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Postseason Player Review: Payton Willis

Willis was the best of Vanderbilt’s three freshmen this season.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Arkansas vs Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Payton Willis seemed to announce his arrival in the fifth game of the 2016-17 season, playing 27 minutes and scoring 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting in a loss to Butler.

But that turned out to be the high point of the season for Willis. After the Butler game, Willis moved into the starting lineup and averaged 25.4 minutes a game for the next ten games. He averaged 7.6 ppg and 3.5 apg during this stretch. He was limited by foul trouble to 11 minutes in the first game against Kentucky at Memorial Gym, then started and played just 11 minutes against Tennessee before losing his spot in the starting lineup.

That roughly coincided with Willis hitting the freshman wall. On the season, Willis shot 59.7 percent on two-pointers and 31.2 percent on threes; in SEC play, those numbers dropped to 51.7 percent and 30 percent. He also struggled at the foul line, shooting 62.7 percent on the season and 52.6 percent in conference play. He was worse at the foul line than Djery Baptiste (albeit in a small sample size for Baptiste), which is not something I would have put money on in the fall. And Willis was turnover-prone to boot, committing a team-high 3.6 turnovers per 40 minutes.

Of course, some of this could have just been positional issues at work. While Willis was recruited as a point guard, he was frequently described as a combo guard -- and really might be a shooting guard. But with Vanderbilt lacking a true point guard, Willis was forced into that role -- and aside from being a freshman, this might not be the best use of his talents anyway. Still, Willis showed some ability as a driver and you’d expect his shooting percentages to come up given his reputation.

All that said, Willis was the best of the three freshmen for Vanderbilt in 2016-17. Which kind of says more about the other two freshmen than it does about Willis, but... well, it’s still worth something.

Grade: B-. I think it’s a bit unfair to grade him lower than this because he was being forced into a role he wasn’t really ready for, and he showed plenty of potential. That’s all I really expect from most freshmen, and he’s also farther along in his development than Brown or Baptiste.