Recently I dropped in on a Division II practice and spoke with an analytically woke head coach who had two urgent messages for me. First, shot volume is great. Second, what happened to Tuesday Truths?
Let’s focus on that first highly perceptive part. Shot volume is just one half (how often you shoot) of one half (offense) of basketball, but it is, by far, the 25 percent of the sport that garners the least attention. It is this imbalance in explanatory bandwidth and not any silver-bullet features of the metric itself that is unfortunate. (It is no silver bullet. Ask Notre Dame.)
If you want to know how it’s possible, nay conceivable, that Illinois (still!) might wear home uniforms in its first-round NCAA tournament game despite being the least accurate team from the field in Big Ten play, our good friend X’s and O’s can’t solve that riddle alone. An awareness of shot volume can help.
As always, one of the most intriguing takeaways from these numbers is how the hoops gods seriously do not give a flying fig how you get the job done. Shot volume’s a stylistic buffet, and everyone’s invited. Whether you love offensive rebounds or choose to fear them the way early civilizations dreaded mirrors and solar eclipses, the bottom line on volume can turn out exactly the same…. Continue reading
Shot volume is just one half (how often you shoot) of one half (offense) of basketball, so it’s not the alpha and omega of the sport by any means. Then again, it’s rather under-discussed.
You can’t show shot volume on YouTube or Synergy, coaches can’t diagram a play specifically to get an offensive board, volume doesn’t get “chess match” heuristic privileges, and avoiding turnovers is supposed to occur as a matter of course.
That’s all well and good, but, just like with shooting accuracy and defense, some teams are exceptionally good at shot volume. If we want to understand these teams, we should consider the frequency with which they attempt shots.
Shot volume index for tournament teams
Turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage, and shot volume
Conference games only: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, American, WCC
TO% OR% SVI
1. Gonzaga 12.9 30.2 101.8
2. LSU 16.9 38.4 101.0
3. Cincinnati 16.1 36.1 100.8
4. Purdue 15.8 34.6 100.5
5. Tennessee 15.5 31.1 99.2
6. Houston 16.9 34.7 99.2
7. North Carolina 17.1 34.6 99.0
8. Virginia 15.4 30.2 98.9
9. Villanova 15.1 29.1 98.8
10. Saint Mary's 16.8 33.0 98.6
(Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)
We live at a time of televised analytic plenty, yet, somehow, you still see rebound margin numbers flung up on the screen during this or that telecast in 2019. That makes me grit my teeth at the blatant luddite behaviors on display, of course, and, well, I’m right to do so. Rebound margin really is meaningless, an ersatz and mislabeled tribute paid to teams that alter shots yet refuse to go for steals and/or charges (with all of the above, preferably, transpiring at a fast pace).
In partial defense of my well-intentioned graphic-making brethren and sistren, however, I will additionally confess to the following. I’ve been mulling just how peculiar rebounds really are for a while now, and (this may say more about me than about rebounding) I’m still not sure I’ve found solid ground on this particular subject.
Here’s what I think I think….
I’m not a fan of whole-season rebound percentages in college basketball
Leave it to the sport’s endearing and enduring idiosyncrasies to overturn perfectly sound axioms regarding sample size. Continue reading
Jack Salt says this taking more shots than your opponent stuff really works. (Matt Riley/UVA Media Relations)
There are exciting developments afoot in the fast-paced, glamorous, and paparazzi-laden world of shot-volume studies.
Ever since the appearance of the shot volume index (SVI) a couple years back, the metric’s been dominated by one team: North Carolina. This hegemony has led casual fans and, yes, even texting coaches to infer something like the following:
Great. Want to put up a lot of shots? Be a storied program with six national titles and incredible athletes who form possibly the best offensive rebounding collective in the history of the sport. Hey, thanks, John! I’ll be sure to put that on my whiteboard tomorrow!
O, how the mighty have fallen….
Shot volume index (SVI)
Turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage, and shot volume
Major-conference games only, through January 27
TO% OR% SVI
1. Virginia 13.0 30.0 101.6
2. Purdue 16.0 35.3 100.6
3. Tennessee 15.5 31.9 99.6
4. Arizona 15.3 31.1 99.5
5. Alabama 17.2 34.7 98.9
6. Duke 17.3 34.2 98.6
7. Baylor 19.4 39.9 98.6
The UNC legacy notwithstanding, getting more shots is about way more than just second chances. Actually, it’s mostly about first chances. You can’t get an offensive board if you’ve already committed a turnover. Continue reading
Where did Victor Oladipo’s 2013 came from? (Yes, this was a miss. Still.)
In the coming days I’ll post a piece at ESPN.com that purports to rank major-conference coaches on how well they’ve performed in terms of player development over the last eight years.
This might therefore be an appropriate moment to offer the following disclaimer: I’m not really sure to what extent, in the most literal and causal sense, coaches develop players.
More importantly, no one, to my knowledge, is sure on that score. I suppose what we mean by a seemingly benign and straightforward compound noun like “player development” is actually something more like “developing your players’ naturally increasing ability to score and prevent points even faster than opposing coaches do.” That’s quite different than young players merely improving measurable NBA combine-variety skills.
The analytic nut to be cracked is that all college players get better at combine-variety skills. These are athletes between the ages of 18 and 20-something, they’re going to improve naturally and at a fast rate. You did slash are doing so too at that age. Continue reading
There’s something to be said for combining a very low turnover rate with normal (or even below-average) offensive rebounding, a la Villanova. Conversely, other teams may be underperforming by four or even five points per game due to a sheer lack of scoring chances. (Bill Streicher, USA Today Sports)
Over the past couple years, I’ve started wondering whether the manner in which our brains are hard-wired is conspiring with the inherent nature of basketball to keep us from recognizing how important it is to generate a lot of shot attempts.
Consider the Premier League. A proper appreciation of shots that had a chance to go in but didn’t for Arsenal or Chelsea constitutes a rudimentary level of “well, duh” analysis. In that setting, shots on goal are a really big deal. They’re tracked closely and dissected individually by the studio talent after the match.
In basketball, however, attempted shots are the fabric of the game itself. Attempts in this sport are numerous, unremarkable in isolation, and, indeed, most of them (56 percent, give or take) are misses. Shots that don’t go in aren’t exciting visually, they’re never featured in highlights, and each miss represents a failure, of sorts. Continue reading
Villanova has succeeded to a degree that is seen in post-Wooden college basketball only once every decade or so, and that success, of course, comes with some very serious role-model responsibilities.
There’s just one problem. Holding up the Wildcats as a paragon of How to Win in 2018 and Beyond turns out to be more easily proclaimed than promulgated. It’s difficult if not impossible to find any discretionary schematic, stylistic, and/or demographic characteristic wherein Jay Wright’s men rate out as No. 1 the way they so clearly do in terms of bottom-line results.
Take the scheme on offense. Villanova has indeed performed remarkable feats using it, and, in the 2018 afterglow, this usage is being depicted as decade-plus-long reign of laudable (if not mandatory) NBA awareness, one dating all the way back to the four-guard Wildcat lineup that reached the 2006 Elite Eight.
Those memories aren’t incorrect so much as incomplete. For, in the early years of this decade, the Wildcats consistently ranked outside the top 100 nationally for three-point attempts and, on occasion, put paint-shooting-only 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-11 types at both the 4 and the 5 spots. All it got Nova in between 2011 and 2013 was a 54-45 record and zero NCAA tournament wins. Going small has clearly been the correct choice for Wright, but his is far from the only small-ball team in Division I. Continue reading
Mark Jackson, three-point forefather. Yes, Mark Jackson. (Photo: Ray Chavez)
Today at ESPN.com, you’ll find a good many words in two pieces on the three-point shot written by Myron Medcalf and yours truly, respectively.
It’s a good topic upon which to lavish a good many words. You can make a case that the rapid increase in three-point attempts is the central performance story in the sport of college basketball over the last five years.
Here, in thumbnail form, is one possible version of how that story’s played out thus far, and what may lay ahead. Consider what follows as a conjectural narration of the three-point revolution’s origins, spread, and limits, delivered in handy pocket size.
Somewhere in the front offices of the late-1960s-era American Basketball Association (ABA), there resided a pioneering thinker who had the idea of resurrecting a novelty dating from (we think) the early-1960s-era American Basketball League. It seems unlikely in retrospect that said thinker could have had any idea of exactly what it was being unleashed. Continue reading
Last season, this offense made its shots and took outstanding care of the ball. What could possibly have gone wrong?
Years ago, when rebound percentages were still seen as newfangled, the first question I was ever asked by a Division I coach was what the best target numbers are for both offensive and defensive rebound rates. I don’t remember my response, though I would guess I delivered, as requested (I was thrilled simply to have had my opinion solicited), two numbers spelling out what the team “should” be doing.
I now think that was a mistake. True, thanks to Dean Oliver, we know that the four factors in basketball are shooting, turnovers, rebounds, and free throws, and we rank offenses and defenses on each of those metrics.
But of late, however unconsciously, I find I no longer regard all of the factors as a must-watch sequence in and of itself. Instead, I’ve elevated shooting to a co-starring role above the title in this movie we call hoops.
Furthermore, I’ve collapsed turnovers and offensive rebounds into one quantity and elevated that into the other co-starring role, one I call shot volume. (In this two-factor amalgam, offensive rebounding is clearly the junior — or at least downstream — partner.) And, for better or worse, I now regard free throws as an occasionally dispositive but basically exogenous event, kind of like a power outage or visiting relatives. Continue reading
Masters of the SVI genre. (AP)
For the time being I’m taking what I’ll call a shot volume index out for a test drive to see if it can be of any use. The SVI can be thought of as the number of shot attempts a team would record in 100 offensive possessions with average shooting accuracy (determined collectively by 75 teams in major-conference play in 2016), and, most improbably, zero free throws.
I need hardly add that I’m far from the first observer to look at and measure this aspect of the game. Consider this merely one more dish at the buffet.
Last February when I was juggling Tuesday Truths and other stuff, I whipped up a little shot volume casserole in the microwave, and it was, I trust, passable. But with a bit more time to prepare, I’ve come to prefer the slow-cooked SVI and its fair degree of accuracy in predicting how many points your team will score. Also, allow me to extend a big thank you to Svi Mykhailiuk at Kansas for cheerfully loaning his name to this undertaking.
Great offensive rebounding teams that commit a turnover before they attempt a shot don’t get a chance to display their greatness. Conversely teams that excel at taking care of the ball but place a transition-D-focused ban on offensive boards see their shot volumes suffer relative to competitors with identical or even significantly higher turnover rates. The SVI proudly carries this brand of sequential flow-charting horse sense in its DNA. Continue reading