ISO Spotlight: Darianna Littlepage-Buggs is the future of Baylor Basketball

Baylor Athletics

These are weird times in Waco. Currently sitting fourth in the conference standings, Baylor looks poised to not win the Big 12 for the first time since 2010, ending a run that began about halfway through Kim Mulkey's tenure as the team's head coach and continued through the first year under Nicki Collen. But the graduation of NaLyssa Smith coupled with an injury to key transfer Aijha Blackwell has the Bears looking just a little wobblier than usual.

But don't assume that one...I was going to say bad, but that'd be inaccurate because the Bears are currently 16-7 and 7-4 in conference play. Don't assume that one year where Baylor doesn't live up to its legacy means that the Baylor dynasty is over. The future is bright at the Ferrell Center, and a big part of that is because of freshman wing Darianna Littlepage-Buggs.

Baylor seems to always have a transcendent player on the roster. There was Brittney Griner, then Odyssey Sims, then Kristy Wallace, then Kalani Brown, then Lauren Cox, and then NaLyssa Smith, with plenty of other future WNBA players mixed in over the years. Littlepage-Buggs is the next name to join that list.

Darianna Littlepage-Buggs Background

Littlepage-Buggs was the No. 17 ranked recruit in ESPN's HoopGurlz rankings for the class of 2022 and was the top-ranked player in the state of Oklahoma. She was also the second-highest-ranked player to commit to a Texas school, with No. 3 Janiah Barker heading to Texas A&M.

Littlepage-Buggs was Oklahoma's Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year in her final year at Classen SAS, averaging 15.5 points and 12.8 rebounds per game as a senior, plus adding 2.7 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.

When she committed to Baylor, Nicki Collen had this to say about Littlepage-Buggs in the program's press release about her signing: "Darianna is a throwback," Collen said. "She is a versatile forward that does a little bit of everything. She can rebound and bring the ball down the floor, is phenomenal in the mid-range game and is a big-time competitor. We are excited to welcome her and her entire family into the Baylor women's basketball family."

She was one of three players ranked in the top 100 to join Baylor this year, and she's undoubtedly made the biggest impact.

What Littlepage-Buggs has done in her first year at Baylor

First, let's just look at the raw numbers. Littlepage-Buggs is averaging 10.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. That rebounding number in particular is of note, as she ranks 42nd in the country in rebounds per game. She's also shooting 52.1 percent from the floor.

Baylor is essentially using Littlepage-Buggs in the way that they were expected to use a healthy Aijha Blackwell: as a wing who plays in the frontcourt and corals rebounds. Baylor's had to play small a lot this year, so Littlepage-Buggs is getting more time as a big than I'd guess the team expected, especially when Blackwell was a huge part of the initial plans. But DLB has taken on that role and has done an admirable job of it. She doesn't provide as much offense as Blackwell would have, but she's shooting the ball well, and she's been stepping up more as a scorer lately, finishing with double-digit points in six of the last seven games.

Digging deeper, we can see some interesting things from the 6-1 freshman. She leads the team in attempts per game at the rim, taking 4.3 of them and converting 65.7 percent of those attempts. She's also only attempted one three all year. Her shot profile reminds me of a former Bear who also had this same kind of interior focus: DiDi Richards. Richards didn't really shoot a lot, but she did everything else that Baylor asked her to do, and Littlepage-Buggs seems to have a lot of that in her: she won't shoot threes, but she'll play wherever Baylor needs her to play on the court. Right now, because she's the tallest of the main rotation player on the team (though there are three Bears taller, none have played more than 157 minutes, while DLB is at 572 minutes), that's a lot of playing time up front. In the future, that might take a different shape: more time at the three, for instance, on a Baylor team that had Dree Edwards and that was giving Gillispie more minutes, you'd think there might be some changes to how Littlepage-Buggs is used.

Baylor's actually been worse when Littlepage-Buggs was on the floor than when she's off the floor this year per CBB Analytics, with a +15.5 net rating with her on the floor vs. a +26.1 net rating when she sits. But I think that's a fairly noisy number. If we look at the past five games, for example, the on-court net rating is +5.4, and the off-court is -2.3. What's important here—to me, at least—isn't that Baylor technically outscores opponents at a higher rate with DLB off the floor, but that the team is really good when she is on the floor. They've been especially good in the 330 minutes where Littlepage-Buggs and Caitlin Bickle are playing together, with a +25.1 net rating. Having Bickle's shooting to stretch the floor helps open up a lot of things offensively—hopefully, Baylor is able to get another stretch big in the future to keep this pattern going.

There are also her defensive contributions. CBB Analytics has a stat called Hakeem Percentage, which is effectively just a combination of steal rate and block rate. Littlepage-Buggs is in the 81st percentile in that stat over the full season and the 86th percentile over the last five games. She's averaged 1.0 blocks per game over the last five contests, which ranks in the 94th percentile over that stretch.

Littlepage-Buggs is the kind of player you can build around. She won't be the top offensive option on any future Baylor team, but she's got a lot of that DiDi Richards role in her: the perfect anchor for a team. Baylor still needs to find another player who can take over games as a scorer to pair with Sarah Andrews, but Littlepage-Buggs will bring efficient scoring and defense to the table for the next three years. That's a great luxury for this program to have. 

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