On Kenpom's page for Virginia 2017-18, Jack Salt is listed in the "Nearly invisible" category. That's what he is in a box score or advanced statistics page. The things he does to contribute don't generally show up in box scores or play-by-play sheets. Except on HOOS Place. You can see his value in the Successful Possessions Index, the Glue Index, the Boxout and Screen numbers. Salt contributes on offense by getting Guys open, on defense by getting in the way, and on rebounding by boxing out. He also contributes by rarely, if ever, being out of position. It's a contribution that should not be ignored.
What He Brings
Jack Salt is almost the perfect Sides big man. The primary role of a big man in the offense is to set screens. It's in the name of the role: blocker. He's perfect for the role. He's big: 6-10 and 250 pounds of rock solid Kiwi. When he blocks, he blocks. And he attacks the role with a relish. He's out there looking for oblivious defenders to get in the way of. He's also perfectly content to stay around the lane. Invisible, but effective.
Defensively, he brings that same solid presence. He protects the rim by blocking. He's always in position, always lurking to get in the way of drivers, and the referees have trained him up into a master of verticality. When Jack Salt gets in your way, puts those hands straight up in the air, and matches your leap, it's really difficult to get the ball over him with any kind of control. If you throw yourself into him trying to draw the foul, you're most likely going to hit the floor with the same momentum as you hit his chest. Posting him up? Don't try to make a living off of it; you'll be one of the fully employed homeless. He gives up 0.633 PPP on post moves. Invisible, but effective.
On the boards, he blocks. His career-best DReb% is 17.0 as a sophomore and was 15.9% last season. Not bad, but not premier rebounder territory. He led the team in "Rebound Assists (RebA)", where his Boxout led directly to a teammate snaring the rebound. Invisible, but effective.
He also brings the potential to score a little more than he has so far. When he can set up on that right block with single coverage and turn off the left shoulder, he's extemely efficient (1.571 PPP). He made a major contribution to the ACC Tournament semifinal win over Clemson with his scoring with 8 points (plus 8 rebounds). He runs the floor pretty well and goes to the rim. He was second on the team in Dunk Rate behind fellow big man Mamadunk Diakite.
What I Would Like To See More
Field goal attempts. Set up on that right block, catch the ball, and make a go at it. If teams are going to leave their center to defend Salt alone, he should be able to get that little jump hook of his at will. Double his field goal attempts and stay close to that 64% field goal percentage and he would aid the offense tremendously.
Rebounds. Wilkins is gone and it is Salt's turn to become primary rebounder. If he can establish a strong presence grabbing defensive boards - at or above 20% - it will make the defense stronger and assist a transition game. We cannot afford to struggle with opponents' offensive rebounding like we did early in the non-conference and the ACC seasons.
What I Would Like To See Less
Mishandling of passes on the roll. Jack was very good scoring on cuts (1.298 PPP), but not so good as the pick-and-roll roll man. Too many times he would fail to make a clean catch. His hands are not the softest, but he is reasonably good at grabbing the ball when not taken by surprise by it.
Handsy fouls. Jack has done wonders with his foul rate since he started playing: From a stratospheric 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes as a freshman, to 5.6/40 as a sophomore, down to 3.7 fouls per 40 minutes last season. There is more room for improvement. Salt adapted to the verticality rules and his early foul troubles there and has become a master of the principle. He has had less success in grasping that the ACC refs will not let our post players put their hands on the opponent. A large proportion of Jacks fouls come from putting his hands on rebounders and post men. Keep the hands off, the foul rate will drop to where it is no longer a factor.
Senior. Three year starter. Two year captain. We know Jack Salt is going to start, and we know he is probably going to lead the big men in minutes. The latter is subject to Mamadi Diakite's development. If Mamadi makes the strides we hope to see from him, he could wind up eclipsing Jack's minutes. Jack's effectiveness might even be improved without Wilkins, because when Salt was paired with Wilkins, Virginia had two players on the floor who were not assertive on offense, and whom the defense could safely ignore to help on the perimeter players. Paired with the more offensively oriented Diakite or Jay Huff, or with four perimeter players, Salt's lack of interest in his own scoring is less of a factor. The defense still has to stretch and is less able to overplay.
One place we still probably won't see Jack very often is at the end of close games. He remains a negative at the free throw line, and in those types of games, that makes it very difficult to put him on the floor, especially when Diakite is an 80% free throw shooter.
Jack Salt is going to leave an interesting legacy behind him. A fan favorite, he was a player many fans would have preferred to love on the bench. Through his entire career, other players had the offensive skills and highlight reels that make fans and media notice their value, but Jack played because he did all the things coaches know they need on the floor much better than those other players did. He's played on an Elite Eight team, started on an undisputed ACC Champion and #1 team in the nation, is about to lead another team expected to be among the sport's elite, and he's been a valuable contributor to all of them.
But the most memorable part of his legacy is going to be those screens and that utter disregard for the bodies of opponents that always makes me ask myself, "How can the nicest guy in the world off the court turn into this cold-blooded destroyer of men on it?" Ok, fine, one more time...