One of the many storylines of the Florida basketball season was the emergence of freshman guard Noah Locke as a fan favorite who quickly endeared himself to fans with an immaculate shooting stroke and a contagious defensive intensity. When he wasn’t knocking down jumpers or spearheading Coach White’s 1-2-2 press he was showing enthusiasm and leadership you don’t always see from a first year player, whether it be firing up his teammates after forcing a shot clock violation or encouraging the huddle during a timeout when the Gators were trying to stop a run. The plan wasn’t always for Locke to be a starter and major minute contributor but his execution on both sides of the floor saw him quickly usurp first Michael Okauru, than Deaundrae Ballard, and than even KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson at times as he couldn’t be kept on the bench. I decided to review what made Locke’s debut with the Gators so successful and what he can do to further his game.
37.5% Field Goal
77.5% Free Throw
Shooting was the biggest strength of Locke’s game and it’s going to continue to be his calling card moving forward so let’s start there. First of all, let’s address that 3-point percentage.
Knocking down threes at a 37.9% clip is a solid percentage but I don’t think it fully tells the story about how good Locke is and how excellent of a shooting season he had. As we all know, Locke was injured during the final third of the season and it really affected his jump shot. Looking through the film of his 3-point attempts it’s extremely noticeable how his hip/groin injury hurt his jumper as it totally messed up the transfer of power from his lower body during the shot, making a stroke that looked like poetry in motion during the first half of the season into one that was slightly labored as he went through the mechanics.
If you look at Locke’s numbers before the injury started to really affect his jump shot the numbers look even better. The injury really started affecting Locke on February 13 against Vanderbilt. If you look at all the games prior to that in the season Locke was 66-154 from three for a crisp 42.9%. That number would have made him tied for 80th in the country in 3-point percentage and he did it shooting a lot of attempts, a good bit more than a lot of the shooters ahead of him in the percentage race.
While his 3-point shooting cooled off in the final 10 games due to injury he still ended the season with good numbers but he showed when fully he was absolutely elite. His stroke is extremely compact and fundamentally sound and he gets good elevation that allows him to shoot over longer defenders. The stroke was extremely repeatable and consistent and it shows a player confident in his mechanics, always relying on his muscle memory and never trying to aim the ball into the hoop. When the ball left his hand with the perfect amount of rotation, it was magic.
One thing I also appreciated about Locke’s 3-point shooting is that it was extremely balanced around the arc. Often times players have some really hot spots on the floor and also some really cold ones so while we look at a player and say “they are a ___ percent 3-point shooter” it’s a bit misleading because there is likely huge variation between a spot in the corner where they might shoot 50% and a wing where they shoot 20%. That isn’t the case with Locke as he’s extremely consistent around the arc. Here are his 3-point percentage from a few of the spots.
Straight On: 33.3% (15-45)
Left Wing: 34% (18-53)
Right Wing: 33.9% (21-62)
Not only are his percentages eerily similar but the attempts are quite similar as well, showing how comfortable he is from any three above the break. We better look at the corners too because there some interesting numbers that can be found there, too.
Left Corner: 30.4% (7-23)
Right Corner: 60.6% (20-33)
Okay, so while he seems to be pretty consistent around the top spots, Locke clearly has a corner he prefers. That 60.6% number in the right corner is absurd and knowing how much of an assassin he is from that corner the staff should definitely try to get some actions where he can let it fly from there, or if nothing else have him set up on that side of the floor when he’s in a spacing scenario.
An area he does need to get better in what it comes to shooting are his jump shots when he’s in close. He was only 29.6% on jumpers 17 feet and in and it’s a shot he went to a good amount when driving the paint. Part of the reason he went to that jump shot so often was because I don’t think he’s very confident finishing inside quite yet, which we should probably take a look at.
Finishing At The Rim
Right off the top of the article when we looked at Locke’s raw stats you may have noticed that his overall field goal percentage was lower than his 3-point percentage which is not something you’d see from a normal player. A large part of that low field goal percentage number is the fact that Locke struggled to finish when he got in close and he also just didn’t generate a lot of the high value shots at the rim that put points on the board and betters individual percentages.
Noah Locke played 913 minutes for the Gators this year and in that time he attempted only 11 layups. That is not a typo, and it shows just how much Locke lived on the perimeter. On those 11 layups he only hit 4 of them and that 36.4% on what is basketball’s most efficient shot didn’t help his overall field goal percentage. I’m sure this will be one of the focuses for Locke in the offseason as he looked to diversify his game. I’m not suggesting he needs to become a slasher as the perimeter is where he excels and he can make a career almost exclusively on his jumper but he’ll need to be able to punish defenses for closing out too aggressively and giving him lanes to the hoop. How he gets craftier inside will definitely be something I’ll be watching for early next season.
Another shot that didn’t work for Locke was the floater, a shot that anyone who reads my work at Gator Country knows I dislike for 90% of players and Locke is in that mix. He was 25% on floaters this year, a number that’s pretty consistent with most players’ percentages on floaters and due to the nature of the shot he didn’t draw any fouls with it either. I know Locke isn’t super comfortable going all the way to the hoop yet but even his 36.4% at the rim is better than 25% on floaters, plus he’ll draw more fouls that way. While I pointed out earlier that his 29.6% on jumpers 17 feet and in isn’t great that shot is also better than the floater by the percentages and I have more faith in him improving on that shot than the floater which has been shown time and time again to be an inefficient shot for almost all players.
Locke may lack a bit of the explosion to be a top tier finisher at the rim but I think he does some good stuff off two feet and is stronger than you think. Couple that with some good length for a player his size and I think he’ll develop into a solid finisher that can go from a jump stop, take some contact, and finish with his outside hand and when he does he’ll have a valuable tool to compliment his marksmanship from the outside.
Shooting is always the first thing that’s going to be thought of when you hear Locke’s name but I think his defense was really solid for a freshman. Perception of his defensive game was definitely damaged in the late part of the season as his injury really hurt his effectiveness. He lost a lot of hip flexibility that’s needed to move side to side when guarding dribble penetration and that didn’t help his defensive game but when you look at how he played earlier in the season I think he graded out to being a really stout defender. Always disciplined when closing out he was really good at contesting jump shots and he closed out strong and under control, never standing straight up which would allow the offensive player to drive by. Locke also did a really good job at working around screens when he was chasing a shooter. I never saw him get hung up too badly on a screen and most importantly he never stopped fighting when contact from a pick was made, instead he continued to chase and never gave up.
The biggest thing for Locke to improve on defensively is his individual defense in space. The best players at attacking off the drive in college basketball play Locke’s position and playing in the SEC Locke is going to have some of the toughest matchups in the country. Considering he was a plus defender before his injury, and that’s as a true freshman, I think he will be a really solid defender next season since he’ll be fully healthy and that’s going to factor in to some winning basketball.
Noah Locke’s emergence was one of the best stories of Florida’s season and I think the sky is the limit for him due to his silky touch shooting the basketball and his desire to be a lockdown defender. For him to contribute so valuably as a freshman I think a lot can be expected of him next season and as a big fan of his game I’ve got high hopes. While we know he can shoot the cover off the ball it’s going to be his offensive game in and around the paint that would take his game to the next level if he’s able to add that to his arsenal. Even if he doesn’t develop much of an interior finishing game he will always be useful as a shooter but if he can get some easy buckets inside he could go from good to great. Whatever happens, the Gators have a good one in Noah Locke.