How to succeed on offense without really making shots


If you’re waiting for UNC’s love of two-point jumpers to doom its offense, well, keep waiting.

This season North Carolina is rather rudely meddling with the primal forces of analytic nature, ranking near the top of Division I in offensive efficiency at yet doing so by shooting more two-point jumpers than any team in the country. The sport as a whole is moving emphatically toward the threes-and-dunks approach on shot selection, yet here are the Tar Heels still firing away on low-efficiency jumpers inside the arc like it’s 1986.

Then again Roy Williams may not be as antiquarian as that sounds. In recent years Carolina has copped a page from Bo Ryan, and this season the team’s posting its lowest turnover percentage (15.5) ever in ACC play under Williams. That plus garden-variety beastly offensive rebounding — par for the course in Chapel Hill — means the Heels attempt a tremendous number of shots (which, indeed, tend to be of the two-point jumper variety).

Kentucky is working this same angle in 2016. It’s hardly news that programs like UK and UNC are excellent at offensive rebounding, but what’s changing is the willingness and ability of elite teams to bring their turnover rates down to the same level as all those plucky yet disciplined underdogs they’re always trampling underfoot. Taking care of the ball and rebounding your misses is a good way to safely navigate your way around an off night on the perimeter.


Years ago I referred to this combination of voluminous offensive rebounding and scarce turnovers as a team’s barrage factor. Today I’ve decided that’s a dumb name. Now I much prefer “shot volume,” and to measure it I’ve come up with what I call the Easy Shot Volume Solver. (What a great idea!) ESVS is simply a team’s offensive rebound percentage added to its percentage of effective (turnover-less) possessions in conference play.

For instance North Carolina’s pulling down 38.9 percent of its misses in ACC play, and holding onto the ball 84.3 percent of the time. The sum of those two numbers is 123.2.

The ESVS rankings for all 75 major-conference teams are posted below, but your top 10 looks like this:

1.  North Carolina     123.2
2.  Kentucky           122.5
3.  Baylor             120.9
4.  Notre Dame         120.8
5.  Pitt               120.6
6.  NC State           120.1
7.  West Virginia      119.6
8.  Georgia Tech       119.0
9.  Michigan State     118.2
10. Iowa               117.8

The ACC does this whole shot volume thing quite well. NC State and Pitt do so primarily by crashing their offensive glass. Notre Dame and Georgia Tech get the job done by never committing turnovers. And Carolina is the best combination of all of the above.

Or consider Tom Izzo’s team. When you combine 46 percent three-point shooting with a very high number of shots, you have one scary offense. People can fret all they want about what will happen to the Spartans “if the threes don’t fall.” For my part I don’t see that as being an insuperable obstacle for MSU.

Looking at the other end of the spectrum, not every great offense generates a high volume of shots. Kansas and Duke, for example, look pretty vanilla in terms of volume, but the true outlier in this discussion is plainly Iowa State.

The Cyclones clearly have an outstanding offense (No. 1 in Big 12 play, at 1.14 points per trip), yet they rank No. 53 out of 75 major-conference teams in terms of shot volume. This is primarily due to poor offensive rebounding which, in ISU’s case, appears to be purely a function of ineptitude and not volition. (Iowa State is equally awful on the defensive glass.) Feel free to draw one or both of two mutually compatible conclusions. If Steve Prohm’s guys ever pull down a few misses, this offense will be unstoppable; if the Cyclones’ shots don’t fall, they’ll be at a loss for Plan B.

Here are your comprehensive ESVS rankings, complete with pithy category titles at the plus and minus one standard deviation lines. Enjoy.

Gluttonous             ESVS
1.  North Carolina     123.2
2.  Kentucky           122.5
3.  Baylor             120.9
4.  Notre Dame         120.8
5.  Pitt               120.6
6.  NC State           120.1
7.  West Virginia      119.6
8.  Georgia Tech       119.0
9.  Michigan State     118.2
10. Iowa               117.8
11. South Carolina     117.8
12. Purdue             117.7

Normal                 ESVS
13. Louisville         117.4
14. Tennessee          117.3
15. Arizona            116.2
16. Oregon             116.1
17. Indiana            115.9
18. Ole Miss           115.9
19. Butler             115.8
20. Nebraska           115.8
21. Colorado           115.8
22. Syracuse           115.7
23. Florida            115.6
24. Texas A&M          115.6
25. Seton Hall         115.5
26. Kansas State       115.1
27. Miami              114.6
28. Clemson            114.5
29. Washington         114.5
30. Texas Tech         114.4
31. Xavier             114.3
32. Kansas             114.1
33. UCLA               114.1
34. LSU                114.1
35. Duke               113.8
36. Arkansas           113.8
37. Florida State      113.6
38. Northwestern       113.3
39. Wisconsin          113.3
40. Providence         113.2
41. USC                113.1
42. Georgia            112.1
43. Oklahoma           112.0
44. Stanford           112.0
45. Arizona State      111.8
46. Oregon State       111.7
47. Utah               111.5
48. Mississippi State  111.3
49. Texas              111.2
50. Ohio State         111.1
51. Villanova          111.0
52. Cal                111.0
53. Iowa State         110.9
54. Oklahoma State     110.6
55. Penn State         110.5
56. Alabama            109.9
57. Wake Forest        109.8
58. Maryland           109.8
59. Virginia           109.6
60. DePaul             109.1
61. Michigan           109.1
62. Georgetown         108.9
63. Missouri           108.7
64. Creighton          108.6

Starving               ESVS
65. Minnesota          107.9
66. Vanderbilt         107.7
67. Virginia Tech      107.4
68. Auburn             107.4
69. TCU                106.9
70. St. John's         104.9
71. Illinois           104.8
72. Marquette          104.7
73. Rutgers            103.3
74. Washington State   101.0
75. Boston College      97.9