There are two Ovie Sokos right now.
The first Ovie Soko is the one that sounds so great when you hear a stat line. He’s scored in double digits in every game save one. He’s .5 boards away from averaging a double-double. Yeah, he’s been some foul trouble, but he’s getting a lot of minutes, too. More opportunities for fouls. Besides, some of them have been really ticky-tacky.
The second Ovie Soko is the one that you experience at games. To watch Soko play is to be confused about where some of the point totals are coming from. To watch him play is to wonder if the points are worth some of the miscues, or if the feasts are worth the famines.
To watch him play live (vs. listen or stream video) is to see this magnified. Tweets from inside CONSOL against Pitt were not entirely pleased with him. Tweets from those watching at home – and even some pundits who weren’t present – said he was maybe the best player on the court in that half.
Definitive evidence of the two Sokos can be found in the Saint Francis game – he wasn’t good in the first half, though you might not realize from the eight points and four boards. Famine. The second half, he exploded – playing just nine minutes but pulling in another eight boards and fifteen points. Feast.
So which is the “real” one? And how does that answer match up to our expectations?
The Soko We See
He has had difficulty taking care of the ball. He has been in position to make splash plays – like his breakaway against RMU – but he often coughs up the ball in those situations. Even when he plays fairly well he still gets those turnovers, like his 5 against Albany.
He makes strange decisions. He’s got a clear look at the basket, or another player open, but he chooses to bounce pass the ball behind his back to the inexperienced Darius Lewis in the paint.
His hands are suspect. He could have 1 to 2 more rebounds per game if he was pulling in even half of the ones that he gets a hand on. He had his hand on the inbounds pass in the UNH game – and could have turned everything around.
It seems like we just can’t get a complete night from Soko with any consistency. He played fairly well against Abeline-Christian and WVU, but consider UNH. He had 14 points and 8 boards, which is fine, but he was 4 of 17 from the field. That could have been the difference.
Or Albany, when several of his five turnovers were during the stretch that got Albany back in the game. He had a double double, but also five turnovers.
Or Pitt, with 17 points… but just 3-10 from the field and 11-20 from the line. Or his two very different halves against SFU. And he simply disappeared against UMBC.
The Soko We Expected
We expected a player with experience who was going to be a leader. Clearly he is viewed as such.
He is a forward who had been in some important games now and again and knew how to make things happen. He had been used out of position at UAB and wasn’t necessarily happy about that. Indications were that, if he had space to work with, versus being more limited as a center, he could make some special things happen.
He was also supposed to be a decent ball handler, someone who could be like a guard when needed.
Were the expectations right?
Soko played on a pretty good UAB team and was a sizable contributor on their NCAA tournament team of 2010-11.
But he’s never been the featured guy, never been expected to shoulder the load. That wasn’t his job at UAB. Do you remember the imaginary 8 points/8 boards big guy that was so often discussed a few years ago? That’s basically what he did, and he was pretty good at it.
Even so, his scoring is up significantly at Duquesne. He is currently doubling his point total from his last year at UAB and getting 3 more rebounds per game. But his shooting percentage has tailed off. The last two years at UAB, he was hitting 46% or better. If he were doing that at Duquesne, he’d be averaging another point and a half a game. Doesn’t sound like much, but let’s put it in perspective. Shooting at that percentage against UNH could have meant a 5 point win.
So perhaps we were expecting a little much – the answer to all our troubles, right in year two of Ferry’s tenure (though I’d argue that due to the late hire this is more like year 1.5, but that’s for another time). He’s done quite a lot with greater expectations than he’s ever had before with a team. Despite the increased minutes and workload, he’s actually fouling and turning the ball over at the same rate as he did for most of his time at UAB.
When he steps out for a 3, he’s making them at a better rate. With his trey against SFU, he matched his career total from UAB in just nine games as a Duke. His free throw shooting has improved to this point. He’s already close to his full season total from 10-11, but with 20 fewer attempts.
Soko has taken the biggest role that he’s ever had on a college team and is definitely producing. The numbers show it. The mistakes are the trade-off.
The shooting needs to improve, and he needs to pull in a few more balls that he gets a hand on. If he’s going to continue to fumble on breakaways, he needs to get rid of the ball sooner – preferably in a controlled fashion. He is an important piece this year, but he doesn’t need to do everything and he must stop feeling that way.
If those things can happen, I’ll be pleased – it might actually have been inappropriate for us to expect much more.
I’m as guilty as anyone.