Hoop Vision Weekly: We Are Marshall (6/30/19)

Why Dan D'Antoni's "damn analytics story" is incomplete

Welcome back to the Hoop Vision Weekly!

This week, we’ll build off of the offensive scheme analysis from last week’s newsletter. If you haven’t already, give that a read. Or for the TLDR version, familiarize yourself with the main chart from that one.

But first, Brad Underwood’s “Spread” offense got the Twitter thread treatment earlier this week. Follow along belong for a newsletter-exclusive bonus video.

The Triangle Offense, but with better branding

Brad Underwood’s offense isn’t a carbon copy of Tex Winter’s Triangle Offense, but there are similarities. At its essence, the offense features the following continuity:

  • First cut

  • Second cut

  • Pinch post

The two cuts create the strong side triangle spacing. And if both stall out, the ball is reversed to the weakside for the same pinch post action we saw Phil Jackson use with the Bulls, Lakers, and Knicks.

Underwood’s version of the offense is known as the Spread, which is somewhat ironic given the Triangle has been criticized in recent seasons for poor spacing. The pinch post action, after all, takes place in long two territory.

That preferable branding has likely excused Underwood (and Dana Altman - another high major coach that employs the Spread with some frequency) from criticism over the years, but so have the results.

Underwood had a very solid run in offensive efficiency in three seasons at Stephen F. Austin (finishing first in the Southland in PPP all three years) and then followed that up by leading the entire country in adjusted offensive efficiency at Oklahoma State.

Underwood’s first two years at Illinois, however, have not gone as planned.

If you were building an offense entirely from scratch in 2019, there are certain elements of the Spread (or Triangle) you would likely avoid. But the fact that it was the #1 ranked offense in the country just three years ago makes it an interesting topic of conversation.

The Twitter thread embedded above covers the first cut, second cut, pinch post, and a separate dribble entry option.

Below is a newsletter exclusive which shows another Spread option: Entry directly to the 5-man. Which, as you’ll see in the video, has been run differently at Illinois compared to Oklahoma State.

Visualizing the Princeton (Again)

If you find a center with a very high assist rate, there’s a good chance that he’s playing in a Princeton offense.

It’s not a definitive rule (see Ethan Happ), but a strong rule nonetheless. Of the 266 coaches we have positional assist rates for, the top four are all Princeton coaches: Joe Scott, Bill Carmody, Chris Mooney, and John Thompson III.

Is Motion a Good Thing?

Last week, we looked at some of the extreme offensive schemes:

  • Princeton-style (basket cuts): Holy Cross, Canisius, Richmond

  • Motion-style (off-ball screens): Kennesaw State, Virginia, Wofford

  • Space-only: Villanova, UNC Asheville, Saint Mary’s

This week, let’s combine the first two categories together in an attempt to best quantify off-ball motion.

Here’s the correlation between off-ball motion and both offensive tempo and offensive efficiency:

There was essentially no correlation between efficiency and motion in 2019, but the tempo and motion graph is a little more interesting. Space-only teams (like Villanova) were all over the map in terms of average possession length - some were fast, some were slow. But the most extreme motion teams (Virginia, Holy Cross, etc.) do tend to have longer possession lengths.

Another Candidate for the “Houston Rockets of College Basketball”

I missed a very obvious candidate last week for the NCAA version of the Rockets: Marshall.

The Thundering Herd are of course coached by Mike D’Antoni’s brother Dan - famous for his “damn analytics story”.

Like the Rockets, Marshall has great spacing and minimal off-ball movement. Jon Elmore even had some (emphasis on some) James Harden tendencies running the offense. The most notable similarity being his stepback three-point jumper.

Marshall runs a lot of both spread and step-up ball screens and is more than willing to let it fly from three.

They have the look of a modern NBA team. They also broke through in 2018 with an NCAA tournament win over Wichita State. Yet they’ve never even finished in the top 100 in KenPom.

Look, there’s a lot of truth to D’Antoni’s analytics rant about shot selection. Minimizing post-ups and mid-range jumpers in favor of threes and free throw attempts will (all else equal) drive offensive efficiency in the right direction.

But there’s a very important distinction to be made here.

The D’Antoni analytics rant (and the pace-and-space philosophy in general) has a somewhat incomplete goal: Maximizing effective field goal percentage.

D’Antoni’s teams have finished top 50 in eFG% three times. The analytics-inspired philosophy has worked.

But the goal isn’t just to maximize effective field goal percentage, it’s to maximize net efficiency. At the college level, it’s not an easy task to find players well-suited for pace-and-space while not compromising defense and rebounding.

Marshall’s offensive rebounding percentage ranks under D’Antoni:

  • 2015: #273

  • 2016: #273

  • 2017: #309

  • 2018: #326

  • 2019: #325

Marshall adjusted defensive efficiency ranks under D’Antoni:

  • 2015: #169

  • 2016: #260

  • 2017: #273

  • 2018: #126

  • 2019: #213

The poor offensive rebounding is likely somewhat by choice, but it’s also by scheme. Spread offenses have players positioned further away from a potential rebound when shots go up.

Again, the math is on your side for marginally eliminating post-ups and mid-ranges from your offense. But if those same players posting up or shooting mid-range jumpers are improving offensive efficiency by crashing the glass or improving defensive efficiency by protecting rim, then the sub-optimal effective field goal percentage might actually be a net positive.


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