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The Failure And Success Of Trent Johnson

Trent Johnson accepted the head coaching job at TCU this spring, a program transitioning to the Big 12. Johnson previously spent four years at Stanford and four years at LSU. Because the last three years at LSU were less successful, Johnson may have been looking to change jobs before he lost his job. But in looking back at his experience at Stanford and LSU, I am not convinced he was a worse coach at LSU.

The first thing I notice when looking at the players he recruited at both schools is how big a difference one or two players can make. Johnson’s recruiting at LSU was not substantially worse than his recruiting at Stanford, but Johnson was never able to recruit a superstar freshman to LSU of Brook Lopez's caliber. Brook was a high volume, efficient scorer, and the only thing that stopped him from playing more minutes his first season was an early season surgery. But other than Brook Lopez, Johnson hasn’t had any program changing recruits at either school. Anthony Hickey and Robin Lopez were fine freshmen, but they were not truly elite players in their first season.

Recruiting Stanford

Fr Year

PctMin

Ortg

PctPoss

Robin Lopez

2007

58%

97.8

19%

Mitch Johnson

2006

56%

77.4

17%

Brook Lopez

2007

53%

100.8

27%

Lawrence Hill

2006

38%

96.2

19%

Landry Fields

2007

33%

97.1

18%

Taj Finger

2005

21%

90.8

13%

Tim Morris

2005

19%

98.0

20%

Anthony Goods

2006

18%

91.7

17%

Peter Prowitt

2005

14%

92.8

14%

Will Paul

2007

8%

   

Josh Owens

2008

7%

   

Kenny Brown

2006

1%

   

Average

 

27%

93.6

18%

 

Recruiting LSU

Fr Year

PctMin

Ortg

PctPoss

Anthony Hickey

2012

77%

98.1

19%

Andre Stringer

2011

76%

94.2

23%

Ralston Turner

2011

63%

92.9

24%

Matt Derenbecker

2011

56%

95.5

17%

Johnny O'Bryant

2012

45%

84.9

29%

Aaron Dotson

2010

43%

73.0

16%

Bo Spencer

2008

38%

94.0

15%

Dennis Harris

2010

33%

105.0

18%

John Isaac

2012

33%

82.1

15%

Eddie Ludwig

2010

31%

95.1

14%

Chris Bass

2009

19%

89.8

10%

Garrett Green

2008

19%

89.4

13%

Storm Warren

2009

16%

96.9

17%

Daron Populist

2010

13%

79.1

11%

Delwan Graham

2009

8%

   

Jalen Courtney

2011

6%

   

Average

 

36%

90.7

17%

One place Johnson caught up on recruiting at LSU was in accepting transfers:

LSU Transfers

Year

PctMin

Ortg

PctPoss

Justin Hamilton

2012

74%

110.5

23%

Malcolm White

2011

59%

90.5

21%

Quintin Thornton

2009

32%

102.1

13%

In terms of player development, Johnson’s numbers aren’t that different at the two schools. In the next two tables, I look at changes in playing time and efficiency for all returning players. For inherited players, the change in minutes is the difference between the most recent season and the last season under the previous coach. For recruited players, the change in minutes is the difference between the most recent season and the player’s debut season with the team.

I also compare the change in ORtg for the same time period. But since shot volumes can impact efficiency, I adjust this based on the rule that 1% more possession’s used is worth 1.25 points of efficiency. Thus a player that moves from shooting 20% of the time to 24% of the time and keeps the same efficiency tallies a five point increase in his ORtg.

Player Development Stanford

ChPctMin

ChORtg

Taj Finger

23%

38.4

Mitch Johnson

22%

27.4

Brook Lopez

5%

17.3

Lawrence Hill

18%

15.0

Anthony Goods

48%

14.7

Robin Lopez

3%

14.3

Dan Grunfeld

41%

11.4

Matt Haryasz

37%

6.7

Kenny Brown

4%

4.5

Landry Fields

-5%

3.6

Peter Prowitt

-7%

-3.3

Chris Hernandez

11%

-4.2

Rob Little

0%

-7.4

Nick Robinson

21%

-14.6

Tim Morris

32%

-15.3

Fred Washington

45%

-21.4

Jason Haas

-2%

-24.1

 

Player Development LSU

ChPctMin

ChORtg

Aaron Dotson

15%

25.7

Tasmin Mitchell

88%

22.0

Garrett Green

25%

14.2

Storm Warren

32%

13.3

Bo Spencer

49%

10.7

Garrett Temple

-10%

9.5

Marcus Thornton

-4%

8.8

Alex Farrer

-22%

1.5

Andre Stringer

-9%

0.7

Malcolm White

-37%

-1.4

Eddie Ludwig

-9%

-3.0

Terry Martin

-27%

-4.8

Chris Bass

11%

-4.9

Ralston Turner

9%

-5.0

Chris Johnson

4%

-6.4

Once again, the player development numbers are not particularly different at the two schools. In both cases, Johnson has been able to take some players who were incredibly inefficient as freshmen (see Mitch Johnson at Stanford and Aaron Dotson at LSU) and turn them into passable major conference players. And plenty of other players from Chris Hernandez to Chris Johnson regressed slightly under Johnson.

So if Johnson was a similar recruiter at the two schools and had similar success at player development, why was his offense so terrible at LSU? There are really two reasons. First, Johnson had substantially more turnover at LSU. Some of that was by design after his recruiting classes flopped miserably, but with little continuity, his players were never put in a position to succeed.

But equally important was the difference in what he inherited. At LSU, Johnson inherited two senior stars (Marcus Thornton and Chris Johnson) and few other efficient players. And once Thornton and Johnson graduated, LSU’s performance fell off a cliff.  But the team he inherited from Mike Montgomery at Stanford was much deeper with efficient players throughout the lineup.

Inherited Players Stanford

PctMin

Ortg

PctPoss

Chris Hernandez

71%

121.2

17%

Nick Robinson

62%

103.8

16%

Rob Little

60%

104.4

20%

Matt Haryasz

39%

108.8

21%

Dan Grunfeld

27%

102.0

19%

Jason Haas

25%

96.0

13%

Fred Washington

12%

111.1

22%

 

Inherited Players LSU

PctMin

Ortg

PctPoss

Garrett Temple

86%

97.8

14%

Marcus Thornton

84%

112.3

28%

Terry Martin

60%

96.5

20%

Chris Johnson

60%

105.0

20%

Bo Spencer

38%

94.0

15%

Alex Farrer

38%

89.9

13%

Garrett Green

19%

89.4

13%

Tasmin Mitchell

5%

80.6

28%

But here is the ultimate problem for Trent Johnson. He does not appear to be recruiting at the level consistent with an NCAA tournament coach. He seems to do a fine job developing players, but he needs to start with good players for that to be an NCAA tournament equation.

And at TCU, despite huge strides in the last year under Jim Christian, there simply isn’t the kind of talent that will typically make the NCAA tournament in a major conference. Even if Johnson does a great job bringing his current players along, that won’t be enough for an NCAA bid. TCU needs a coach who can upgrade the caliber of player in the program, and right now Johnson doesn’t appear to have the track record to do that.

A lot of coaches can make up for a lack of talented offensive players by teaching their players to play elite defense. For example, Bruce Weber and Frank Martin are always going to be on the NCAA tournament bubble by virtue of their defense alone. But Johnson isn’t quite that consistent at teaching defense:

Team

Years

Avg Adj Off

Avg Adj Def

Stanford

2005-2008

109.9

91.9

LSU

2009-2012

100.2

96.2

One thing that really seems to make a difference for Johnson’s defensive scheme is having a 7 footer in the middle. His Stanford teams were at their best when they had Brook or Robin Lopez in the middle. And even this year, while Justin Hamilton was not an elite shot-blocker, his size in the middle frustrated numerous LSU opponents. Probably the most likely avenue for Johnson to succeed at TCU will be to find a few more 7 foot post players to anchor his defense, and hope to find a few special offensive players.

Bottom Line

Joining a BCS league can be a recipe for a complete disaster. Last year, Utah had a horrendous season because the caliber of talent on hand was not ready to compete in the Pac-12. (And it was a down year in the Pac-12). I think Johnson is skilled enough to keep TCU from having a disastrous season. He will bring his players along and he now has the experience to motivate players through a difficult season.

But TCU fans will be excited about the jump up to a major conference and expectations will be raised. Johnson won’t be expected to make the NCAA tournament next year, but he will be expected to make the tournament in three or four years. And the historical numbers suggest Johnson will need substantially better recruiting to make that happen.

 

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