Two weeks ago, then-Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin fielded a question about his team’s best player, Ivan Rabb. Rabb made four of his 12 shots in his team’s most recent loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Semifinals, and he failed to lead his team in any statistical category. The consensus Preseason All-American averaged 11.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in the Pac-12 tournament to go along with zero total blocks and two total assists on 33 percent shooting. What the hell happened?
“His only issue is he’s a wonderful person and he’s an unselfish player, and if that’s your biggest issue on the court, and your biggest issue in life, you’re going to have a wonderful life.”
Thanks, Coach. Have fun ruining Missouri. Let’s look a bit deeper than that.
Now that the season is over, there’s no point in hiding it any longer: Rabb struggled all year on offense. The argument that you’ll probably hear most often heading into the NBA Draft is that there was less talent around him this year. Former Bears Jaylen Brown and Tyrone Wallace were Cal’s two primary ball handlers in 2015, racking up 31.4 and 27.4 usage rates, respectively, and their departures simply meant that that oh-so-paramount responsibility would have to find new shoulders to burden. Charlie Moore was a nice addition, as was Grant Mullins, but the former was too young to be given the full keys to the offense, and the latter isn’t a true ball handler in the first place.
So Rabb was asked to not only be the focal point of the offense, but remain it on defense. And as Cal’s only go-to player on both sides, he also became the focal point of the opponent’s gameplan each and every night.
Sidebar: This is in no way meant to discredit the things Rabb is good at. He is perhaps the best rebounder in all the country, despite his paltry late-season stats, and his 10.5 boards per game were good for best in the Pac-12. He led the only unit in the conference to be in the top three of both offensive and defensive rebounding, and he helped Cal maintain a conference-best +7.1 rebound margin. Rabb also somehow improved on this skill since last season, and he upped his total rebound rate from 16.5 percent to 18.3 percent. That’s wild.
He’s also a stellar defender for his age, despite lacking gaudy box scores, and his 95.3 defensive rating last season was topped only by his 91.6 this season. That’s also wild.
But he hasn’t improved at all on offense. In fact, the increased opportunity may have even forced decline. Per 100 possessions, his shot total only raised from 15.7 to 18.6, yet his field goal percentage dropped from 61.5 percent to 48.4 percent. He developed a bit of a three-point shot and made eight of his 20 total attempts from distance, but per 40 minutes his point total went down from last year, 17.5 points to 17.2. This is just not acceptable moving forward for a player whose best basketball should still be to come.
Nearly all of his advanced offensive metrics are down this year, save his assist rate, which is my best guess for why Martin gave us the oddest sound byte of this year at his presser. No matter how amazing a person Rabb is, he has serious deficiencies in his offensive game that will limit him in the NBA if they’re not improved on considerably this summer.