NORMAN — Assists-to-turnover ratio is a telltale statistic for point guards. Assists reveal how often a player sets up teammates. Low turnover totals indicate bad decisions are minimized.
Entering Saturday night's home game against vastly improved Iowa State, Sam Grooms, Oklahoma's junior point guard, leads the Big 12 in assists-to-turnover ratio (2.93), which ranks 10th nationally.
“Those numbers speak for themselves to go against the type of players he's playing against, to consistently deliver the ball on time, take care of the ball and get the team into our offense,” said OU coach Lon Kruger. “He's made tons of progress the past month.”
In his first season of Division I basketball, Grooms' assists-to-turnover ratio has improved dramatically during conference play when the competition is more challenging.
Over the past five games, Grooms has dished out 31 assists with only five turnovers, an off-the-charts 6.20 ratio.
Grooms credits Kruger and assistant coach Steve Henson, two former point guards, that stress the benefits of dissecting subtleties in his own game and knowing his opponent.
“Watching film over and over, you find spots you can make plays and see things, like if a player takes two dribbles and passes or three dribbles and shoots,” Grooms said. “The coaches have really ingrained in my mind to take care of the ball but still be aggressive and make plays.”
Henson, an All-Big Eight point guard at Kansas State under Kruger, said film study is only half the battle.
“He's gained a great understanding of what we want out of every possession,” Henson said. “He understands the significance and doesn't try to do too much. Sometimes players try to make the home run play when sometimes you just need to make the simple play.
“Sam also has great command of the basketball. Some guys could watch film all day, every day and still not control the ball well enough. You have to keep guys off you and be able to deliver the ball. It's a tribute to him buying into want we want to do and putting in the work.”
Grooms has put in the work in every area. To force opponents to play more honest, coaches encouraged Grooms to shoot more once defenses started sagging off him.
“We need that,” Kruger said. “It's not just shooting. He has to make shots. He went through a stretch ... he lost a little confidence when he wasn't making shots. He wasn't making as many early (in league play). Hitting 15 and 17-foot jumpers help a lot.”
Developing a knack for making split-decision decisions is something Grooms has focused on dating back to his youth basketball days.
“I think point guards are born,” Grooms said. “You can always get better. But you either have it or you don't. Everybody thinks they can be a point guard or handle the ball. But it's a tough position. It's probably the hardest position in basketball.”
Forward Romero Osby said Grooms' improved efficiency in league play can be traced to Grooms joining the program late.
Grooms didn't arrive from Chipola (Fla.) College, one of the top junior college programs in the country, until August.
“He wasn't with us last summer. He had to get used to playing with all of us,” Osby said. “You put all that into play, to do some of the things that he's done, Sam has come along really fast.”
A dozen non-conference games helped Grooms learn Kruger's system. He's more familiar with teammates' offensive strengths.
“In some ways, I felt like a freshman when I got here because I missed out on so much, just hanging around my teammates,” Grooms said. “Now I know when they want to run or not run, where they like to shoot or where they want the ball coming off a screen. Now I know all those things.”
Grooms is averaging nearly six assists a game. To put his 2.93 assists-to-turnovers ratio into perspective, only seven NBA point guards currently have a better ratio.
“It's one thing to not do anything and not turn it over,” Kruger said. “But when you're making plays and not turning it over, that's the goal. Sam is doing a terrific job.”