Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Death By Midrange

My comrades over at Carmody Court noted this week that NU’s offense has gotten better this year, but that it’s still pretty bad. Last season’s AdjO rating was 96.3 (the D1 average was 104.3). Through eight games, this season’s AdjO rating is 98.0 (the D1 average is 99.6). On a points per 100 possessions basis, NU’s improvement is barely perceptible. Relative to the D1 average it’s actually a nice jump. Either way, though, it’s still well below average and the worst in the B1G. Why?

I’ve put together a little table examining the scoring efficiency of NU’s top six players. JerShon Cobb, Tre Demps, Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, Bryant McIntosh, and Alex Olah combine to play 82.1% of NU’s minutes and to take 85.6% of its FGAs. They are going to make or break the ‘Cats' scoring efficiency most games. A quick explanation of the values in the table:

  • %FGA is the percentage of the team’s total FG attempts that a player has taken. It’s different from KenPom’s %Shots in that it doesn’t factor in a player’s minutes.
  • FTRate is the number of FTAs a player takes per 100 FGAs. It’s a good measure of how effectively a player gets to the foul line.
  • P/2PA is the number of points a player scores from made free throws and made 2P shots divided by his total 2P attempts. It’s a good measure of how efficiently a player scores inside the 3P-line.
  • P/FGA is the total number of points a player scores divided by his total FG attempts. It’s a good measure for how efficiently a player scores overall.
  • FT%, 2P%, and 3P% are self-explanatory, I hope.
  • eFG% is [(1.5*3PM) + 2PM]/FGA, though this should be self-explanatory to most readers by now. It takes into account the fact that a made 3P shot is more valuable than a made 2P shot.
  • TS% “is [John] Gasaway’s old PPWS divided by 2. It’s like eFG%, but throws in trips to the line and converts it to a shooting percentage that approximates what 2-point percentage a player would need to have to score the points he produces on all of his shooting attempts.” (via KenPom)

With that out of the way, let’s have a look at the numbers.

The first thing that jumps out to me is that Sanjay Lumpkin has been the ‘Cats’ best all-around shooter and most efficient scorer, but that he is getting by far the fewest shots of the six regulars. His high FTRate, FT%, and 2P% make him extremely efficient inside the arc. He’s averaging more than two points per 2PA!! He’s no slouch behind the arc, though he’s only got 10 3PAs. It’s fairly well established that players will plateau in their scoring efficiency as their shot attempts increase, so Lumpkin surely would not keep up the same pace if his %FGA increased dramatically. Nevertheless, given NU’s scoring woes and his impressive production so far, Lumpkin merits more looks and touches, doesn’t he?

The next thing is that Vic Law and Alex Olah have both been reasonable inside options. They each get to the line at an above-average clip (D1 average is 37.8) and convert their foul shots at a decent rate (Law especially so). Law’s overall P/FGA is dragged down by poor 3P shooting (5 of 20), while Olah’s is bolstered by his ability to hit the 3P shot at 50% (on only 8 3PAs, though). Olah needs to be NU’s primary scoring option, and Law needs keep getting to the rim. They both shoot far too many midrange shots, right around 39% of their FGAs, with Olah making a paltry 20.8% and Law hitting 40.9%.

Finally, NU’s top three guards are all struggling to score efficiently. Tre Demps’s high usage/low efficiency status is well known, and JerShon Cobb’s struggles this season have generated a lot of discussion, but Bryant McIntosh seems to get a pass due to his solid ARate. It’s worth pointing out here, that on a P/FGA basis, the three guards are virtually identical. Cobb is the best of the three inside the arc (measured by P/2PA), due largely to his high FT%, while McIntosh is the best outside the arc. Considering that Demps and McIntosh are 1st and 2nd in %FGA, respectively, but 4th and 5th in P/FGA, perhaps they’re both shooting too much. McIntosh shoots well from the foul line, but he hardly gets there (1.125 FTA/game). Neither of them is particularly good anywhere else. Altogether, these three hoist nearly 50% of the ‘Cats’ shots.

(data from Hoop-Math.com

It looks more disconcerting when you break down their 2P shots into shots at the rim and midrange shots. They all take a lot of midrange shots, with McIntosh in the lead. He takes almost half of all his shots from midrange. None of them shoots well from midrange, with Demps’s 20% being the worst. Also of note, not a one of Demps’s made midrange shots was assisted, so at least he can create his own shot. In Demps’s defense, he is the best at scoring at the rim, and more often than not does that on his own. Nevertheless, these numbers scream “poor shot selection.” Whether that’s a result of poorly designed/executed strategy or bad decisions (I think it’s likely a mixture of both), it needs to change. Unless this trio gets a lot better at shooting, via better selection or improved percentages, or it takes a lot fewer shots, NU is going to struggle to score.

In light of my analysis, I believe the best path to offensive improvement looks like this:

  • Feed Olah in the post, with Olah going aggressively to the rim, seeking contact. Drastically cut down Olah’s shots outside the lane, particularly the baseline jumper off of the pick and roll. Look for the pick and pop 3P shot for Olah 3-4 times a game.
  • Get Law shots going to the basket, whether on cuts or off the dribble, with Law seeking contact. As with Olah, severely cut back Law's midrange shots.
  • Get Lumpkin more touches.
  • Virtually eliminate the midrange shot for the top three guards.
  • Pray that one of the reserves steps up. Lindsey seems the most likely candidate, but his playing time has been extremely scarce.
  • Generate offense off of defense. The ‘Cats are dead last in D1 in steal% and only 13.2% of their FGAs come in transition.
  • Emphasize offensive rebounding. NU currently ranks 281st in OReb%.

That’s a lot to ask and would require some strategic adjustments to the offense and the defense. The road is going to get a lot tougher starting in January. Expect the offense to get worse, not better, as the season drags on.

Ex Hex - "Waterfall"

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