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:
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.