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Jorge Gutierrez: Player Evaluation Of Cal Basketball's Boldest

When it comes to bold Bears, Jorge Gutierrez is the archetype. His boldest move in 2010-11? Evolving.

We all loved Jorge his first two years as that classic hustle guy on the team, the manic energy man who can come off the bench and give you ten minutes of instant energy. He helped inspire hope in a Cal team being knocked around by Landry Fields and the Cardinal in Haas his freshman year, fueling one of the most epic comebacks in Cal basketball history. He began the crucial run to close out a Pac-10 championship season against ASU with a dunk and a prayer AND-1.

But we all figured that was all we'd probably get. Gutierrez was, to put it mildly, erratic offensively. He hemorrhaged the ball with a frequency that you probably can't pick up on your car radio dial. His jumper was sometimes there, sometimes somewhere else. His passes travelled places that belonged in the pages of Where the Wild Things Are. We took our 15 to 25 minutes of Jorge and enjoyed it the best we could, thinking those skills would take a spell to develop into something potent for defense to worry about.

A year ahead of schedule, he's got those skills. 15-25 minutes of Jorge jumped to 30-35 minutes. Suddenly, we're all looking at a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate. Maybe evolution isn't a myth after all. 

Jorge Gutierrez 34 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, 3 rebounds, 2 charges, 1 block vs UCLA 2011 (via pacifictakes)

(Advanced stats courtesy of Statsheet)

Shooting: It's not surprising that Gutierrez's offensive efficiency didn't change much from year to year. While his effective field goal shooting went down because of his struggles from downtown (down from 41% to 33%), he was taking a greater number of shots (109 attempts, up from 39) and didn't have the luxury of three other good outside shooters on the floor with him (Brandon Smith took Jorge's role this year, and Allen Crabbe had a nice shooting stroke, but it's not quite the same as the Randle/Christopher/Robertson trio).

However, his true shooting percentage actually ticked upwards, thanks largely in part due to his improved handle and driving ability; those two assets helped earn him fouls and free throws. More telling in his progression was his shooting ability, he jumped from 60-65% at the free throw line his first two years to an 80% charity stripe scorer this season, all while increasing his free throw volume. Jorge took 201 free throws last year after only attempting 116 combined in the previous two seasons, reflecting his ability (perhaps even his relish) at drawing contact and getting free shots.

His ability to get to the line by creating off his own dribble has made him a far more complete offensive player than he was his first two seasons.

Ball-handling: Oh, he still turns over the ball. He still makes occasional quirks with his dribble that probably make Monty dream of zombie squirrels. But it's so much better than his first few seasons, when we wondered if Gutierrez would be able to handle a basketball like it wasn't a grenade. Jorge logged plenty of minutes in at point, and he was no walking disaster. In some situations, he was arguably better than either Franklin was or Smith is.

Gutierrez turned the ball over 3 times a game last year, double the number of what he turned the ball over the previous two years. But his turnover rate been undergoing a steady decline the past three seasons, dropping from a painful 27.8% to a less painful 23.2% to a totally tolerable 20% (for a portrait of contrast, our beloved Randle had a turnover % of 22.0 last season). It's not the greatest, but it's keeping the team in solid shape.

Gutierrez is so much smoother at keeping the ball close to his body. His once out-of-control drives in the halfcourt are polished and assured, making it difficult for a defense to react to him one-on-one.

Passing: The drives open the dishes. Jorge was always adept at threading passes on his drives, finding the man cutting to the basket on the baseline and giving the recipient an easy basket at the basket.

You'll see above in the UCLA game that Gutierrez does a good job of setting up his bigs underneath the basket with his dribble penetration. If the basket defender committed to Jorge, he dished it to his big man; if the basket defender stayed back on Jorge, he got pinned out of the play by the Cal big. He even managed a few wrap-around passes to fool defenders trying to cheat his original passing lanes. If the Bears bigs had done a better job of finishing, Jorge would have laid up double digit assist totals. Gutierrez averaged 4.5 assists per game and upped his assist rate from 20.9 to 27.9, 3rd in the conference.

You can tell Jorge is way more comfortable with not only flowing with the offense, but also running it too. Solid offensive execution and good decision-making have really helped Gutierrez become a complete player on the offensive side of the court. If the youngsters can improve along with him next season, Jorge can really turn things loose.

Defense: He's pestered talents like Darren Collison, Isaiah Thomas, Josh Selby, Momo Jones, Klay Thompson, and Tyler Honeycutt all over the floor in his first three seasons, and drove at least a couple of them to near madness ("No one ever played me like this at AAU!"). Jahii Carson, Abdul Gaddy, De'End Parker and Josiah Turner will all get their turns now, and I imagine they won't enjoy themselves much either unless they get loose whistles that day.

Defense has never changed for Jorge, and it probably will never change. It's his stalwart, his badge of honor. I've never seen anyone work quite as hard in man-to-man defense as Jorge does, and I'm really putting emphasis on the "hard", because Gutierrez has often been playing above his present talent level to get the results he wants. He plays close to the vest, doesn't let his man breathe until he gives the ball up, then chases him all over the court. 

Gutierrez actually wasn't quite as solid defensively last season, although a lot of that had to do with the perimeter talent around him having trouble. Smith and Crabbe couldn't always stay on their men defensively, meaning Gutierrez had to rotate over to provide to help, meaning someone was left wide open for a jumper on multiple occasions. And the offensive workload eventually forced him to lay off on how much he could exert defensively; there were games where Jorge just looked too exhausted to move and needed timeouts to keep him going.

What's next? Now that he can drive, dish, finish, spot up and pull up, Jorge will need some added wrinkles to complete his offensive repertoire. Since his basketball future is likely to be spent playing combo guard, he'll probably need to keep on improving his pick-and-roll/screen-and-roll decision-making. A little post game wouldn't hurt either; he's shown he has the power to back down lighter defenders, so a nice turnaround jump shot could make him an even tougher cover.

Jorge's career can go to so many places, and his hardcore work ethic has paid off with incremental improvements year-by-year, game-by-game. He's put the work in to get on the court. Then he put the work in to stay on the court. And THEN he put in further work to make people wish he'd never leave the court. You can only figure more work will lead to very special things.

And if the young Bears around him follow his example and get better in the same way...let's just say special things won't be happening just for Jorge this year.