As I continue to delve into the 2011-12 college basketball season, I decided to take a break from previewing conferences and teams by embracing my inner nerd. After all, I did major in math in college, so it’s not much of a stretch. (As a side note, please don’t ask what I thought I would be able to do with that degree in the real world. According to my friends, it has earned me all-time tip calculator duty whenever we go out to eat.)
The idea of advanced metrics and analysis has gained most of its notoriety within the world of baseball. Sabermetrics pioneer Bill James has introduced baseball fans to stats like BABIP, VORP, WAR, and FIP to name a few, and Michael Lewis’ Moneyball helped the concepts gain more mainstream acclaim.
Similar ideas have existed in basketball since the late 1950s when North Carolina coach Frank McGuire utilized per possession metrics, which his successor, Dean Smith, frequently tracked during his illustrious career. Subsequently, guys like Dean Oliver (not the former Iowa guard) and John Hollinger have expanded on the concepts and created a lengthy list of metrics that go far beyond “normal” per game averages and basic shooting percentages. Ken Pomeroy and John Gasaway have also contributed to this movement, with the latter providing a terrific summary of “tempo-free” stats during his days at Big Ten Wonk.
While many of these stats are not widely available at major online media outlets, Pomeroy’s website provides them at both the team and individual level, along with an easy to interpret glossary of terms.
Using the previous season’s team metrics to preview a new year can be a bit challenging based on the roster turnover that is inherent in college basketball, but there is value in looking at some of the individual measures for returning players. Sure, a player’s stats are influenced by his teammates, but these metrics seek to evaluate his individual efficiency. This analysis can also unearth some players poised for breakout seasons.
There are far too many of these to tackle at once, so this time around I’ll focus on Offensive Rating (ORtg) and Usage Rate.
Offensive Rating was developed by Oliver and uses a complicated formula to combine multiple metrics into one number, which Basketball-Reference.com describes as “the ultimate measure of a player’s offensive efficiency.”
As for usage rate, Pomeroy says it “assigns credit or blame to a player when his actions end a possession, either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover.” Essentially, it’s the number of possessions a player “uses” out of 100.
While these are separate metrics, it’s for more valuable to look at them in tandem with one another. Oliver’s concept of “skill curves” examines this relationship and leads to some rules of thumb as explained by Basketball-Reference.com, which are:
- Players with a high ORtg (>110) and a high usage rate (>23) are offensive stars.
- Players with a high ORtg and a low usage rate (<17) are currently role players who may have the capacity to expand their involvement in the offense.
- Players with a low ORtg (<104) and a high usage rate are miscast in their current roles and would be better served to shoot less.
Just 17 returning players fell into the “star” category as defined above, with one of those players, Mike Scott of Virginia, qualifying in limited duty prior to a season-ending injury.
|Jared Sullinger||Ohio St.||120.4||27.0|
|Tyler Zeller||North Carolina||120.1||23.0|
|Reggie Johnson||Miami FL||115.6||24.1|
|Deshaun Thomas||Ohio St.||115.0||27.3|
|Malcolm Grant||Miami FL||113.4||23.4|
|William Buford||Ohio St.||113.2||23.2|
- Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin is a marvel of efficiency. Despite a usage rate of 27.4, his offensive rating of 126.9 is far and away the best of the group. As I work my way through many of these metrics, Taylor’s name is among the best in multiple categories, most notably assist rate and turnover rate. For someone who has the ball in his hands so often, his decision-making ability is superb, and he is able to effectively pick his spots in terms of both scoring and facilitating the offense.
- Three Ohio State players fall in this category. The presence of Jared Sullinger and William Buford shouldn’t be surprising, but seeing Deshaun Thomas on this list would make most fans raise an eyebrow. As a freshman, Thomas played in just 34.9 percent of OSU’s minutes but made the most of his playing time by taking over 30% of the team’s shots while he was on the floor. That’s more than Sullinger, more than Buford, and more than the departed David Lighty and Jon Diebler. As Thomas steps into an expanded role this season, it will be interesting to see if he can rein in his gunslinging ways on the offensive end.
- Miami places two players on this list, and the efficiency numbers on Reggie Johnson make his recent knee injury all the more crippling to a potential sleeper team in the ACC.
- While the contributions of John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor are cited most often for Vanderbilt’s success last season, but the evolution of Festus Ezeli was vastly underrated. In 2009-10, Ezeli posted an alarming 85.3 rating, which he managed to raise nearly 30 points while almost doubling his minutes played and increasing his usage rate. His ability to maintain last year’s efficiency level will be critical to Vandy’s chances of reaching the Final Four.
- I’d be lying if I said that Erving Walker’s appearance here didn’t surprise me. Given his often frenetic pace, I expected his turnover rate to be much higher and his efficiency to be much lower as a result. With limited size on this year’s team, Walker’s leadership and steadiness in the backcourt will be extremely important.
- In my Big East preview, I touched briefly on my interest in Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati, and his presence on this list just reaffirms my belief in him. His playing time should only increase as a sophomore, and his talents give the Bearcats a solid inside-outside combo with big man Yancy Gates.
- This won’t be the first time I mention him, but I really like Josh Smith to break out this year. Conditioning, and to a lesser extent foul issues, limited him to 52.3 percent of UCLA’s minutes last year. However, he was a monster on the offensive glass, posted a solid shooting percentage, and was adept at drawing fouls. An offseason of conditioning at the college level will be huge for Smith, who will team with Reeves Nelson to form the Pac-12’s top frontcourt.
The high Offensive Rating/low Usage Rate players can be less clear cut and provide an example of how taking these measures at face value can be misleading. You need look no further than the state of Indiana for a couple test cases.
|Scott Wood||North Carolina St.||123.2||12.6|
|Rodney McGruder||Kansas St.||117.6||16.7|
|Marcus Capers||Washington St.||115.4||11.6|
|Will Spradling||Kansas St.||114.3||14.5|
|Robert Lewandowski||Texas Tech||112.0||16.8|
|Aaron Craft||Ohio St.||110.5||16.7|
|Damontre Harris||South Carolina||110.4||12.1|
Atop the list is Purdue guard Ryne Smith who posted an ORtg of 133.6 but used just 10.6 percent of the possessions, and Indiana big man Tom Pritchard isn’t too far down the list with an ORtg of 113.5 and usage rate of 9.5. Smith is a terrific shooter and a solid defender for the Boilers, but he struggles to create his own shot and is better known for his hustle. In short, he isn’t equipped to have the offense run through him without significantly impacting his efficiency, and while he may well see more shots next season, he won’t be confused with E’Twaun Moore’s replacement from an offensive standpoint. Similarly, Pritchard is best-suited to defend and rebound, and with Cody Zeller on the roster this season, there will be very few opportunities for Pritchard to expand his role on offense.
That being said, there are some intriguing players on this list:
- Without Gary McGhee, someone needs to step up in the post for Pitt. Enter Dante Taylor who posted a terrific ORtg last season in 36% of the team’s minutes. Taylor has proven to be effective on the offensive glass, as evidenced by his 17.0 offensive rebound percentage. His field goal shooting should hover around 60 percent, and while the Pitt system typically spreads the wealth, Taylor seems poised for a major increase in productivity.
- With Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz on the list, Wisconsin’s “next man up” philosophy will be on display yet again. Gasser played nearly 70 percent of the tean’s minutes as a freshman but generally yielded to the more experienced players on the team. He showed signs of his versatility along the way, most notably when logging a triple-double against Northwestern. Bruesewitz played a key role in the win over Ohio State and is in line for a major bump in minutes and shots with Jon Leuer gone up front. He’s shown to be a solid rebounder and is able to step out and knock down shots. Throw in Taylor’s presence as the offensive facilitator, and both guys will receive the ball in positions where they can excel.
- There may be no bigger breakout player this year than Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson. With the likes of Austin Freeman and Chris Wright on the team, Thompson has been forced to bide his time over the past couple years. He entered his name in the NBA Draft but eventually withdrew and is poised to become a household name. He should see his number of shots drastically increase, and his 6-foot-7 frame and array of skills allow him to score effectively in multiple ways. His effective field goal percentage (more on that in a future installment) is a superb 63 percent, and while he may not maintain these lofty levels in an expanded role, Thompson is efficient enough to put up terrific numbers as one of the focal points for John Thompson’s squad.
- While I don’t see him as a breakout candidate, Zack Novak is interesting based on Darius Morris’ entry into the NBA draft. Given his assist rate, it’s tough to understate how much better Morris made those around him. I expect a number of the Wolverines to suffer without him, at least those not named Tim Hardaway, Jr.
- Florida needs a major contribution from Patric Young this season given their lack of size and experience inside. Young is currently playing for the USA U-19 world championship team and at least based on a recent piece by ESPN, he’s back in the right frame of mind. That will be critical with no returning inside presence for the Gators, and despite an underwhelming freshman year, the numbers above suggest he was efficient if nothing else. Expect a huge expansion in his offensive involvement this season in addition to continued effort on the glass.
- Both Colorado and Kansas State place two players on this list, which is good news for teams that both lost their top scorers. For the Buffs, both Andre Roberson and Austin Dufault contributed on the offensive glass last year and shot the ball well. Without the likes of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, defenses won’t have anyone to key on, but both Roberson and Dufault should see a nice bump in their production. Of the two K-State players, I am higher on Rodney McGruder as a potential breakout candidate. He shot extremely well from the outside last season and is in line for far more shots with Jacob Pullen gone.
- Duke places three players on this list, but don’t count on any of them to significantly increase their usage rate this season. Sure, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Kyrie Irving are gone, but they’ve been replaced by a slew of top recruits, most notably Austin Rivers. I do expect Curry, Dawkins, and Kelly to maintain their efficiency levels in similar roles this season, which gives Duke a solid foundation to build from.
The final group contains returning players with high usage rates but low efficiency numbers, and it isn’t shocking to see many of the country’s worst teams well represented on this list. Common sense would dictate that the players in this category would help their teams more by taking on lesser roles within the offense.
|Bruce Ellington||South Carolina||87.7||27.6|
|Jawanza Poland||South Florida||88.7||23.6|
|Garrett Green||Louisiana St.||89.6||23.2|
|Ralston Turner||Louisiana St.||91.0||24.5|
|Deniz Kilicli||West Virginia||91.3||26.3|
|Herb Pope||Seton Hall||91.7||24.2|
|J.T. Terrell||Wake Forest||92.0||26.8|
|Andre Stringer||Louisiana St.||92.3||23.2|
|Roberto Nelson||Oregon St.||93.5||25.3|
|C.J. Leslie||North Carolina St.||95.1||27.0|
|Faisal Aden||Washington St.||95.1||27.2|
|Augustus Gilchrist||South Florida||96.3||28.3|
|John Henson||North Carolina||97.6||23.7|
|Renardo Sidney||Mississippi St.||98.9||29.5|
|Glen Rice||Georgia Tech||99.0||25.5|
|Dee Bost||Mississippi St.||100.4||27.6|
|Darryl Bryant||West Virginia||101.2||25.6|
|Trent Lockett||Arizona St.||102.5||25.4|
A few thoughts:
- The potential loss of Bruce Ellington to the South Carolina football team is certainly concerning from a scoring standpoint, but these numbers don’t exactly bear that out. Despite one of the higher usage rates on this list, he is nearly the least efficient player out there. Ellington took nearly 30 percent of his team’s shots while he was on the floor, but his shooting percentages, particularly from beyond the arc, were atrocious.
- Three of the bottom 12 players are from LSU, and DePaul also places three players on the list. While there is a good chance that the experience gained last season will serve them well this season, simply returning players from a bad team doesn’t inherently make them better. In these cases, the players returning who use up the bulk of the possessions are grossly inefficient, an ailment an offseason most likely won’t cure.
- West Virginia returns just three players of note, and two of them, Deniz Kilicli and Truck Bryant are on this list. Not exactly a good sign for the Mountaineers, but this could lead to some serious Huggy Bear meltdowns.
- Generally speaking, guys who hit the offensive glass hard end up being efficient on offense based on their ability to convert putbacks. Not the case with Herb Pope who rebounds at a high rate, but he shoots the ball poorly and has a propensity to turn it over. With a number of departures for Seton Hall, that seems unlikely to improve.
- Many Indiana fans were critical of Verdell Jones last season, and these numbers provide some fuel to that fire of frustration. A closer look at Jones’ stats reveal a strong assist rate (again, more on that in a future column), but that is nearly equaled by his turnover rate. Consequently, a number of this possessions used result in turnovers, and his shooting percentages don’t necessarily warrant him taking 27 percent of IU’s shots while he’s on the floor.
- I was a little worried about Villanova based on what they lost, and these numbers would suggest Maalik Wayns is ill-suited to take on an even larger role. Despite having far better shooters around him last season, he had the highest usage rate and took the second highest percentage of shots on the team. Without the likes of Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, Wayns might be compelled to take even more shots. That is a recipe for disaster if he can’t improve his outside shooting.
- There is a lengthy list of point guards on this list such as Bryce Cartwright, Vincent Council, and Dee Bost, which doesn’t bode well for the long-term success of the teams they lead. Many lead guards have high usage rates because they have the ball in their hands so often, but the ones on this list landed there due to a propensity to turn the ball over, hoist up too many shots, or both.
- Similarly, many of the players here led their teams in scoring last season or are the top returning scorer this year. At its simplest level, guys like Ellington, Josh Watkins, Faisal Aden, Glen Rice, Jr., and Trent Lockett all end up looking good by simply using points scored as the measuring stick for success. However, they require so many possessions and shots to generate those points that they end up harming their teams in the process.
Next time I’ll touch on a few other observations related to Offensive Rating and Usage Rate while introducing Shooting Percentage. Until then, I’ll retire to my nerdery.
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Jordan Taylor photo source: Hoops Marinara