The Arizona Wildcats are a very good rebounding team.
I’ve lauded it and you’ve heard about it and pretty soon teams across the Pac-12 are going to experience that front court. It’s big and strong and imposing. Their offense is deliberately run to utilize that strength. Arizona is taking 74% of their shots from inside the arc. A significant change from last season’s 62.5%.
And back to the original point, they rebound the hell out of the basketball. They limit opponents to the the twelfth fewest offensive boards (meaning they clean the defensive glass) and grab offensive boards like corporate cookies out of a holiday gift basket. It’s December 18, you know what I’m talking about.
And who doesn’t love offensive boards (I’m impartial to the corporate cookies)? I mean, I often cite them as amongst the most frustrating plays in sports (along with the four pitch walk, double fault, and seven-ten split) but that just shows how incredible they are for the benefactor. Benefit and you love it. They are an extra possession that often results in easy buckets. Hooray easy buckets!
But Arizona isn’t making it easy on themselves.
Or maybe I didn’t say that right. They’re doing their darndest to make things easy on themselves, grabbing 43.3% of the shots they miss, but that’s where the ease stops. Anecdotally, we watched as the Wildcats missed seemingly countless second chance layups inside the Crisler Center as Michigan built their first-half-and-beyond lead:
Missed layups is a sustainable defense for only so long
— Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) December 14, 2013
The ‘Cats were getting the looks they presumably wanted but weren’t hitting. The same seemed to be happening a week prior against UNLV and so analysis seemed necessary. I’m all for perception being reality but if you have the data to back it up then you have a problem. Or at least a story. I like stories.
So I set out to tell the story of Arizona’s putback offense. Trusty hoop-math was consulted but Jeff doesn’t rank teams by their putting back abilities. So I headed over to KenPom and sorted for the top-10 OR% teams and then back to hoop-math for their accompanying eFG% on putbacks. The raw data:
Now let me say this first: This is incomplete research. Or rather I could’ve dove deeper and drawn up the numbers for 351 teams to better understand the trends around offensive rebounds and putbacks but PacHoops has a limited time, financial, and give-a-shit-about-Alcorn-State’s-offensive-fingerprint budget so I settled on ten. My apologies dataheads.
So per this sheet, the average top-10 OR% team has an eFG% of 52.2%. Arizona joins this group as the the third worst amongst the O-boarders in this eFG category: 43.1%. That’s bad. What’s more is the Wildcats are an average team at getting to the free throw line (rank 151 in the nation) to suggest they’re not even converting these extra attempts into free tosses. Look at Kentucky: they’re converting their extra possessions into quick buckets (67.6% eFG shooting is good) and they’re second in the nation in FTRate (62.9%).
So what could all of this mean for Arizona? I have a few thoughts.
First, Arizona takes a very low percentage of three pointers. Just 26.2% of their offense is from deep. Because of such, teams are less inclined to defend against that shot and could fill the lane. As Wildcats aren’t spending much time on the perimeter, they’re moving into the lane where they’re taking the bulk of their offense and grabbing anything they miss (we’ve covered that). So if the defense isn’t focused on defending the three and is filling the lane, Arizona, as a superior rebounding team, is obtaining their rebounds amongst more congestion than the average offensive rebound. These clusterboards would then lead to more contested putbacks which tend to be more difficult shots to hit, in effect lowering the team’s eFG% on putbacks.
Not the case.
This was quickly disproved by finding that just about each of those top-10 teams – whether hitting at a high putback clip or otherwise – was shooting a pretty low percentage of threes (average: 26.65% 3PA). Arizona was in the lower half of distance chuckers but it seems moot nonetheless. I understand that I’m dealing with a light sample set here, but this seemed to significantly suggest that Arizona might simply be missing putbacks.
The second thought was to explore that Arizona is simply a fantastic rebounding team and not fantastic at the subsequent plays. Firstly, there’s no denying this team their distinction as great rebounders. They’re second in the nation in rebounding margin at +14.2 and everything else I’ve already said (#2 OR%, #12 defensive OR%). But if they’re missing all these putbacks, maybe they’re just diluting their offensive rebound numbers? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but Arizona had 11 putback attempts against Michigan and the Wildcats made one. They had 17 offensive boards for the game. It’s strange considering this team has a top-50 eFG and doesn’t even shoot that many threes (key component of that equation).
As stated in the opening, the Wildcats run things deliberately on the offensive end which has essentially allowed them to be effective seemingly everywhere but on these putbacks. I’ve chosen to focus on there mostly because it just seems that Arizona has struggled with them. And now the numbers support such. By no means, however, am I going to argue that Arizona is doing a poor job of really anything. They’re setting themselves up for success and thus far they’ve been quite successful (11-0, #1 ranking, title contenders).
But what we’ve perhaps learned here today is that the Wildcats are leaving points on the board. That the number one team in the nation isn’t converting at a level they could on what tends to be a pretty easy shot to convert. Like my tweet above states, teams can only bank so long on Arizona missing shots from close in.
The good can only get better.
5 thoughts on “Wildcats Grabbing Boards and Missing Layups: OR% and Putbacks”
Interesting analysis. My buddy is a big Duke fan, and he tells me Zeus is soft. He should go strong and take a hit, try to dunk more. I do think that the Cats settle for little hooks and tiny jumpers off the O-boards when a powerful attack might be more appropriate. Miller taught Derek Williams how to do it…
That’s an interesting perception from a Duke fan who I’m imagining has only seen Zeus play the once and that was a game in which he took the second most FTs of anyone on the floor (6-6). Zeus also leads the team in FTrate. You bring up a good point about powerful attack which might be supported in their low team FTrate (by low I mean average). Of note: Arizona has something like 60+ dunks on the season.
Alas, this is a great example of perception vs. reality and what on earth it really means to “play hard.” I wrote about that with regards to Utah (http://pachoops.com/2013/12/utah-is-playing-hard-and-is-9-1/).
I like how you work to use numbers to support your ideas. I hadn’t thought to check FTrate. It’s tricky with small sample size because you need some context. How do you know how many opportunities Zeus had to go strong? Would another more powerful and confident 7ft. tall finisher have gotten 10-12 FTs given the same situation? There aren’t a lot of those guys hanging around the NCAA game. Still, when I go to KenPom, I’ll be watching to see if the FTrate improves for Zeus.
Also, don’t get me wrong, I defended Zeus up and down after he said it. Called it sour grapes and such. But, since then, I’ve been watching Zeus with a different eye, to see if he could grow into a dynamic force inside.
The numbers are really interesting in this case. I also think we are on to a really interesting new subject: How to quantify soft? It’s essentially impossible but there’s a way to defend or otherwise these bigs. Furthermore, aren’t big men just so difficult to evaluate? They’re so young and – like baby giraffes – figuring out how on earth to work with all of their eighteen years of size.
I’m due to write my Marching to Vegas column for Rush the Court tonight and I’m going to expand on this. Good discussion. Thanks for initiating.