Tag Archives: Tony Woods

Defending the Game’s Easiest Shot: Pac-12 Rim Defense

I have a ubiquitously discussed fascination with shots at the rim. I want to know how teams make them and how teams stop them.

A week ago, in the midst of fan euphoria with the Wildcats in the Bay, I went in on Stanford’s #TreeDunk. The silly video lauded the Cardinal as dunking all over Wildcats. I took to the numbers and found that they actually spend very little time at the rim and that’s fine.

What I neglected to address – and I had no qualms about it then – is rim defense. So this week I will.

Defenses are constructed in many ways with lots of different philosophies on how they’re going to keep you from scoring. We can look at UCLA for example. Here’s a team playing significant amounts of zone this season, packing into the lane to compensate for size and athleticism issues. They’re effectively defending by forcing teams to shoot threes. Against the Bruins, 42.3% of shots are from distance (that’s 7th most in the nation). Conversely, Sean Miller’s pack line defense is engineered to limit threes, allowing just 26.9% of shots from deep (23rd lowest in the nation).

But forget about three point defense. You can read about it here and learn a lot.

Defending the rim is interesting because it is so often associated with the blocked shot. It’s the big men blocking the shots and it’s the big men living in the paint. If such is our belief system, we’d be led to think that the Bachynski Devils are the best rim protecting team in the conference – if not nation! After all, the big Canadian leads everyone with 4.1 blocks per game and the Devils subsequently lead the conference in block percentage (a look at blocks per 2-point FG attempts). Here’s how that breaks down for the Pac:

Pac-12 Block PercentagesIndeed, with Bachynski swatting shots away, the Devils have the highest rate in the conference. Walking our way further down the list we find that the conference’s second leading shot blocker, Omar Oraby, anchors the eighth best shot blocking team (by percentage). But as these are both big men, we can examine things a little closer to the home of this discussion. The percentage of shots at the rim a given team is blocking:

Blocked at rim PercentPerhaps not-surprisingly, this chart demonstrates that some of the more front court adept teams do a better job of blocking shots at the rim. This makes sense as Washington is devoid a significant post presence whereas teams like ASU, OSU, and USC have some significant size down low (you realize Omar Oraby is 7’2″). This further suggests that perhaps Washington’s rim defense is not predicated on shot blocking (though to say anything of Washington’s defense this season is a leap). Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to shot blocking, but it can’t hurt.

Of course noting one stat of a single talent (Bachynski, Oraby) won’t tell us much about the whole. Neither does the lone stat. To note that ASU and Utah sit atop the conference in block percentages is really just to say…well…that they lead the conference in that stat. What if teams were making every other shot? You block a few but they make the rest? I suppose we could look at that too then, couldn’t we. An examination of each Pac-12 team’s defensive field goal percentage at the rim:

Pac-12 dFG% at the Rim Leading the way here is USC. The same team we previously saw sitting in eighth place in block percentage and third in block percentage at the rim. Meanwhile, Colorado is in second with just the seventh best block percentage overall and at the rim. Next is Cal who ranked sixth in both block percentages and, in some regard, we’re starting to see an inverse relationship. I don’t believe this to be statistically relevant but I do think that this is an indicator that just because you’re blocking shots, doesn’t mean people aren’t making other attempts. Our presumed block leaders, ASU and Utah, are in the middle of the pack, yielding pretty average FG percentages.

Washington sits at the bottom of both lists and I’m willing to leave that discussion there. The interesting fact here is that Arizona – they of the nation’s top defense – allow teams to shoot a gaudy 65.6% at the rim (316th nationally). The average team shoots 60.9%. It would seem the Wildcats are amongst the worst rim defenders in the country.

NotSoFastBecause what if Arizona just didn’t let teams take shots at the rim? Thus far we’ve noted teams that dismiss shots around the rim (presumably) and teams that affect missing at the rim (dFG%), but what about limiting shot attempts? As we noted earlier re: three-point shooting, teams can be constructed to limit a certain shot. With regards to the close parameter shots, this might be a good strategy. Shall we gander at the teams limiting these chances? We shall:

Pac-12 % of shots at rim defenseHOLY PACK LINE DEFENSE the Wildcats don’t let anyone get near the iron! That percentage leads the nation and handily leads the conference. But with regards to whether or not they defend the rim well, can we simply anoint them the Sworn Brother’s of the Rim’s Watch? Probably, but I’m not entirely satisfied. What do we know about Stanford’s rim protection – the team I dogged for not taking shots at the rim and who led this article? They allow 32% of shots up close while the average team is taking 38.3%. Not too shabby while also ranking fourth in dFG% at the rim. Meanwhile, Colorado ranks near the bottom of the twelve at 36.7% of shots at the rim, flirting with average. However, they nearly lead the conference in dFG% against. Are you seeing a pattern? I’m not.

So what I did was find the total number of field goal attempts each team has yielded and multiplied it by the team’s percentage of field goals at the rim. This led to the gross number of shots at the rim and was then multiplied by the field goal percentage at the rim. Those numbers crunched yields us the gross number of made field goals at the rim. And that was the number I wanted – or at least thought I wanted. If teams aren’t making shots at the rim, then you’re protecting it, right? This factors both affecting misses and limiting chances. Here’s what it looks like – I mean all of it:

Pac-12 Rim Defenses not final

Once again, however, not so fast my friend!  I have one final chart for us (and then I’ll show one more). The above offers gross data and if I’m being completely honest I think I just wanted you to see all of it. The factor we’re not accounting for is defense. Teams play at different paces, putting up more or less shots and subsequently their opponents doing similarly. USC, for example, appears to have the resume of a good rim defending team when looking at % shots allowed and dFG%. But they’re also the third fastest team in the conference behind UCLA and Oregon and are subsequently yielding 12 dunks or layups a night – third most in the conference. So let’s divide the above columns 2 and 3 to get our rim defense rankings:

Pac-12 Rim DefendersBy finding the ratio of rim makes to total field goal attempts on defense, I believe we’re looking at the defense as a collective. After all, the goal of a defense is to prevent the other team from scoring and the other team scores by taking shots. That’s what is represented in the denominator. The numerator in this case (field goals made at the rim) represents the number of easy buckets yielded. In short: As a fraction of total defense, how much are you giving up at the game’s easiest success point?

If you’re Washington, it means that one quarter of all shots taken against you are worth two points from very close to the rim. That’s not good. Conversely, Arizona allows just 12.07% of the shots against them to be successfully laid or dunked in. I wish I had national context to these numbers but I don’t have the bandwidth right now. If you want more, email me and we can talk.

In bringing things full circle, Jordan Bachynski is going to set both the school and conference blocked shot records. He is a factor in protecting the rim as are all great shot blockers. That’s an important and helpful asset to the game. But like everything else, there is no Bachynski in team. Its appears the defensive collective – if not strategy – can often protect the hallowed area. Of course with this information, we can further our understanding of a team’s defensive strategy which would take a team by team analysis. But that’s for another post so just know that Oregon severely misses Arsalan Kazemi and Tony Woods.

But one final chart. This time with no numbers, just color coordination so we can see how all of this adds up across the factors we examined and the mishmash of strategies used to protect (or otherwise) the rim:

Rim Defense Collective

NOTE: All data and stats for this piece were obtained from Kenpom.com, hoop-math.com, and basketball-reference.com.

Arizona and Oregon Still Dancing: Advance Factors

The last remaining Pac-12 squads in the NCAA tournament face steep challenges. For the Ducks, they’ve drawn the Dance’s number one overall seed and the toughest press this side of Gutenberg. In the West bracket, the Wildcats will face the Ohio State Buckeyes and their athletic set of wings and a scrappy point guard.

So how can these two squeak by? How can Oregon get to their first Elite Eight since 2007 (subsequently this is their first Sweet 16 since then, too)? What’s it going to take for Arizona to advance?

The advance factors:

The Obvious

  • Oregon – Dominic Artis and Johnathan Loyd are the team’s primary ball handlers. They man the ship for the nation’s 83rd most turnover prone team (21.5% TO%). That’s not good and as we mentioned, Louisville has a press which not coincidentally is at the root of the word “pressure.” They put heaps and loads of it on guards. And teams. The Cardinals are second in the country in defensive TO% (28%). You realize this means their opponent yields nearly 1/3 of their possessions to the Cardinals? That’s like having your team manager stand outside a restaurant bathroom and watch guard while you… well wait… it’s nothing like that. But the point is, Artis and Loyd are preparing for the toughest test of their season. This undersized tandem will have their hands and faces full of pressure. Dealing with it and taking care of the rock will go a long way in advancing the Ducks.
  • Arizona – As it’s been a season long dialogue, Mark Lyons is the obvious X-Factor for the Wildcats. I wrote about it for Point Guard U this week and now allow me to quote Chris Dufresne’s LA Times piece on the semi-PG:

    The truth is, Arizona will win this year’s NCAA title if senior guard Mark Lyons plays the way he played last weekend in Salt Lake City.

By that hyperbolic (though I love it) account, I think it’s fair to call Lyons an X-factor.   And just to recount, “last weekend in Salt Lake City” means 50points, 63% shooting, and just 4 turnovers.

The Subtles

  • Oregon – Maybe this one is obvious in that I’m about to make a total pun but subtly very important to the Ducks’ success will be their wings (see what we did there? so much giggling right now). And by wings I’m looking at Daymean Dotson and Carlos Emory. In his first big dance, Dotson has scored 40 points on 54% shooting and is 8-15 from deep. For a team that struggles to shoot the three, the emergence of a greater-than-50% shooter is nice, to put it subtly. And in his swan song, the senior Emory has gone ahead and become great energy off the bench and spent his upset minded first weekend dropping a combined 26 points and grabbing 13 boards. The Duck Wings (decidedly I’m hoping this catches on) combined for 66 points. Stay hot my friends.
  • Arizona – While we may have overwhelming memories of the cardinal and navy putting up gaudy offensive numbers, the core of the current team and current philosophy is tough defense. That tenant was lost for some portion of the season and then it reemerged in contagious fashion as Nick Johnson has reestablished himself as the defensive stopper Sean Miller lauded him to be. Thad Matta and others are taking note, too. It is yet to be determined what assignment Johnson will draw but the tone is set: Defense will win games for these Wildcats (unless you ask Dufresne, above). The Buckeyes pose no mega, collective threat offensively as the core of their success lies on the defensive end, too. Can Johnson be the more disruptive force?

Under the Radars

  • Oregon – These Ducks are pretty damn big. With a starting front court of Woods and Kazemi they’ve managed to be one of the better rebounding teams in the nation. And after those two they trot out the likes of Waverly Austin (6’11”) and Ben Carter (6’8″). It’s been this rebounding edge that I believe has allowed the Ducks to overcome their proclivity for turnovers. DYK the Ducks are one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the nation (36% OR%)? DYK the Cardinals are one of the not so good defensive rebounding teams in the nation (yield a 33% OR%)? Now, I should note that the Cardinals manage to rebound the hell out of the offensive end (38.5%), a byproduct of their full court pressure. But this advantage could be negated by Oregon’s size and rebounding. The rebounding battle (looking at you Iranian Mound of Rebound) should prove central.
  • Arizona – The crop of freshmen have been lauded since forever. As the names said “yes” to Sean Miller last summer the fable grew. And then the season began and they were….freshmen. They’re the only top-10 recruits still playing which is a moderately fun fact but what they provide is something Ohio State just may not be able to handle: size. These kids are huge which the Buckeyes are not. Now size itself is not the answer (too many jokes to be made here) but just as Dotson/Emory have caught fire in the Dance, so too have these pups. Excluding Jerrett from Saturday’s win over Harvard in which he played just one minute after injuring his now completely healthy elbow, this triumvirate (and one game tandem) has put up a combined for 35 points, 36 boards; or 7/7.2 in just 21.4 minutes. They’ve been the difference makers on the glass and in the lane and will need to continue to do so against the undersized and less-than-stellar rebounding Bucks.

Survive.

And advance.

The Dancing Oregon Ducks

So the team that wins the Pac-12 Tournament garnered a twelve seed. This was immediately reacted to with moderate outrage and addressed by Mike Bobinski on the CBS Selection Show. Look, I understand that the committee’s job is tough and generally see little reason to get too upset at their work. Especially if they can provide a rational explanation. So I was willing to give Bobinski a pass if he had good reason. But this was his thoughts about Oregon as a twelve, “We had evaluated their entire season’s worth of work as belonging somewhere in that eleven range.” I can’t get behind that and I know if you’re a Duck you can’t either. I saw this team beat Arizona, UNLV, and handle UCLA twice. Four wins does not a season make but those four teams are seeded 6, 5, and 6 and the Ducks (just like Ohio State) had just won their conference tournament. Where’s the reward? Alas, the thing I keep coming back to is who’s more pissed off? Is it Oregon for getting the poor and “disrespectful” seeding? Or is it their first round opponent, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who now have to travel to San Jose and play the angry Ducks?

Side note: Lotta points to be scored should this have been a football game.

Why I like them: This team plays their roles remarkably well and is committed to Dana Altman’s system. I love their depth and the complete roster of players and athletes Altman artfully substitutes. They defend and rebound tremendously well which bodes well come tournament time (see: Vegas, Las). They rank 16th in defensive efficiency nationally.

Why I don’t like them: Ain’t got no shooters! Their eFG% is right around average (49.1% vs 48.6%) and their three point shooting (for better or worse a key to winning this month) is…poor at best. They shoot just 32% from distance. Additionally, the fact that they’re turnover-prone does not help any offensive woes they might encounter.

Poetic Justice: EJ Singler has been the rock of this program and played in every other tournament this glorious month offers. He’s played in the CBI and NIT and now, for the first time in his career he’ll play in the Big One. We’ve already discussed how the program’s season was slighted but wouldn’t it be exciting to see the Ducks win a few for this guy? Or better yet, because of this guy? He’s putting up 15/5/2 over the Ducks’ last four games (including their P12 tournament run) and they could certainly benefit if the native Oregonian could stay hot.

Best Possible Scenario: EJ indeed stays hot and Daymean Dotson does the same, giving the Ducks a shooting threat alongside tournament MVP, Johnathan Loyd. Between this trifecta the offense manages enough muster while Kazemi throttles Le’Bryan Nash and a now game tested and completely healthy, Dominic Artis, gives Marcus Smart fits. The Cowboys aren’t hitting and Oregon takes advantage of their inability to board. The Ducks win this practical home game and semi-host the fourth seeded – and tough – St. Louis Billikens in what would turn into a hard-nosed, grind of a game. Which of course let’s us believe anything can happen. The Ducks match the Billikens in defensive intensity and take care of the rock, winning on a late Singler runner, 58-56. With the Ducks headed to the Sweet 16, Phil Knight buys out the arena and the entire student body is invited to Indianapolis for the Oregon-Lousiville game. Unfortunately the Louisville press is too much for these turnover prone Ducks, ending their season. Though Oregon wins the Nike-Adidas aesthetic game.

The Mighty Fall While the Mighty of Size Struggle

Well we certainly never thought Nick Johnson was an elite ball handler and so when he entered a brace of Ducks (yes, that’s officially what you call a group of ducks) with a chance to win or tie a game late for the fourth time this season, he couldn’t.

And that’s OK. It’s by no means the crowning moment of defeat. The Wildcats did little beyond show up to try to win that game. While saying such has a tinge of sour grapes, it’s hard to say the fourth ranked team in the country did their thing and got beat at it when good chunks of the game were spent gazing at a 2-3 zone. But credit where it’s due. The Ducks were the one’s playing that zone and playing it actively; allowing it to be anchored by the Woods and Austin, the two of whom possess length to rival Interstate-10. Impressive to say the least.

And for all my senior bravado speak let’s discuss EJ Singler. Conference play has begun and the senior is going for 15/8/4 across two games. For sweet cliche’s sake, he’s stepped up, risen to the challenge, and he’s come to play. I respect that.

But perhaps the most interesting part about that game was that Oregon showed no fear of the Wildcats. Arizona came out with a haymaker, an 11-0 run with equal parts defensive and laser efficient shooting and all appeared well for the Red Team. A Dana Altman timeout sought to cool the run only to have Waverly Austin turn the ball over leading to a Lyons layup. And then the Ducks rattled off 41-19 punishment which won them the game. Quarter by quarter, if you will, the game scores were 22-20, 8-21, 20-19, and 16-10. Arizona beat the Ducks in each of those except in that critical second quarter during which Oregon was flat out the better team.

I made a note that Arizona allows just 23% of the field goals they yield to be at the rim. While I don’t have the exact stats regarding shots at the rim for the Ducks Thursday night, I do know that their three contributing bigs (Waverly, Woods, Kazemi) combined for 22 points and 14 rebounds. Arizona’s three biggens? 7/11. Generally not a recipe for victory.

Last week Miller made no bones about the fact that Ashley, Tarczewski, and Jerrett need to improve. For Arizona to compete for the things they want to compete for, they must.

And there was a moment last night that I thought sort of captured the way of these freshmen. Mark Lyons made a good move to get into the belly of the zone and was driving across the lane. He’d previously been blocked seemingly countless times and had come to learn his lesson. He drew and handful of defenders and the zone bust appeared to be coming into full effect. There was the for Jerrett to have the ball delivered to him on a platter for a two handed flush or at least to draw a foul or do something really tight that no body even knows of. Whatever he was to do, he was not supposed to drift to the three point line.

The ball wound up amongst the beautiful Oregon cheerleaders and not in Grant’s hands. On the television we could see Lyons’ frustration as he explained to the 6’11” jump shooter that he needs to be a 6’11” force. Because he can. And will.

This is a part of the learning curve. It’s no secret Arizona’s recipe involves savvy vets playing well and some talented pups to just play. When the latter half of that equation makes its leap – not even a leap to great but to anything-better-than-7-points-and-11-boards – this will be a frightening team. Hell, they’re 14-1 with question marks abound.

And while that first loss tastes bitter, the best palate cleanse is to learn.

Multiple Reasons for Optimism in Matt Court

The Oregon Ducks head into Dana Altman Year Three with some optimistic pieces. Perhaps the most intriguing of which is not yet on their team. (See item 5 after reading 1-4 and then read numbers 6 and 7).

  1. Uncle Phil – Duh.
  2. Goldie Locks – Look, he cut them off and I can’t get over that but I’ll have to. I also can’t get over the fact that a lot of this squads success lies squarely on the shoulders of EJ Singler. That’s probably a good thing. He’s a returning All-Conference performer and, traditionally, seniors are awesome.
  3. Woods – No, I’m not talking about the floor which is grossly distracting on a non-HD broadcast (see ya FSN). I want to ask: What if 6’11” Tony Woods figures it out? He’s got oodles of potential, maybe this is the year he breaks out?
  4. Football
  5. Fingers Crossed – Oh man does this squad want Arsalan Kazemi to be cleared by the NCAA. The dude was a 12/10 producer (that’s a double-double if you’re counting at home) and there were talks of a C-USA POY candidacy. He’s also the first Iranian born D-1 hooper. Nice little resume this guy’s built.
  6. Art Is – Yes, art is beautiful and so is Dominic Artis’ game. The freshman point has lead the Ducks in scoring in each of their exhibition games and will be looked upon to fill the voids of Garrett Sim and Devoe Joseph (I loved Devoe). His emergence will be critical to Duck success.
  7. Au Revoir – Lotta transfers out of Eugene in Dana’s first two years. Now that’s to be expected – to an extent – with coaching turnover but now’s the time to start getting serious. For sustained success, Oregon is going to have to build around those who stick around and fill in with some talented newcomers (see: Artis, Dominic). Rebuilding year-in-year-out is too difficult at the major level.