Smile Politely

Let Tracy be Tracy

Tracy Abrams is not the star of this Illini team. In fact, he’s not been the best point guard on the team in its last team games, either. But this is okay. Tracy is who he is, despite whatever notions anyone has about a sixth-year point guard. And when Tracy plays within himself, well he’s a pretty great contributor.

Abrams tallied 14 and 15 points in a 112-65 win over McKendree and a 89-69 win over Detroit Mercy, respectively. He also dished out 7 assists and picked up a couple of steals while only turning the ball over 3 times. This is classic Tracy: Not the star, but great support.

Against McKendree, Abrams was able to be one of the many bright lights, as his efforts were equaled by a number of Illini. Five teammates racked up double-digit scoring efforts, including 18 from Maverick Morgan and Jalen Coleman-Lands, 17 from Michael Finke, 11 from Aaron Jordan, and 10 from Mike Thorne Jr. (who completed his double-double with 10 rebounds). Likewise, Illinois had an outstanding game from its point guards, as Jaylon Tate added 8 assists and freshman Te’Jon Lucas equaled Abrams with 6.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for Illinois, who played its first three games over the course of 5 days, was that Malcolm Hill didn’t have to do any heavy lifting in the McKendree game. After averaging 30 points between the previous two games, Hill was able to lay back and coast, making just 1 field goal in the blowout.

In the Detroit Mercy win, Hill was the star again, notching 25 points in 28 minutes. Again, this allowed Abrams to settle into a groove somewhere just to the edge of the spotlight. Likewise, Tate stepped up again at point guard, this time with 12 points and 6 assists, moving Abrams to shooting guard and letting him concentrate less on orchestrating the offense and more on playing within himself.

Through four, fairly easy games, Illinois has picked up four victories. This is as it should be, but not as it was as recently as last season, when the Illini struggled against some of the “weaker” nonconference opponents the team schedules to ease into the season. The difference is not Abrams alone, but he’s certainly been a big factor in Illinois making it this far unscathed. has Abrams’ plus-minus so far at 12.2 points; this statistic attempts to measure how many points per 100 possessions a player adds on an average team, with an average player adding 0 points. This stat is imperfect, but still useful in giving an insight into how Abrams is contributing to the final product.

Offense, particularly at point guard, was a black hole for offense in Abrams absence. In 2014-15, point guard was barely better than average, with a 0.4 plus-minus for offense (Tate and Ahmad Starks contributing); last year, the point guard spot was worth 5.1 points below average by offensive plus-minus (Tate and Khalid Lewis contributing). So, while the plus-minus cannot tell us everything, it clearly underlines the contributions of Abrams to this team.

Of course, Abrams numbers will track closer to earth as the season rolls on. Right now, ranks the average defense of Illinois’s opponents as 339 out of 351. Things will get more difficult, and Abrams will have more games like the Northern Kentucky game (2/7 FG, 3 fouls, just 2 assists). But, if Abrams can be a solid source of support, rather than the star, it could be a big lift for the players around him. So far, John Groce seems to know who Abrams is and how to play him as such. Games start getting more difficult in a hurry, so the plan will get tested soon enough.

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