A week ago I was asked to rack my brain about the conference’s favorite newcomers. I answered with Gary Payton’s son, GP2. Other answers to the RTC Burning Q included Jakob Poeltl and Kevon Looney. Great responses. But noticeably missing was Washington’s Robert Upshaw and so I’m here now to note Upshaw’s newcomer significance and exactly what’s going on in Seatlle. The LoRo Revival, their newcomer defense.
Ranked for the first time since 2011 and since they weren’t invited to the 2012 NCAA tournament, Washington is good. But maybe it almost wasn’t.
Following another disappointing season, Romar maintained that he was “unsure” whether Upshaw would be a member of Washington’s basketball team. The school never released anything about that uncertainty. As late as August, despite participating in team activities, Romar still was never specific about Upshaw’s status. When word finally was made seemingly official, Romar never commented. It was mid-September and Washington finally had an answer as to whether or not they’d have Robert Upshaw on the team. The question remained, however, did they have a center?
As it were, they do! Upshaw has been fantastic. Offensively, he’s a scoring threat on the block that classically opens things up for the wings and guards. For the center of a high-post offense (where he gets the ball on the elbow and is asked to make decisions) he has the second lowest turnover rate on the team (ASIDE: The lowest on the team is Shawn Kemp Jr who is amidst a renaissance of his own. To have your two least turnover prone players be the two players you’re entrusting to initiate the offense – aside from Nigel Williams-Goss of course – is a tremendous asset). Offensively, he’s been more, if not better, than expected. Which is a really basic way of saying HELL YEAH I’LL TAKE 11 AND 7 FROM A FOOTER.
But the transformative stuff – the kind of stuff that has Washington ranked and undefeated – has been on the defensive side of the ball. Upshaw is blocking 4.8 shots per game or one in every five opponents’ shots. In Pac-12 parlance, that’s Bachynskian. In national parlance, that’s tops by nearly an entire shot per game.
But what does it all mean?
Last year was the worst Lorenzo Romar defense he’s ever coached. Like nearly an entire 7 points per 100 possessions worse than any other LoRo team aside from his first. Bad. A major part of that was their inability to protect the rim. I studied the whole thing, they were miserable at limiting the games easiest shots to be taken and to be made:
350th: 72% FG% at the rim
126th: 34.9 % shots at the rim
To translate those numbers, the latter notes that UW was an average team at limiting shots at the rim. The former tells us they were the second worst rim FG% team in the nation. They allowed a lot of easy buckets.
Enter Upshaw (and a healthy Jernard Jarreau and a senior Shawn Kemp Jr).
This year opponents are getting to the rim less often and missing more of their shots when they get there. Washington now ranks in the top-40 in both categories; just one season removed from being average and miserable, respectively.
39th – 28% of shots at the rim
37th – 49.7% opponent FG% at rim
Think about this. Washington is essentially the exact same team offensively. By offensive efficiencies, they ranked 63rd then and 65th now (110.4 vs 105.4 ORtg in a defensively oriented season). Their defense, however, is the best LoRo group since 2009. They rank favorably in the following:
4th – eFG% (one of the four factors)
6th – 2 FG% (rim stuff we just discussed)
7th – Block % (Robert + others)
13th – 3FG% (luck)
The last of the above stats (3FG% against) is one that can sometimes be offered up to luck. Washington teams have historically limited the number of three pointers taken – a recipe to 3FG% defensive success. Once again, this team is limiting threes, however, teams are hitting at a historic low. Just 26.6% of threes taken against Washington are falling – the seventh lowest rate in the nation. In evaluating defensive efficiencies, forcing missed threes is favorable.
And when you’ve got Robert Upshaw disrupting the rest of the shots taken, you’re bound to have not only an improved defense, if not a revival.
The LoRo Revival.