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Kansas's Bragg, Louisville's Mitchell lead Breakout Sophomore Formula 2016–17 picks

The Breakout Sophomore Formula—which has predicted breakouts from eventual stars like Grayson Allen and Nigel Hayes—returns to pick the second-year risers for this season.

The Breakout Sophomore Formula—now in its eighth season on!—identifies scoring potential in players who didn’t put up significant points as freshmen, yet had promising advanced-statistical profiles. The formula strives to avoid too-obvious selections, and therefore its 2016–17 picks are restricted to players that averaged single-digit points last season and played not much more than 20 minutes per game.

During their time on the court, these Breakout Sophomore Formula picks took a notable share of their team’s shots (in most cases, 23% or higher) with a respectable level of efficiency (an offensive rating of at least 100, or one point per possession). They’re also likely to receive more playing time in ‘16–17 due to changes in roster composition. The formula doesn’t have fixed parameters, but its underlying theory is that high-volume shooters tend to behave like it from the beginning, even in limited playing time, and those who can pair high (or at least somewhat high) usage with efficiency in Year 1 are the most promising breakout candidates.

Last year’s picks were mostly hits, including Duke guard Grayson Allen, who exploded from a 4.4 points-per-game average as a freshman to 21.6 as a sophomore; Notre Dame big man Bonzie Colson, whose scoring average increased from 5.6 to 11.1; and UAB’s Chris Cokley, a hugely underrated power forward whose scoring average jumped from 7.9 to 13.1. Older editions of the formula have ID’d on-the-brink scorers such as Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes and, before that, Sam Dekker; VCU‘s Treveon Graham, Ohio State‘s Deshaun Thomas, Cincinnati‘s Sean Kilpatrick and Texas‘ Jordan Hamilton before they were stars.

This season, sophomores such as Indiana’s Thomas Bryant, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey, Arizona’s Allonzo Trier and Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon are already too accomplished to fit the Breakout Formula. The ‘16–17 picks begin with a power forward who was buried midway down Kansas’s bench last season but is due a promotion to the starting lineup:

1. Carlton Bragg Jr., 6' 9" PF, Kansas

Freshman minutes per game: 8.9
Freshman points per game: 3.8
%s of team possessions used / shots taken: 22.6 / 23.5
Offensive efficiency rating: 106.1

There’s opportunity galore in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt, as departed big men Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor, Cheick Diallo and Hunter Mickelson combined for 59.1 minutes per game last season. Bragg is the obvious heir to Ellis’s face-up four role, and in short stints as a freshman, Bragg took a higher percentage of Kansas’s shots than everyone other than Ellis and guard Wayne Selden Jr., who’s also off to the pros.

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The Jayhawks’ go-to-guys are likely to be on the perimeter—veteran point guards Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, and possible No. 1 NBA draft pick Josh Jackson can all score—but coach Bill Self’s offense isn’t going to abandon the post. Bragg should get plenty of touches, and his small-sample efficiency thus far in the post (he had a team-high 1.41 points per possession there last season) and as a spot-up shooter has been encouraging. He added 26 pounds of muscle this off-season to better handle the physicality of the Big 12, and it’s easy to envision his scoring average increasing from 3.8 as a freshman to double-digits as a sophomore.

2. Donovan Mitchell, 6' 3" PG/SG, Louisville

Freshman minutes per game: 19.1
Freshman points per game: 7.4
%s of team possessions used / shots taken: 21.0 / 21.6 (but 23.0 in ACC play)
Offensive efficiency rating: 113.1

I called Louisville Breakout Sophomore U in an August column from adidas Nations, where Mitchell and DengAdel were two of the best college campers. While Adel is a strictly-eye-test breakout candidate, in that he looks improved but his freshman-year numbers don’t portend success, Mitchell passes the eye test and the advanced-stats test. He looks ready to emerge as the Cardinals’ leading scorer and one of the country’s better lead guards—and although he mostly came off the bench during ACC play as a freshman, he used a team-high 23.0% possessions with decent efficiency, suggesting he has the DNA of a go-to-guy.


3. Admiral Schofield, 6' 4" SF/PF, Tennessee

Freshman minutes per game: 18.7
Freshman points per game: 7.6
%s of team possessions used / shots taken: 19.2 / 22.2 (but 23.4 in SEC play)
Offensive efficiency rating: 114.3

Tennessee’s version of smallball was to use the 6' 4" Schofield as its starting power forward for portions of ‘15–16. He’s built like an NFL linebacker—his brother is former Falcons and Seahawks linebacker O’Brien Schofield—and he reportedly dropped 30 pounds as a freshman to get to his playing weight of 240. The sorta-slimmed-down Schofield was the Vols’ best interior finisher (making 53.6% of his twos), best free-throw shooter (at 88.0%), and a threat to make an occasional three. The offensive load he handled during SEC play—using 23.4% of Tennessee’s possessions with an offensive rating of 111.3—was well above the typical projection for a three-star recruit debuting in a major conference, and it sets him up to emerge as Vols’ No. 2 scorer as a sophomore.

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4. John Collins, 6' 10" PF/C, Wake Forest

Freshman minutes per game: 14.4
Freshman points per game: 7.3
%s of team possessions used / shots taken: 23.8 / 23.0
Offensive efficiency rating: 110.3

Collins—who like Schofield was a three-star recruit with better-than-projected advanced stats as a freshman—seems likely to inherit the starting center spot that was vacated by Devin Thomas’s graduation. Collins led Wake big men in scoring with 11.3 points per game on their August exhibition trip to the Bahamas, showing an ability to run the floor and create Tweetable content:

The most encouraging thing about Collins during his limited, freshman-year action was that his usage/efficiency profile held up against quality competition; his best games were against Duke, Notre Dame and Xavier. The least encouraging thing about him was that his foul rate was an abysmal 7.3 per 40 minutes. If he cuts that down to a more reasonable 4–5 fouls per 40, he’ll stay on the floor long enough to score double digits with regularity.

5. Markis McDuffie*, 6’ 8” SF, Wichita State

Freshman minutes per game: 18.5
Freshman points per game: 7.4
%s of team possessions used / shots taken: 21.6 / 22.6
Offensive efficiency rating: 104.1

This pick comes with an asterisk. McDuffie underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee on Aug. 19, and although his stated recovery timetable of 4–8 weeks puts him back for the season opener, he may not be at full strength in the first month. When McDuffie does get healthy, though, Wichita State will need him to score. McDuffie’s usage rate (22.6%) was on par with that of senior guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker during Missouri Valley Conference play last season, and as the Shockers enter a new era without that backcourt tandem, McDuffie is going to be one of their best offensive options.

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But what about [sophomore on team I root for]?

This column tends to generate “what-about” questions on Twitter. Before what-abouting, ask yourself these five questions:

• Did the player average more than 10 points per game as a freshman?
• Did the player average well above 20 minutes per game as a freshman?
• Did the player have a usage rate well below 22-23%?
• Did the player have an offensive rating well below 100?
• Is the player’s playing time unlikely to increase due to a roster logjam?

If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” then the player did not fit the Breakout Sophomore Formula. If the answer to all of those questions is “no,” then please proceed with your what-about.