What goes into the characterization of a basketball player being good?
Is it the amount of minutes? Points?
If those are the assessments taken into account, Vitaliy Shibel isn’t a good player for ASU. Among scholarship players, Shibel averages the second-fewest minutes (12.3) and scores the fewest points on the team (2.6).
Some say stats are overrated, though, and in Shibel’s case, truer words could not be spoken.
For some on offense, their job is to score. Others have rebounding duties. The 6-9 redshirt freshman’s responsibilities are much more complex, most revolving around helping his teammates.
He heads to the top of key to set picks, making room for a ball-handler to either drive into the lane or find space for a three. On other possessions, he runs to the corner and waits for an open look — spreading the floor in the process.
The Kiev, Ukraine native gave his thought process:
“I see a situation and I’m trying to figure out what I have to do next,” Shibel said. “Sometimes when I see no one is in the corner, I will try and get there so I can spread the floor. If you have like four guards, I’m playing the five-spot.
“I have to roll because I don’t want to be the fifth person at the 3-point line.”
Shibel doesn’t get the credit for his game because, frankly, screens set is not an official stat. But one stat does seem to show that the Devils are a better team with him on the court.
The plus/minus stat keeps track of a team’s point differential while a certain player is on the court and, despite not playing huge minutes or racking up major points for himself, Shibel’s plus/minus is solid.
The 210-pound forward is a plus-47 so far this season (Kansas game stat not available*).
For those who play double or more minutes, the stat correlates to their team’s point differential, but it seems to be a great measuring stick for what Shibel does.
Even ASU coach Bobby Hurley uses it to judge the forward.
After Shibel racked up no points, one rebound and two fouls in 10 minutes of action against Oregon State, there was still something positive to say.
“Vitaliy, his plus/minus was very good and good things were happening when he was on the floor,” Hurley said.
Those good things that Shibel provides began the season showing themselves while the lefty held the role of starting forward for the Devils’ first 11 games. In game 12, a win against Pacific, Shibel was replaced by Mickey Mitchell.
It wasn’t until the Sun Devils game at Cal on Saturday that Shibel broke back into the starting lineup, netting eight points and three rebounds in the win.
“He’s a threat to make the shots from three and he plays off of our guards very well and is in the right spot if a defense is helping in the paint,” Hurley said of putting Shibel back in the starting rotation.
The move gives the Devils’ starting lineup more size. And Shibel’s presence in the corner helps ASU combat the zone defense that most Pac-12 teams have thrown its way.
Shibel said he feels more comfortable starting the game, and throughout the season it’s showed. Though he is just a small part of ASU as a whole, the Sun Devils have yet to lose with Shibel starting: 12-0 and counting.
The forward’s services would have been a main-stay in the Devils’ starting lineup a year ago if not for a torn ACL in August of 2016.
On his long road back, Shibel looked at his teammates with envy. Not only for their health but for their skills.
“At first, I thought I’m (not) completely on the same level as these guys,” Shibel said. “I was much slower than them and like every aspect of the game I was worse than them. It was just frustration on my mind but everyday I was talking to coaches.
“Even now I feel like I’m not 100 percent back but at least I’m better than yesterday and the day before.”
Transitions make up Shibel. Transitioning from Ukraine to the United States, from Maine to Arizona, from being injured to being healthy and ultimately transitioning back into the starting lineup.
In watch his Ukraine highlight mixtape, it isn’t hard to tell he used to be a guard.
“I just had freedom,” Shibel said. “I could do a lot of stuff there. I could shoot, I could drive, I could post people up.”
At ASU, Shibel says he is playing more like a forward, trying to “space the floor” and help his teammates in the process.
Regardless, his contributions to the Sun Devils are much better seen on the court rather than the stat sheet.