If you’re looking for the X-factor that could propel the Gators to a deep Tournament run in March then Noah Locke could very well be your guy. Between a star recruiting class, a coveted graduate transfer, and a future NBA point guard deciding to return filling the headlines as they relate to Florida basketball there hasn’t been a lot of space for Locke who was sneakily one of the best freshmen in the SEC last season. Florida leaned on him heavily on the offensive side in the middle of the season and when their defense was at its best it usually had Locke spearheading the 1-2-2 press they often played. What exactly can we expect from Locke this year and he takes on a leadership role with a new-look Gators squad? Let’s take a look.
37.5% Field Goal
77.5% Free Throw
Pondering The Percentages
On first glance you might look at the 37.5% field goal percentage and be concerned but really, you shouldn’t.
Here is the thing about field goal percentages—they don’t account for the added value of the 3-point shot. A better way to gauge a shooter’s efficiency would be to look at effective field goal percentage which adjusts for the added value of the 3-point shot. When looking at effective field goal percentage Locke was a 51% shooter which more properly shows his efficiency. Effective field goal percentages can still be a little tough to contextualize, so I’ll lastly look at my favorite way of tracking a player’s efficiency—points per possession.
If you’ve read my stuff you know I love PPP and how it gives a real point value which makes it easier to think about in a basketball context than something a bit more abstract like adjusted field goal percentages. For a reference point the Gators as a team were 0.897 PPP this year and Tennessee, the most efficient power five offensive team in the past season, was 1.015.
Noah Locke had 1.006 PPP, second on the team only to Kevarrius Hayes at 1.076 who obviously had quite a different level of defensive attention on him. Locke’s 1.006 was significantly better than KeVaughn Allen (0.878), Jalen Hudson (0.867), and Andrew Nembhard (0.808) which really shows how effective of an offensive player he was. So if you were concerned with that field goal percentage, you shouldn’t be. Field goal percentage is a simplistic way to look at shooting efficiency and it’s going to hurt players with a high rate of 3-point attempts like Locke and when you look at the more accurate ways to measure shooting efficiency Locke had a fantastic freshman year. And really, it could have been even better.
Injury And The Outcomes
Noah Locke was cruising along as one of the Gators’ best offensive weapons averaging close to 15 points per game when a hip and groin injury started to hamper his play. One of the toughest players you’ll find, Locke continued to play heavy minutes despite the injury and while he was still able to contribute you could tell his jump shot wasn’t the same. While the 37.9% 3-point stroke he finished with is still an excellent mark it doesn’t show how dominant of a shooter he was. Up until the injury Locke was 66-154 from behind the arc which is a masterful 42.9% of a lot of volume. With those numbers we’re talking about one of the best shooters in the country.
When Locke hits the floor this season opposing teams and media are going to see him as a 37.9% shooter but he’s probably closer to the 42.9% shooter that he was for most of the season and that means the Gators are going to have one of the best knockdown guys in the country ready to fire on the perimeter.
More Shooting Stats
The more you dive into Locke’s advanced stats the more it shows just how special of a shooter he is.
Here’s one—he’s someone who isn’t particularly fazed shooting with a defender in his face. On catch and shoot attempts he shot 38.3% when wide open but still shot 34% when closely guarded. His compact shooting stroke is extremely quick and it allows him to get shots off with defenders in his area, something that really separates great shooters from good shooters.
Speaking of separating great shooters from good shooters, will the NCAA moving the 3-point line further away affect Locke? In a word…no. As per a study I did earlier in the summer Locke shot 40.7% on deep threes, actually better than the 37.9% he shot on threes right up close to the line. He should be unfazed by the longer line and that’s going to mean great things for Florida’s spacing.
While you might think of Locke as purely a catch and shoot player he has some value as someone who can shoot off the bounce a little bit. He was at 0.985 PPP on jumpers off the dribble which is really good when remembering Florida’s team PPP of under 0.9. Oh, and you know the dread midrange shot that people think is the most despicable thing you could do on a count nowadays? Locke was still pretty efficient at 0.941 PPP. The ability to shoot off the dribble and hit shots effectively in the midrange will offer some late clock value when plays break down and that’s somewhere he could provide value on a team with a lot of weapons.
Of all the stats I dug up on Locke this one might be the most interesting. I wanted to see what spots behind the arc Locke shot the best from and where he shot the worst. In terms of shots “above the break” (anything higher than the free throw line extended. Or, anything other than the corners) this is what I found for each spot:
Straight On: 33.3% (15-45)
Left Wing: 34% (18-53)
Right Wing: 33.9% (21-62)
The man is terrifyingly consistent from above the break. Similar attempts from each spot, and even more similar percentages. Converting so well from anywhere above the break shows just how developed of a shooter he is and shows that he is no fluke as a shooter. It’s consistency like this that shows he’s for real and that the excellent shooting he displayed last year will likely be replicated, if not even more improved.
When it comes to the corners it’s a bit of a different story. Check this out.
Left Corner: 30.4% (7-23)
Right Corner: 60.6% (20-33)
60.6% from the right corner is absolutely bananas. Just a ridiculously hot spot for Locke.
For Coach White, this is something he should definitely keep in mind when putting players in spots for particular offensive sets. Keeping Locke in the right corner as much as possible for spacing reasons where he is an utter flamethrower could make for easy points and I’d also let Locke know he has a supremely green light to let it fly if he’s in that corner.
It’s hard not to look solely at Locke’s offensive numbers due to how unique they are but it’s important to note that he was an important defensive piece for the Gators—especially before his injury. Locke’s lateral quickness was definitely hindered by his injury which took away from his hip mobility which is of utmost importance when trying to play perimeter defense. Even though his defense slowed he was still an intelligent defender who played a key role in the 1-2-2 soft press the Gators played.
While defensive numbers can be extremely deceiving I will note the tracking data was positive for Locke and has him as an above average defender. Looking over some film one of the things that really sticks out is the way he fought to work around screens. Whether he was guarding a ball handler or chasing a shooter he clearly understood the significance of not getting hung up on a screen and whenever a pick would come he’d bounce off of it and recover with good balance.
When the Gators rolled out 3-guard lineups of Andrew Nembhard, KeVaughn Allen, and Locke it was usually Locke who was tasked with taking the other team’s small forward. With long arms and a muscular frame he was able to battle bigger wings and bother their shots with disciplined closeouts but it will probably be nice for him to have to take those assignments less with Scottie Lewis on the roster. As we all know Mike White loves his guys to switch a lot defensively and in those scenarios Locke’s powerful lower body and long arms really help him compete with bigger players.
Looking at the sample of Locke’s defense when he was healthy shows he was a positive defender and he should be looked at as a key player on that side of the floor this season. Watch for him to take some of the tough assignments in the half court while continuing to play the top of the press for long stretches.
What Locke Can Improve On
Shooting is always going to be Locke’s number one weapon but for him to develop into a more complete offensive player he’s going to need to improve on putting the ball on the deck and getting inside. In 913 minutes last year Locke had only 10 shots at the rim, and most of them were relatively uncontested attempts in transition. Looking for his jump shot first is a wise choice and something he should always do but if he can get comfortable attacking closeouts and getting into the paint he’d become even more dangerous offensively.
Putting the ball on the deck could also help Locke with his passing, an area of his game that we didn’t really see last year. It’s not like Locke was put in a position where he needed to make reads and hit shooters or find cutters but he wasn’t always crisp with his ball movement and wasn’t someone who was threatening defenses when he wasn’t shooting. It should be noted that this could be due to Locke’s safe nature of play. He was one of the lowest turnover players in the country last year and a large part of that was the fact that he did not take risks or try to make dangerous passes. Limiting turnovers is awesome but I think White would live with a bad pass turnover now and then if it meant Locke developing a more rounded offensive attack.
It’s hard to nitpick anything about Locke’s shooting but there is one area he could improve and that’s running into a catch and shoot shot. Granted, these are difficult shots and the kind of shots that separate good college players from NBA draft picks but it’s an area Locke could improve. He wasn’t great coming off a screen to get a jumper, only 0.872 PPP, and that made generating shots for him a bit tougher at times. A common way to get to manufacture a look for a shooter is to run him around some screens but when Locke did that he became an average shooter. If he can get better at sprinter off a screen before catching a ball, setting his feet, and then firing, watch out.
Lastly, and some of you may know what’s coming, Locke needs to get out of the habit of taking floaters. Gator Country readers will know I have written many times about how the floater is one of the most inefficient shots you can take and it’s something Locke went to a bit too much. One of the reasons Locke didn’t have many attempts at the rim is because he settled for floaters when driving and he actually attempted more of those than layups this year. His percentage on floaters was 25%, a percentage that’s actually pretty common for what’s one of the worst shots in basketball. I’d encourage Locke to keep driving the ball right to the cup instead of settling for runners which would result in high percentage shots at the rim as well as the opportunity to get fouled, something that isn’t there with the floater.
How Locke Could Be Used
Florida has major offensive weapons this year with Kerry Blackshear Jr., Andrew Nembhard, and Tre Mann and finding offensive roles and chemistry will be a challenge. The Gators are probably going to have a few different styles depending on their personnel on the floor and depending on how they play some members of the team could struggle to find a role.
In Locke’s case I can’t see him having too much difficulty fitting in to most ways the Gators want to play. First off, his lethality from the right corner should be noted when the Gators are trying to play through Blackshear Jr. on the inside. He’s going to attract attention and double teams which will make for kick-out three opportunities and it’s clear the best catch and shoot the Gators have is one to Locke in the corner.
That’s talking about Blackshear Jr. working on the low block but perhaps more often we’re going to see him in the high post as the Gators play the Princeton offense we saw them have success with in the second half of the season. Within this offense there are dribble handoff possibilities which is actually one of the ways Locke most likes to get shots off. Dribble handoffs are an easy way to quickly get space for a shooter and Locke had 1.143 PPP on those attempts. Getting Locke some shots off of simple dribble handoffs would be a great way to generate a quality look and with Blackshear Jr. commanding so much attention the space would be there.
Where Locke didn’t thrive last year is when the Gators played a dribble drive motion offense as that requires players to be able to beat their man off the bounce, something Locke isn’t suited towards. If the Gators want to play that way and still want to feature Locke it will be important they have him out there with multiple players who can be a threat off the dribble. Playing him next to Tre Mann in the backcourt with Scottie Lewis and Keyontae Johnson would be a great way to hide his limitations as those other three players can drive and while they do their thing Locke could focus on relocating to open spots on the perimeter for threes. If they try to play motion with both Andrew Nembhard and Locke on the floor things could get a bit stagnant so this is an area lineups will really matter.
Noah Locke’s Outlook
Noah Locke simply didn’t get enough attention for his shooting ability last year and now, fully healthy, he’s likely to burst back onto the scene. As a perfect complementary piece he should fit into pretty much whatever scheme the Gators deploy. One thing that will help Locke is the fact he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective and if he only shoots 6 or 7 times in a game they will probably be high-value 3-point looks and that will contribute to winning basketball.
Locke’s leadership abilities are also what could help the Gators be special this year. He’s respected amongst all the new players and is an excellent communicator both on the floor and off it. Without a ton of leaders last season Locke had to learn on the fly and those are going to be lessons he can pass onto the next group.
It won’t be a shock if in a few months Locke is shown to be one of the most important Gators and when you look at his shooting, his defense, and his leadership, that shouldn’t be a surprise.