughly 30 percent of his shots at the rim, where he converted 53 percent of the time, per hoop-math.com. For Jackson-Cartwright, those numbers dip to 26 and 48 percent, respectively.

Coleman also showcased a mid-range game, as 24 percent of his field goal attempts were 2-point jumpers. He made 44 percent of them.

Only 15.5 percent of Jackson-Cartwright’s field goal attempts came from mid-range. He also converted 44 percent.

Coleman (80.6) is a better free throw shooter than Jackson-Cartwright (74.6), and had a slightly better free throw rate at Samford, too.

The one area Jackson-Cartwright has Coleman beat is 3-point shooting. PJC was a career 41 percent 3-point shooter in college.

Coleman shot a respectable 37 percent from 3 at Samford (and at a higher volume), but he was a poor shooter in his first two years of college, when he played at Alabama. There, Coleman shot 66-of-256 (.258) from 3.

So was Coleman’s shooting at Samford an outlier, or has he legitimately improved since his days in Tuscaloosa?

The answer to those questions could determine whether or not he ends up being a more effective scorer than PJC. (Just because someone scores more doesn’t mean they are more effective, obviously. Efficiency matters, too.)

If Coleman maintains his Samford shooting averages, Arizona should have more scoring power at point guard next season, especially when you factor in Brandon Williams’ ability.

But if Coleman regresses to his Alabama numbers, his advantages over PJC — scoring at the rim, getting to the free-throw line — could be moot.

Distributing

While Jackson-Cartwright was not much of a scorer at Arizona, he was terrific at maintaining a high assist-to-turnover ratio.

As a senior, he committed just 65 turnovers to 156 assists — about one turnover for every 2.4 assists.

Coleman’s assist-to-turnover ratio at Samford? Also 2.4.

That’s impressive, considering how much more he handled the ball. Coleman’s usage rate — an estimate of the percentage of team plays he used while he was on the floor — was 22.7, more than nine points greater than Jackson-Cartwright’s.

That’s why Coleman’s assist numbers (6.6 APG) were much higher than Jackson-Cartwright’s (4.5).

“He’s your quintessential point guard in that he passes the ball extremely well,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said of Coleman.

But Coleman will likely be sharing ball-handling duties with Williams next season — and maybe another player or two — so his per-game numbers will likely dip.

And if Coleman does play off-the-ball more at Arizona than he did at Samford, his perimeter shooting will be critical.

Jackson-Cartwright was great at creating space for his teammates because opposing defenses had to keep a close eye on him at the 3-point line.

Another thing to watch is how Coleman handles ball pressure. Jackson-Cartwright’s inability to cope with it is one reason why Arizona lost to Buffalo in the first round.

“I thought we’d come out ... and see if they can get the ball to the two 7-footers with the guards having to handle pressure all night,” UB coach Nate Oats said after that game. “And they got it to them, but not enough to beat us.”

Defense

Individual defensive impact is difficult to measure statistically, but one concerning stat for Coleman is Samford had the sixth-worst defensive rating in all of college basketball last season, allowing 114.7 points per 100 possessions, and it allowed 118.8 when Coleman was on the court. Even worse.

How much of that is because Coleman was continually beaten off the dribble? How much of that was because the players around him were turnstiles? How much of that was because Samford’s scheme was bad?

It’s hard to tell, but we do know that Coleman wasn’t exactly a bright spot on a terrible defensive team.

He had the second-worst defensive box plus/minus — a box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team — among Samford’s rotation players at -5.0.

Jackson-Cartwright had his limitations defensively, too, but he also had his moments where he was disruptive. The Pac-12 Tournament semifinals against Aaron Holiday come to mind.

Steals aren’t a great way to measure defensive effectiveness, but Jackson-Cartwright did average 1.4 last season. Coleman averaged 1.2. And Arizona traditionally runs a very conservative defense that limits turnovers created.

Taking all of this into account, it doesn’t seem like Coleman will be a defensive upgrade over PJC.

Rebounding

You can’t expect much from 5-foot-10 point guards on the glass, but Jackson-Cartwright does have Coleman beat. Barely.

Jackson-Cartwright’s career rebounding percentage was 5.4. Coleman’s is 5.1.

Neither mark is particularly good, and Arizona will need Coleman to pick it up since its frontcourt will be significantly smaller next season and won’t have Deandre Ayton to vacuum up every rebound.

Some questions to consider...

  • Some point guards do worse when playing away from the ball, and Coleman will be doing that when/if Williams is running the show. How will not being the lead guard alter his production?
  • Most of Coleman’s production at Samford came against Southern Conference teams. How will he fare against stiffer competition? His Alabama days suggest he won’t do well, but those numbers were posted all the way back in 2014-2016. Plus, Coleman did have a 17-point game against Clemson and a 19-point game against LSU at Samford. And as a sophomore at Alabama, he scored 24 points against Oregon.
  • Coleman will be a fifth-year senior at Arizona, so that extra year of seasoning could (or should) lead to his best season to date. But how much higher is his ceiling?
  • Coleman has never played in the NCAA Tournament. How will he perform in the biggest, most pressure-packed game(s) of his career? (Assuming Arizona earns a bid, of course.)