It was just 10 days ago that Will Wade was at a loss for words as to why Skylar Mays wasn’t always Skylar Mays.
His sophomore guard had played well in spurts – mostly at home, and most in second halves – but heading into LSU’s trip to Alabama on Feb. 13, he was struggling to figure out why Mays wasn’t putting together complete games.
“Got any ideas?” he asked a reporter, who’d inquired what Wade could do about Mays’ up-and-down play. “Got any suggestions? If I knew, I’d do it.”
Whatever Wade’s done since, it’s worked.
The Baton Rouge native has been quietly efficient in his last four contests, averaging 13.5 points per game while shooting 44 percent from 3. He’s finishing in the paint, too, making 8-of-9 shots at the rim, while upping his game defensively with 2.0 steals per game. In fact, Mays has at least one steal in the Tigers’ last 11 contests, and his solid play will be key as LSU heads to Athens Saturday for a 1 p.m. tipoff against Georgia.
“His last three to five games has been about as complete as he has played,” said Wade. “He does a really good job in our 1-3-1. He is the best in our 1-3-1 at anticipating stuff and seeing things on that wing. He has a couple of steals in that 1-3-1. He is doing a good job of finishing at the rim, particularly the last couple of games. Over that five-game stretch, he has finished at the rim. He is shooting it with confidence.”
That wasn’t the case for Mays in the six games prior. Between LSU’s losses at Vanderbilt and Florida, Mays averaged just 8.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. He reached those numbers on just 35 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent shooting from 3. He was missing layups at a noticeable clip, making just 7-of-19 shots at the rim.
Wade’s theory: Mays was simply being too hard on himself when things weren’t going perfectly according to plan. A pre-med student with a GPA over 4.0, Mays is a perfectionist who was having trouble “self-correcting” during poor stretches of play in-game.
“He puts so much pressure on himself, because he’s such a high achiever in everything he does, academically, basketball-wise, whatever it may be,” Wade said at the time.
The pressure appears to no longer be a problem. Mays says focusing more on defense has helped fuel his offense. There’s no better example than the four steals he swiped against Vanderbilt in LSU’s 84-74 win Saturday night. Three came before the first media timeout.
“Just making defense a priority,” Mays says. “Bringing energy to the team on the defensive end and get guys going. Let my defense get my offense going.”
The advanced metrics support the basic stats, too. Mays is LSU’s only player without a negative plus-minus in conference play, per Open Look Analytics. LSU stays even with SEC opponents when he plays, but loses by an average of 19 points per 100 possessions when he sits.
He’s vital on both ends, too: LSU’s offense dips by 11 points per 100 possessions, from 107 to 96, when he sits in SEC play, the biggest dropoff among any player. And the 107 points per 100 possessions LSU gives up when he’s on defense is the lowest individual number on the team.
That impact is quantifiable. The reason for Mays’ surge? That’s qualitative, and Wade has no problem putting a finger on it.
“Sky is having fun out there,” said Wade. “He is playing free. He is being aggressive, he is not being timid. I really like the way he is playing right now on both ends of the court.”