By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
When Wayde Sims was young, his friends would always force him left when they guarded him. It’s a common instruction to young defenders: push the attacker to his weaker hand.
Sims learned early to take what the defense gives him. So when he floats in one of his left-handed runners with the ease of a southpaw, it’s a common mistake for observers to assume that’s his dominant hand.
Instead, it’s the finely-crafted weak hand of a righty, honed through hours of Zen-like acceptance of his surroundings.
“They would always send me left,” he says. “I guess that’s how I got my left hand so nice.”
Those lessons have proven critical in his young LSU career, particularly now as he and junior Aaron Epps bear the burden of manning the post in the absence of junior forward Craig Victor, dismissed from the team before the start of SEC play.
While Epps has earned the starts, it’s Sims who has stuffed the box scores off the bench. The freshman, a five-year starter for University High just across campus, enters Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. tipoff vs. Mississippi State (SEC Network) as the Tigers’ second-leading scorer (12.0) and leading rebounder (8.0) in SEC play, and he’s doing his damage as the first big subbed in the game.
Sims isn’t used to being a sub quite yet, but he’s learning to love his role as a reserve.
“When I come off the bench, I like to sit and see where the open spots are, so I can flash and get easy buckets,” he said.
How easy those buckets actually are is up for debate, but Sims has made scoring at the Division 1 level look far easier than it actually is. He’s the most efficient player on the team, with an LSU-best 125.0 offensive rating, which ranks fifth in the SEC, according to KenPom.com. He’s shooting 53 percent from the floor, 50 percent on mid-range jumpers, and 45 percent from 3, including four triples in 82 seconds against Vanderbilt to spark a comeback attempt.
The deep ball is a new wrinkle in his game after a prep career spent mostly in the paint.
“I always thought I did have a shot,” he said. “I just never had to use it in high school.”
In fact, LSU recruited Sims, who stands 6-foot-6, to play more on the perimeter. He began the season working with the wings, but by necessity he’s back on the block, where he concedes a couple of inches to most SEC power forwards. That hurts him defensively, where he gives up about a point per possession, including 1.182 on post up plays, which ranks in the fifth percentile nationally, according to Synergy Sports.
But he’s a very good perimeter defender, thanks to a 6-foot-9 wingspan and quick feet. Jump shooters are getting only 0.5 points per possession when he closes them out, which ranks in the 94th percentile nationally. He’s also a good team defender, quick to provide help, which is why LSU gives up about five points per 100 possessions fewer and holds opponents five percentage points lower from the field when Sims plays, according to OpenLookAnalytics.com.
On the other end of the floor, he’s a mismatch for both bigs, who are too clumsy and slow-footed to chase him to the perimeter, and guards, who can’t handle his size. Sims is a crafty scorer, particularly as a cutter when his fellow big has the ball. He’s scoring 1.7 points per possession when he cuts, the best number in the SEC.
“He’s one of those guys that understands the importance of how to move without the basketball in the post,” said LSU head coach Johnny Jones. “He’s effective at scoring from different areas, be it in the paint or getting behind defenders and going at the rim and getting a shot up over tall opponents. He shoots a high percentage and takes care of the ball. He’s been a really good threat for us all year long. We know that he’s only going to continue to grow and continue to get better.”
Add it all up, and Sims has quickly become one of LSU’s most valuable players. The Tigers outscore opponents by 9 points per 100 possessions when he plays. That number is tied with Jalyn Patterson for the best figure on the team, and is 14 points per 100 possessions better than the -5 Victor finished his season with.
Sims knows he has room to grow, particularly as a defender. With Victor gone, he’ll get plenty of chances.
“Just continuing to play strong defensively, getting stops,” he said. “Offensively, continue doing what I’m doing.”
- After getting a DNP-Coaches’ Decision against Vanderbilt, Kieran Hayward gave LSU 16 minutes off the bench against Missouri. He hit a big 3 in the second half to cap off a decisive 9-0 LSU run, but it was his defense that got and kept him in the game. LSU is giving up just 0.98 points per 100 possessions when he plays. That’s the best number for any individual in the rotation, and it was down to 0.76 against Missouri. “He’s really grown on that end,” said Antonio Blakeney. “He’s focused on that a lot and shown some of the older guys what needs to be done sometimes.”
- Blakeney has scored 20 points or more in three straight games for the second time in his career. He’s leading the SEC in minutes per game (33.2), and he’s shooting 54.3 percent from the floor in his last six outings.
- Epps suffered a sprained ankle against Charleston, which caused him to miss the Wake Forest game. He said he was about ’80 percent’ for Vanderbilt but feels closer to 100 percent.
- Skylar Mays and Jalyn Patterson have combined for 16 assists and zero turnovers in LSU’s first two SEC games at the point guard spot.