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Jacob Gilyard vs. Fatts Russell: Let’s Chat

I wanted to address some replies I got on a tweet I sent on twitter (@A10Talk) regarding Jacob Gilyard. After he dropped 15 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 steals, 1 block, and 0 turnovers (that is a RIDICULOUS line) against South Alabama, I was inclined to believe he’s the favorite to win A-10 Player of the Year in 2020-21 and that he’s the clear runner-up to Obi Toppin at this point in the season.

Rhode Island fans pushed back though, and I don’t blame them. Junior guard Fatts Russell (who plays an eerily similar game as Jacob Gilyard) has also been putting on a clinic a few hours north in Kingston. While most of us can agree Obi Toppin is running away with the A-10 Player of the Year award this year, not all of us can agree on who’s been the best guard in the conference thus far.

Defense and Passing

As I mentioned, the two point guards are very similar: they’re both somewhat undersized but make up for it with quickness. They’ve both been very good three point shooters this year, they’ve both been great passers, and the two of them really make their money on the defensive end. Gilyard has been slightly better on a steal percentage standpoint (steals per defensive possessions played), but the two are 1st and 3rd nationally in steals per game. That’s pretty incredible. It’s pretty hard to argue one over the other in this category, as either guard is an incredible on-ball defender that makes opponents uncomfortable bringing the ball up.

Passing is a similar metric where it’s hard to tell these two apart. Jacob Gilyard has the 81st best assist rate in the country while Fatts Russell ranks 86th. Gilyard is averaging 6.3 assists per game compared to Fatts Russell’s 5.2; that said, Richmond has more capable scorers that Gilyard can pass to compared to Russell who has to do a lot of the work himself, so I think these two are fairly even.

Efficiency

This is where Jacob Gilyard takes the cake, but I’ll give Fatts Russell some love for really getting his shooting percentages up from last year (it’s early, but still). Gilyard shoots 67.4% from 2 this season and 53.1% from three (13th nationally). Let that sink in. This is a point guard who’s converting on his two point attempts at a similar rate to Obi Toppin. He’s also attempted nearly 50 threes already and has buried more than half of them. His true shooting percentage (75.0%) is 6th in the nation according to Kenpom, and he’s top 10 in effective field goal percentage too.

Fatts Russell’s efficiency isn’t quite there, but again, it’s a lot better than last year. Russell is 41.3% from three on three fewer attempts than Gilyard and 50.0% from two, though he’s taken a lot more shots from inside the three point line than Gilyard. For a guard, 50.0% from two is still very good, and we’re talking about a player who shot 41.6% from two and 22.3% from three last season…

Pure Scoring

This is where Fatts Russell wins the argument, as he’s averaging 21.4 points per game compared to Jacob Gilyard’s 17.5. This comes down to the fact that Fatts Russell is more of a go-to-scorer than Jacob Gilyard, as he’s being used on 25.9% of Rhode Island’s possessions compared to 19.8% for Jacob Gilyard. This is where it’s hard to say who has been “better” because we don’t know if Jacob Gilyard’s efficiency would suffer if he was taking as many shots as Fatts Russell is taking. Gilyard is lucky in that he has a supporting cast of Grant Golden, Nathan Cayo, Nick Sherod, and Blake Francis who could all go for 20 points on any given night. Rhode Island’s only other prolific scorer is Jeff Dowtin (sometimes Cyril Langevine), but Dowtin hasn’t been playing his best basketball this year. Fatts Russell has had to do it all himself and will his team to some tough wins.

Strength of Schedule

Clearly these 2 teams have played some tough competition and some not-so-tough competition. Rhode Island’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks 54th while Richmond’s is 233rd. Yes, the Spiders have had easier opponents, but they’ve also made a larger jump in Kenpom than Rhode Island has since the start of the year, indicating they’ve been beating teams that they should beat by large margins. The competition has still been much tougher for Rhody so far, so he gets this category.

Overall

This is an arbitrary “debate,” because these two players fill different roles for their respective teams. Jacob Gilyard is more of a pass-first, look for the open shot point guard while Fatts Russell is taking and making any open shot he gets. Both have been incredibly fun to watch this year, and it’s hard to say one is better than the other. The most exciting thing… we get to see these 2 guards square off on January 5th when Richmond visits the Ryan Center.