Florida got some good news on Sunday as center Colin Castleton announced that he would be withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning to Florida for his senior season.
For many, this wasn’t a huge surprise. The staff had been confident that he was returning, something that their actions supported as they never pursued replacement options in the transfer portal. Even though it was always looking likely that he would return, knowing for sure is a huge sigh of relief for the program.
Castleton was one of the best surprises of last season. During the summer, many predicted that sophomore Omar Payne was going to be starting at center, but it was made apparent quickly that it was Castleton’s job. Not only did he carve out the role as starter, but he was one of the most productive players in the SEC. His efforts ultimately landed him on the 2nd All-SEC team, something that wouldn’t have been expected when he was leaving Michigan as a player who struggled to get on the floor.
Just how good was Castleton last year?
A lot of his advanced numbers speak to just how good of a junior season he had.
For starters, his work as a scorer on the block was a revolution for Florida’s offense. When Florida was able to play through Castleton on the low block, they were at 1.008 points per possession, making it one of their best offensive options. That number was higher than any of their pick and roll possessions, something they went to often, which speaks to just how good Castleton was working out of the post. When Castleton took matters into his own hands he was at 1.1 points per possession, making him one of the best post up scorers in basketball.
Castleton was also as good as any center in the country at playing in transition, putting major pressure on defenses with his rim runs on the fast break that distorted defenses as they tried to match up and keep the ball out of his hands. Often with his long strides he would beat his check up the floor, and he had the soft hands to receive bullet passes and either lay the ball in softly or dunk with authority. For a Florida team that was desperate to try to accelerate their pace of play, Castleton was exactly what they needed.
While Castleton was a threat offensively, it was his defense that really came up big. One of the best shot blockers in the country, he covered up all kinds of mistakes from Florida’s perimeter defenders while also allowing them to play with a high level of pressure knowing that Castleton was behind them to protect the tin.
More advanced composite-style statistics show even more just how valuable Castleton was to the Gators. Here are some of his numbers I pulled from a program called InStat that uses multiple inputs to assess players at particular skills.
Offensive Rebounding: 95th Percentile
Overall Post Up Play: 98th Percentile
Pick And Roll Roller: 93rd Percentile
Put Backs: 91st Percentile
Draw Foul Rate: 97th Percentile
Rim Protection: 98th Percentile
Drives Defending: 99th Percentile
Pick And Roll Defending: 91st Percentile
Post Up Defending: 83rd Percentile
Help Defending: 98th Percentile
As you can see, a lot of advanced numbers look positively on Castleton’s game.
There are a lot of ways he’ll be pivotal to the Gators next season. His shot blocking is something that has been required for Mike White defenses to be successful. We saw his best teams use Kevarrius Hayes in the middle of the floor, and there was a significant drop off in defensive efficiency when it went from Hayes’ elite shot blocking to Kerry Blackshear’s below average rim protection. Florida had their share of defensive issues last year, but it certainly wasn’t their lack of shot blocking from Castleton. In fact, that was an absolute strength.
Castleton also gives the Gators a scoring threat on the interior, something that they have desperately needed. Last year we saw him able to really take advantage of smaller players inside with his length, and the next evolution of his game should be to start scoring on bigger players, possibly with his speed playing to his advantage.
What Castleton will really be looking to do next season is shoot the three. Despite the fact he has never hit a three in college (on only 8 attempts) he has always sworn behind the scenes that he is a shooting threat, something that was noticeable in his NBA workouts. In a common drill where players have to shoot 100 three-pointers in rapid succession (a kind of exhaustion shooting drill) he was able to hit over 60 threes for two separate teams. For him to be a viable pro he’ll need to be able to stretch defenses as a player who won’t be a monster on the inside, so it’s clear he’ll want to be shooting the ball this season.
This will be interesting to see how it works out. Florida has never really had a stretch five under Mike White, making Castleton’s desire to shoot threes a unique one. Some might argue that Kerry Blackshear was a stretch five, though I would be quick to point out that he was a below average percentage three-point shooter on low volume, with nearly all of his threes coming wide open with opponents happy to let him shoot it. If Castleton is a legitimate three-point thread, Florida’s offense will look a lot more dynamic.
However he ends up being used, Castleton’s return is massive.
Clearly he was one of Florida’s best players last year and his return likely means he’ll be the centerpiece, or one of them depending on exactly what the situation with Keyontae Johnson ends up being. Florida can now enter next season knowing that they have a premier SEC player manning the middle and that they are ready to take on the league and the country’s best.