Fran-Graphs, 2010-11 Retrospecticus

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I thought I'd do one last Fran-graph as a way of reviewing the season and briefly talking about what the team will need to replace next year. This graph shows a few slightly esoteric (but useful) statistics that people use to describe how a basketball team plays: offensive/defensive efficiency, usage, effective field goal percentage (eFG%), offensive rebound percentage, and turnover rate. The numbers at the top are of course Iowa's regular season and Big 10 records.  The player stats are drawn from Ken Pomeroy's team page for Iowa, and the efficiency stats come from John Gasaway "Final Truths" column at Basketball Prospectus.

Offensive/defensive efficiency


This number, taken from Big 10 play only (because who really cares how well Iowa played SIU-Edwardsville), tells you how many points Iowa scored and gave up per 100 possessions. The nice thing about this is that it allows us to compare the Hawkeyes realistically to slow-paced teams like Wisconsin... the not so nice thing is that it allows us to compare Iowa realistically to good teams like Wisconsin. For comparison's sake, Wisconsin scored about 120 points per hundred possessions this past year (which placed them second in the country), while Iowa scored 98. So in an average paced game (~60 possessions), just the difference in offenses would put the Hawks about 13 points in the hole. And the picture is pretty bleak even when you compare Iowa to an average team in the Big 10: league average offensive efficiency is 107.3 points, and Iowa was the only team with a rating below 100. The offense this year was ... how to put this delicately ... craptastic.

The defense, on the other hand, was merely slightly below average (110 compared with the league average,107.3), and things seemed to be tightening up as the year went on. Iowa had some major size deficiencies this year (we regularly played a 6'7" "center" with a 6'7" "power forward") but managed to turn in some impressive defensive lockdowns in the last month of the season: holding Wisconsin to .98 points/possession in an overtime game and stifling Jordan Taylor along the way; holding Michigan State to .81 (!) points/possession and Kalin Lucas to 5/16 shooting; holding Purdue to .91 points/possession and E'Twaun Moore to 11 points. I can't say anything too sophisticated about why this happened, except that Iowa played less zone, Jarryd Cole worked his butt off, and Devyn Marble played more. One thing that makes me hopeful about next year, by the way, is the play of Marble on defense. His offensive game is still developing, but his defensive game is already pretty solid. He's fast enough to stay with quick guards on the perimeter, but also has long enough arms to contest shots. He could stand to get stronger, but the tools are there for him to be a strong presence in the defensive back-court next year.  The player we'll really miss, on defense and elsewhere, is Jarryd Cole.  He was a Swiss army knife on defense for Fran McCaffery this year: strong enough to battle with big men down low, agile enough to follow guards out to the perimeter and generate steals, and smart enough not to get called for unnecessary fouls.  The onus will be on Melsahn Basabe, Andrew Brommer and Devon Archie to replace that effort and intelligence on the defensive end, and let's just say that they have a ways to go, especially with regard to fouling (more on this later).

 

Usage


It's instructive to go look at some of Iowa's box scores from the beginning of the year if you want to see how much the roles on this team changed over time. In Iowa's November 20th win over Alabama, Cully Payne played 24 minutes, Bryce Cartwright played 18 minutes, and Eric May played 29 minutes. In Iowa's February 19th overtime game against Michigan, on the other hand, Cartwright played 38 minutes, May played 18 minutes, and Payne, of course, had been out for two months with a sports hernia. The story of the season is the story of Bryce Cartwright becoming the focal point of the team's offense. Usage rate here is percentage of possessions used (per Ken Pomeroy: "Simply assigns credit or blame to a player when his actions end a possession, either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn't rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover"), and as you can see, no one was more involved in the offense than Cartwright. He took the most shots, committed the most turnovers, and, if you consider that many of Iowa's points were scored on layups off of sweet Cartwright passes, effectively "ended" many possessions where he didn't score. It's not on this graph, but Cartwright's assist rate (the percentage of possessions a player used that ended with an assist) was 39.8%, 10th best in the country; in other words, when Cartwright was in the game, four out of every ten possessions ended in an assist by Cartwright. If you watched Iowa, that seems about right. Coach McCaffery put a lot of trust in his hands--he had to, really--and the junior from Compton did an admirable job with the responsibility. He still committed way too many turnovers (more on this later), and his shooting was poor (42% on twos, 27% on threes), but I can't imagine how we would have scored more than 40 points a game without him.

The other big story as far as usage goes was Matt Gatens. In 2009-10, Gatens had a usage rate of 22.3%, and one would have expected that his role would become even more prominent in his junior year, especially given Iowa's offensive deficiencies. That just didn't happen, though. His rate declined to 18.4%, below Cartwright, but also below freshmen Melsahn Basabe, Zach McCabe and Devyn Marble. His assist rate also plummeted, from 21.4% to 11.1%. Part of that is that we finally had a true point guard, so Gatens could move to his natural role as a shooting guard, but another part of it was that Gatens didn't have his hands on the ball that much. And here we venture into the realm of speculation, because I have no idea why this was. It may have been Fran's express orders, or Gatens' natural inclination, or Gatens' hand injury, or extra attention by the defense. I can't say anything about the first three, but I think there is some truth to the last one. Teams would put good defenders on Matt and sometimes send double teams. But the curious thing is that Gatens' turnovers were very low, and his assists were very low. If you imagine what normally happens when an opponent sends extra attention to a star player, usually that player either a) turns the ball over more, or b) gets more assists as he passes to open teammates. But that didn't happen with Gatens. Just from my subjective take, it looked like he got the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible and rarely forced things... which is good and bad. Good in the sense that he didn't force things, but bad in the sense that he didn't create things, either. I don't know if that is because his hand injury made him tentative handling the ball, or whether he was just a step slow, but he looked like a much less aggressive player this year. His shooting was also off, which brings us to the upper right quadrant of Fran's head...

Effective field goal percentage


I've mentioned this stat again and again this year, because it does a better job than just plain FG% of telling us how well a player shot. Just as slugging percentage takes into account the fact that a home run is a more valuable hit than a single, eFG% takes into account that a three is worth more than a two. And from that perspective, Iowa had a small group of efficient shooters: Brommer, Basabe and Cole. The only problem was that that group took only about 25% of Iowa's shots. The other 75%? That came from Iowa's army of poor outside shooters, of which Gatens and May were the cream of the crop, so to speak. Cartwright took the most shots of anyone, as I mentioned earlier, and had the third-lowest eFG% on the team. That's a bad combination. McCabe and Marble were even worse (they don't show up here, but McCabe shot 42% eFG%, and Marble shot 41.1%).

Why did we shoot so poorly as a team? The easy answer would be that we didn't have good three-point shooters, but that doesn't quite jibe with what I saw. The image that sticks in my mind is Iowa's perimeter players struggling to get shots off at all, not open shooters missing threes. We did miss some open shots, but the bigger problem, in my opinion, was that we were a very easy team to stay in front of. This is reflected in Iowa's free throw attempts: the Hawks ranked 7th in the Big 10 in free throw attempts per field goal attempts, a measure of how often a team gets to the line relative to the number of shots they take.  The only player on the team with the foot-speed and handles to get by a defender was Cartwright, and after that... who on Iowa scares you as a one-on-one offensive player? Basabe was pretty deadly on the low block, but teams caught onto that and sent double teams his way after the Hawks' first few games in the Big 10. Cole operated well in the pick and roll with Cartwright, but that was heavily dependent on Cartwright acting as an offensive threat and threading incredible passes to Cole. I'm afraid the reason we shot so poorly was not necessarily that we can't shoot, but that we presented a very easy offensive problem for other teams to solve. The recipe to stop Iowa all year was simple:

  • give no easy threes, especially to Gatens and McCabe
  • front Basabe
  • stop Cartwright from getting to the rim

Iowa only ever really came up with an answer to the third part of that recipe: Cartwright figured out how to mind-bend passes around the defense to Cole and Cole became adept at catching and finishing off those passes, and that was pretty productive. Other than that, the Hawks' final game was just as frustrating as their first game. On the one hand, that's depressing, because most of the team will be back next year, but on the other hand, it's encouraging, because it means that we're not necessarily a poor shooting team forever and ever. If Zach McCabe were on Ohio State, for instance, I imagine he would have shot better than 28.6% on threes (and if Jon Diebler were a Hawkeye, he probably wouldn't have shot 50.0% on threes). If we had just one player who could force the other team to guess -- is he going to shoot? is he going to drive? -- it would free up so much more for the rest of Fran's offense. As it is, the other team pretty much knows what each player wants whenever he gets the ball, and that makes things too, too easy.

Offensive rebound percentage

This stat refers to the percentage of available offensive rebounds a player pulled down while on the court. I used offensive rebounds as opposed to defensive or total rebounds because there tends to be a certain amount of luck in defensive rebounds, whereas offensive rebounds are more directly related to effort and ability. And offensive rebounding was a bright spot for this team. We ranked #3 in the Big 10 in offensive rebounding percentage and had the 80th best offensive rebounder in the country in Melsahn Basabe (13.0%). Jarryd Cole was another big part of the effort, pulling in 10.4% of available offensive rebounds, but hopefully some of that effort can be replaced next year by Andrew Brommer (8.7%). Unless Devon Archie passes him in the summer (which is a possibility), Brommer will play a big role on the team next year. And that is kind of frightening. Brommer has had his high points, especially his 12-point, 3-block game against Ohio State, but he has also had a lot of low points. His biggest problem, by far, was his propensity to foul. He averaged 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes this year, which was last on the team and must be somewhere near the bottom nationally. The current rule, you'll remember, is five fouls per 40 minutes. Unless the NCAA bumps that up to seven, Brommer is going to be at risk of fouling out any time he plays more than 25 minutes a game (Basabe and McCabe also have problems in this area -- 4.4 and 4.5 fouls/40 minutes, respectively). It's hard to see any of Iowa's recruits/potential recruits* filling in at the center position, so next year will be all about Brommer and Archie stepping into replace Cole. If Brommer can't limit his fouling and his turnover rate, expect to see Archie a lot next year.

* Aaron White is 6'8" 215 and plays small forward, and Josh Oglesby is 6'5" 175 and plays guard. Anthony Hubbard and Cezar Guerrero [he committed to Oklahoma State yesterday], two other players rumored as potential sign-ees with the Hawks, are both guards.

Turnover rate

As I was just saying, Brommer had a big problem with turning the ball over. He was last on the team in that category, which just made him the most extreme of a generally turnover-happy bunch. The Hawks had trouble running simple offense, and that meant a lot of possessions run right into the teeth of the defense, which meant turnovers. May, McCabe, Cartwright and Basabe all had a fair degree of trouble with turnovers; May and McCabe because they tried to force things off the dribble, Cartwright because he had the ball in his hands almost all the time (and partly because he kept trying to force alley-oops to May), and Basabe because he drew a lot of double teams. Gatens actually had a great turnover rate (13.8%, 19th in the Big 10), but that didn't stop Iowa as a team from having a terrible turnover rate (21.7%, last in the conference). Ending one out of every five possessions with a turnover is a good way to not score points -- even a terrible shot would be better than a turnover -- so if Iowa wants to generate a semblance of offense, they need to get the turnover problem figured out, stat.

Summary

It was a difficult year for the Hawks, but that was expected. Iowa was playing an eight-man rotation which included three freshmen and a transfer. I'm not sure what everyone else's over/under for conference wins was, but four was probably "over" for most people. Iowa showed surprising fight, especially on defense, and had several close games they could have won. The fact that they couldn't pull out a few winnable games (Wisconsin, Michigan at home, Northwestern on the road, Michigan State in the Big 10 tournament) is mostly attributable to anemic offense. The biggest improvements were off the court, or at least adjacent to it: the crowds at Carver started to come back. Even if we didn't get "mad" again, we did get at least moderately raucous, and hopefully that will continue to build next year. With the new practice facility scheduled for completion in the summer of this year, several freshmen coming back a year older and wiser, and a Big 10 conference perhaps slightly less vicious top to bottom (plus Nebraska, right?), there is reason to hope for improvement. I wouldn't get too crazy, though: next year's team will likely be very much like this year's team, only with Cully Payne and minus Jarryd Cole, and this year's team wasn't that great. We'll still be a fairly slow, short team without a true center, and we'll have at least three (and possibly four) more shooting guard/small forward types to incorporate in the offense. Making an all tweener line-up work is a tough task -- ask the Phoenix Suns this year -- and Fran won't have Jarryd Cole as a pick and roll partner for Bryce Cartwright next year. It will take some offensive creativity, to say the least. Let's just hope that all the Hawks use the summer well and build on the baby steps they made this season.

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