After delving into offensive rating and usage rate in the first two installments of Fun with Numbers, I want to focus on some of the advanced metrics focused on shooting.
Overall Shot Percentage
Before we examine a pair of ways to measure shooting efficiency, let’s look at overall shot percentage, which relates strictly to the volume of shots attempted. In short, it calculates the percentage of the team’s shots each player took during their time on the floor. It ends up being relatively similar to usage rate but disregards other ways to “use” possessions such as turnovers.
In all, 51 returning players posted a shot percentage of at least 25 last season. A few observations:
— Just two teams placed more than two players on the list: Ohio State and Indiana.
The most surprising Buckeye is Deshaun Thomas, who I touched on earlier relative to his offensive rating and usage rate. In fact, his 30.5 shot percentage was sixth among major conference returnees. Any insistence from Thomas to maintain that rate in extended minutes this season would not be in OSU’s best interest.
Image source: Ohio State Nut
For IU, all three players (Christian Watford, Verdell Jones, and Maurice Creek) rank in the Top 21, although Creek saw his season cut short by injury once again. Still, the fact that Watford and Jones combined for nearly 60 percent is alarming. Sure, the Hoosiers are still working toward getting the talent level where it needs to be, but there were other capable players on the roster. I can see Watford maintaining a similar rate as his offensive game continues to evolve, but Jones needs to rein in his shooting for the team to be more efficient offensively.
— I was surprised to see Faisal Aden atop the list with a 32.4 shot percentage. With Klay Thompson checking in at 33.4 percent, there weren’t too many shots to go around, but apparently Aden felt compelled to take most of them. Aden’s Offensive Rating is far too poor for someone with such a high shot percentage, and with Thompson out of the mix, the temptation for Aden to take even more shots is in play. A number of things point to that not being a positive sign for the Cougars.
— Brandon Wood shows up on this list, but the Michigan State newcomer accumulated those numbers at Valparaiso last season. While he should step in immediately for the Spartans, don’t look for him to assume the same role he held a year ago.
— Of the 51 players, just 21 of them have offensive ratings over 105, and just five (Ashton Gibbs, Jordan Taylor, John Jenkins, C.J. Wilcox, and Jared Sullinger) are over 115. Three teams (Alabama, North Carolina, and Texas A&M) had two players among that Top 21, but Ohio State had the most with three.
As a sophomore, Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins started to scratch the surface of his immense talent. Known primarily as a deadly long-range shooter, Jenkins has continued to work on his game off the dribble, which resulted in 161 free throw attempts. He converted on nearly 90 percent from the stripe, and while he took 245 three-pointers compared to just 166 shots from inside the arc, he dramatically improved his two-point field goal percentage.
We’ll touch on Jenkins more as we get into our other shooting metrics, because he grades out close to the top on all of them. If he can make a similar leap between his sophomore and junior years, look out.
— In my early look at the Big 12, I said Texas A&M had a legit shot to win the conference, and much of that confidence has to do with the duo of Khris Middleton and David Loubeau, the two Aggies who rated highly among the 21 players mentioned above. With the exception of their ability to draw fouls and convert at the line, they arrived at their high ratings in different ways. Middleton knocked down a respectable 36.1 percent from deep and converted nearly 50 percent from inside the arc. His defensive ability helps him get transition baskets, and he also posted a solid assist rate. Loubeau, on the other hand, has a paltry assist rate but turns the ball over far less often. He does a lot of work on the offensive glass and took only two-point shots last season.
In short, they complement each other well and provide a solid nucleus for A&M and new coach Billy Kennedy. The Aggies have questions at the point, but there are plenty of things to like about them based on their returning talent.
— Another guy that intrigues me on this list is Darius Johnson-Odom of Marquette. Despite using more possessions and taking a higher percentage of shots, DJO managed to maintain a steady offensive rating. His three-point shooting fell from 47.4 percent in 2009-10 to 36.4 percent last year.
Thanks to a tip from the terrific Marquette blog Cracked Sidewalks, I broke down his shooting both in and outside of the conference. Against Big East opponents, DJO canned 42.3 percent from beyond the arc two years ago and 37.6 percent last season, not an alarming drop. However, thanks to some hot shooting early in 2009-10, he hit 58 percent from long range against non-Big East foes, a far cry from last year’s 34.3 mark. All that to say it’s likely his outside shooting will rebound a bit next season.
The good news is that his two-point shooting is on the rise, and he saw a substantial increase in free throw attempts while reducing his turnover rate. Replacing Jimmy Butler will be a tall order for Marquette, but there are some interesting pieces there, including Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner.
Effective Field Goal Percentage
Above and beyond the sheer volume of shots, there are a couple interesting metrics used to evaluate shooting efficiency. Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) attempts to level the playing field between outside shooters and big guys by giving made three-pointers 50 percent more credit. The equation works out as: (Total made field goals + 0.5 * three-pointers made) / Total field goal attempts.
My first exercise here was to look at some of the top guys based on eFG%. In all, 61 returning players posted at least 55 percent, but that doesn’t weed out people based on shot percentage. So for example, Colorado’s Nate Tomlinson was atop the list with a 67.4 eFG%. However, he shot just over seven percent of his team’s shots while he played and posted a 10.1 usage rate, so while he may be effective at picking his spots, that efficiency just wouldn’t be sustainable if his shooting was more widespread.
A few observations from perusing this list:
— By restricting the list to players with usage rates of at least 19.0, I whittled it down to 25 players. As much as eFG% seeks to level the playing field, there are far more big guys among the 25 than there are wings or guards. That said, it makes the accomplishments of the highly-rated guards that much more impressive. Ashton Gibbs of Pitt, Marcus Denmon of Missouri, Doron Lamb of Kentucky, and the aforementioned John Jenkins are all in the Top 10.
— The top two players on the 25-man list were Florida State’s Bernard James and Michigan’s Jordan Morgan.
James’ journey to Florida State via the Air Force and Iraq is a remarkable one, and he was a solid contributor to the Noles at age 25 last year. He made a staggering 65.7 percent from the field, thanks in part to his work on the offensive glass. To be honest, I rarely recall James taking shots more than a few feet from the basket. His shot-blocking is equally superb, and he provides a valuable anchor inside for a Florida State team in the pre-season Top 25 discussion.
I’ve touched on Morgan before, as I think he’ll have an extremely difficult time coming close to his 62.7 eFG% without Darius Morris setting him up at the rim.
— I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I really felt like John Shurna was disappointing coming off of a breakout sophomore campaign. Sure, he missed a couple games due to injury, and his points and rebounds were down. Maybe it was just because Northwestern missed the tournament once again after some pre-season optimism. But a closer look at his stats paints a different picture.
Shurna hit over 52 percent of his two-pointers and canned 43.4 percent from beyond the arc, which gave him a superb eFG% of 58.3. Shurna also maintained a relatively low turnover rate and posted a better offensive rating while using fewer possessions. Replacing point guard Juice Thompson won’t be easy, but look for Shurna to continue to excel in his final season in Evanston.
— Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith both boast high eFG%, further asserting themselves as one of the country’s top frontcourt tandems. Big men are at a premium in the Pac-12, and if the Bruins are to win the newly expanded conference, Nelson and Smith will be two big reasons why.
— One surprising name on the list is Indiana guard Victor Oladipo. His terrific athleticism proved to be a huge asset on the offensive glass, which led to a number of putbacks. Regardless, his 59.3 percent shooting from two-point range is impressive and bodes well for his future in Bloomington. Many of the IU reporters have been struck by how much Oladipo has bulked up and improved his game during his first offseason, and with Jeremiah Rivers gone, he’ll be looked to as the team’s defensive stopper.
— I’ve previously touted guys like Hollis Thompson (Georgetown), Dante Taylor (Pitt), Kevin Parrom (Arizona), Richard Solomon (California), Patric Young (Florida), and Mike Bruesewitz (Wisconsin) as potential breakout candidates. Their eFG% numbers back that up, but in the interest of space I wanted to tackle a couple other players this time around.
— After losing Terrence Jennings, Louisville has a void to fill inside. And while a couple freshmen (Chane Behanan and Zach Price) are expected to earn minutes early, 6-foot-10 sophomore Gorgui Dieng has a compelling case as well. He shot 62.4 percent from the field and wound up with a 61.8 eFG% while playing 31.6 percent of Louisville’s minutes. His length and shot-blocking prowess were huge assets on defense, and his 13.2 offensive rebound percentage is terrific as well. Compared to fellow Cards big man Rakeem Buckles, Dieng is superior in nearly every metric. A summer in the weight room will surely do him good, and I expect a nice jump from Dieng in his second season.
— Following the departure of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers along with Korie Lucious’ transfer, Michigan State doesn’t have a ton of backcourt depth. Enter Keith Appling, who was known primarily for his defensive abilities as a freshman. The numbers tell a slightly different offensive story. His usage rate was 15.2, so he wasn’t a huge part of the offensive, but he made the most of his attempts when he did shoot. Appling connected on 41.1 percent from three-point range and posted a 55.5 eFG%. His turnover rate was alarming, but he has been working to hone his point guard skills as part of the USA U19 team this summer. Tom Izzo has gone on record with his confidence in Appling, and I look for him to be one of the conference’s most improved players as a sophomore.
I also wanted to look at the lowest performers, so I pulled a list of returning players with eFG% of 45 or less. A few thoughts:
— The top two returning guards on Texas A&M’s roster, Dash Harris and Naji Hibbert, are both on the low end of the eFG% spectrum. This reinforces the importance of the backcourt arrivals of freshman Jamal Branch and Washington transfer Elston Turner, particularly given the gaudy efficiency numbers posted by their returning frontcourt players.
— The number of point guards on this list is pretty startling. On some level, it speaks to how they moved into roles as facilitators versus scorers, but having a guy with the ball in his hands who opposing defenses don’t respect as a shooter is an absolute liability. Just a few examples here are Mfon Udofia (GeorgiaTech), Bryce Cartwright (Iowa), Jarrett Mann (Stanford), and Truck Bryant (West Virginia).
— Not only does new Providence coach Ed Cooley have to replace Marshon Brooks, his top two returning scorers, Vincent Council and Gerard Coleman, are both among the worst shooters when looking at eFG%. Overall, I like the hire of Cooley and think he can be successful, but he’s got some bad habits to break as his era begins at Providence.
— Similarly, Cuonzo Martin faces a severely uphill battle at Tennessee. He has just one player returning who averaged over 3.0 points. Unfortunately that player, guard Cameron Tatum, has an ugly 44.0 eFG%, based largely on his lack of success from three-point range. He made just 34 of his 125 attempts last year, and that was with defenses keying in on the likes of Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris. With much less talent on this season’s roster, it will be important for Tatum to improve his shot selection as he takes on an expanded role.
— I continue to be concerned about Villanova. Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Antonio Pena are all gone, which leaves Maalik Wayns as the top dog. Wayns boasts a terrific assist rate and draws plenty of fouls, but there are some warning signs as well. First among those is a 44.5 eFG%, due in large part to his 27.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 118 attempts. And with that trio of talented players gone, Wayns will see even fewer clean looks and will be tempted to increase his 25.9 shot percentage. Based on what I have seen from Wayns, that isn’t necessarily a good thing.
— I still have no idea how a 6-foot-8 forward who grabs tons of offensive rebounds can post a 43.0 eFG%. Herb Pope: you sir, are a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
— Besides Texas A&M, Iowa and LSU also placed three players on the list. Auburn, Florida State, Marquette, North Carolina State, Oregon, Oregon State, Providence, Rutgers, Villanova, and Wake Forest each had two.
True Shooting Percentage
The second metric, true shooting percentage (TS%), takes eFG% and adds in free throw shooting. As Ken Pomeroy puts it, TS% “approximates what two-point percentage a player would need to have to score the points he produces on all of his shooting attempts.” As a general rule of thumb, guys with TS% over 50 are very good shooters, while those over 60 percent are elite. As you would expect, most guys with high eFG% also have solid TS%, but guys adept at getting to the line and converting their free throws can see a larger bump.
In all, there are exactly 100 returning players I looked at with a True Shooting Percentage of at least 55 percent. A few observations:
— Both Duke and Vanderbilt placed four players on the list. None of the Blue Devils posted a usage rate over 17.2, and no one had a shot percentage over 18. For Vandy, both John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli had usage rates over 22 and shot percentages over 23, making their high TS% that much more impressive.
— Ten teams had three players each on the list, including three each from the Big Ten and Pac-12.
— If you look only at players with usage rates of at least 20, only 12 players had TS% of at least 60. Ashton Gibbs of Pitt and John Jenkins of Vanderbilt sit atop the list with marks of 64.3 and 64.0, respectively.
— One of the lesser known players toward the top of the list is Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe. The 6-foot-9 Basabe had a solid freshman season, posting a 57.2 field goal percentage and a stellar 13.0 offensive rebound percentage. He was also active on the defensive end, and thanks to 71.4 percent shooting from the line, he posted a 60.6 true shooting percentage. Coach Fran McCaffery found a hidden gem in Basabe, who gives the Hawkeyes a terrific building block as they look to rebuild their program.
— The player with the largest gap between his eFG% and TS% is Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham, who posted a 48.7 eFG% and 57.8 TS%. He got to the line an astounding 213 times compared to 268 total field goal attempts. Cunningham made 77.9 percent of his free throws and drew 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes. He certainly isn’t a household name due to his team’s lack of success, but he is one of the nation’s best scorers.
— Other players with large increases are Mike Scott (Virginia), J’Covan Brown (Texas), Harper Kamp (Cal), and Erving Walker (Florida).
— In rare cases, players who shoot worse from the free throw line than they do from the field actually have a negative variance between the two metrics. The biggest difference I saw was from FSU’s Bernard James, who hit 65.7 percent from the field but just 50.4 percent from the line.
— A few valuable role players are near the top of the true shooting percentage list. Kyle Kuric of Louisville had a sub-15 usage rate but managed to finish 5th in the nation in eFG% and 12th in TS%. He made a staggering 61.9 percent from two-point range and 44.9 percent from deep.
For Baylor, Anthony Jones isn’t even the best Jones on the team, but his work both inside and out is underrated. The 6-foot-10 forward hit better than 60 percent from inside the arc, 39.4 percent from deep, and nearly 82 percent from the line. Like Kuric, his usage rate is under 15, and while players like Perry Jones, Quincy Acy, and the freshman duo of Quincy Miller and Deuce Bello will get most of the accolades in Waco, Anthony Jones will play a key role in Baylor’s success this season.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are 69 returning players with True Shooting Percentages of 50 or lower.
— There are seven – that’s right, seven – LSU players on this list. More than 10 percent of the worst shooters are on the same team. Trent Johnson had better get working on that resume.
— Auburn, Florida State, Iowa, and South Carolina all placed three players on the list. Not exactly a badge of honor for the SEC, particularly because one of the FSU players (Jeff Peterson) called the SEC home last season.
— I think Virginia can take a nice leap this season in a relatively weak ACC. One potential cause for concern is the fact that their top two point guard options both appear on this list. Jontel Evans has just a 43.1 TS%, while Sammy Zeglinski’s 49.4 percent mark is slightly more respectable. Evans took just 14 three-pointers but also hit less than 40 percent from the field and less than 60 percent from the line. Zeglinski took roughly two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc and connected on 38.7 percent from deep. However, he hit a paltry 29.3 percent from two-point range and struggled in limited free throw attempts. Even marginal improvement from one or both players would be a shot in the arm to an up-and-coming team.
— While I like Dane Miller’s versatility, a few things seem to place him in the jack-of-all-trades, master of none category. In his second season at Rutgers, Miller saw his already low eFG% and TS% fall to 43.1 and 44.8, respectively. His three-point shooting has been poor, although he doesn’t take a ton of triples. He also struggles from the foul line, making fewer than 57 percent both seasons. Miller does help out on the glass, particularly on the defensive end, and he’s a terrific shot-blocker even at 6-foot-7. While he’s also a solid passer, his overall efficiency numbers are pretty ugly for a guy who is such a key member of the rotation. Based on fiery coach Mike Rice, emerging sophomore Gilvydas Biruta, and a strong recruiting class, I still like the Scarlet Knights, but there are reasons for concern.
Next time around I’ll tackle offensive rebound percentage and block percentage.
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