What can we learn from Opening Night?
Plus: is this year's Duke team just another version of 2019's?
After a long off-season, college basketball is back!
Earlier this week, we released our final offseason YouTube video: The Team That Doesn’t Dribble. Now with the season officially underway, we are bringing our focus back to the Hoop Vision newsletter.
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The only team on opening night without a single point off of a spot-up.
There have been 318 Division I teams tracked by Synergy Sports so far in the young season. On average, those teams have 18.7 points per game off of spot-up shooting.
However, just one of those 318 has not scored a single point via the spot-up: Duke.
The Blue Devils were impressive against Kentucky, paced by freshman standouts Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels. The duo combined to go 16-for-22 on two-pointers. But from beyond the arc, Duke went just 1-for-13. The lone three-pointer came off the dribble on a Trevor Keels isolation.
Of course, it’s just one game. Which begs the question…
What can one game tell us about three-point shooting?
In an individual game, three-point shooting is prone to a high degree of variance. In other words, Duke’s poor performance from three (8% 3PT) against Kentucky doesn’t give us much information about how well — or poorly — they might shoot it the rest of the season.
Ignore the eight-percent shooting performance for a moment. The Blue Devils only attempted 13 threes; that number may ultimately be the more telling figure.
In the graph on the left, the stat in question is three-point percentage. The x-axis is each team’s 3P% in their first game of the year during the 2020-21 season. The y-axis is each team’s season-long 3P% during the 2020-21 season.
As you can see, there is a very weak correlation (r = 0.20) between shooting percentage in the first game and the season-long average.
For three-point volume (3PA/FGA), the graph on the right shows a much stronger correlation (r = 0.52).
This is consistent with Nylon Calculus’ work on the subject. For the NBA, Krishna Narsu found that three-point percentage takes 26 games (about one-third of the season) to stabilize, while three-point volume takes just four games. When you compare the NBA’s 82-game schedule to Duke’s 31, there is reason to imagine this team may shoot far less than a typical Blue Devils squad.
Glass half full: Duke’s freshman were so good they didn’t need to pass to teammates spotting up.
Spot-up shooting — with ball handlers creating open jumper for teammates — is generally a result that an offense wants to produce.
That being said, it’s hard to argue with the results of Banchero and Keels against Kentucky. The freshmen excelled when playing in attack mode.
Banchero missed his first two-point attempt on the opening possession of the game, but then made his next seven — including this impressive fadeaway.
Meanwhile, Keels was outstanding as a straight-line driver to the basket. On the play below, Duke is in their Continuity Ball Screen set play. Keels simply just comes off the ball screen on the first side and powers his way to the hoop.
Duke only reversed the ball to the second side of the floor out of their Continuity Ball Screen set once on Tuesday.
With their personnel’s ability to attack one-on-one, this isn’t going to need to be a team that is moving the ball from side to side for 20 seconds each possession.
Glass half empty: Could this Duke team reach 2019 levels of (negative) gravity?
Duke’s 2019 offense was a fascinating basketball experiment.
On one hand, Duke had arguably the two best drivers in the country: Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. On the other hand, the team had (almost) no shooting.
It remains to be seen if a relatively similar dynamic could emerge this season. Not only will Duke need to continue to shoot poorly from three, but Banchero and Keels will need to continue to dominate with the ball in their hands to merit that defensive attention.
Kentucky tried sagging off of Duke’s bigs — Mark Williams and Theo John — but we’ll see if opponents decide to try similar strategies against Jeremy Roach and Wendell Moore.
This seems likely to be another “balanced” four factors Duke offense.
A year ago, we wrote about Duke and the four factors. That newsletter contained the following graphic:
The teams listed above ranked in the top 100 in all four of the offensive “four factors” — shooting, rebounding, turnovers, and free throws.
Since 2012, only 19 offenses have finished in the top 100 in all of the four factors; five of those instances have come from Duke.
Thanks to Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe corralling nearly every rebound in sight, Duke only grabbed 27% of their misses on Tuesday. But I suspect this will turn out to be an above-average (read: top 100) offensive rebounding team.
With Banchero and Keels’ abilities to generate shots — and to draw fouls — this Duke lineup appears poised to again have strong balance between the four factors.
If three-point shooting indeed winds up being a weakness for the Blue Devils, offensive rebounding and turnovers will prove even more crucial to their overall efficiency.
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