Patrick Ewing the realest pic.twitter.com/RGwT93ILs6— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) January 4, 2018
Hopes were high for last season’s Husky offense. Washington brought in a pair of 6’9+ 5-star recruits along with sharp shooting Kentucky transfer Quade Green. Add in a pair of wings in Naz Carter and Jamal Bey who finished with above average offensive efficiency ratings the prior season and seemed primed for a breakout and it was hard to imagine the team not scoring at will.
Instead Washington finished with the 112th ranked offense per KenPom. That comes on the heels of a 110th ranked offense the prior year. Essentially swapping out the crew above for Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, and Dominic Green led to the exact same results. Why?
One of the first things we can do to try to answer that question is look at the type of shots that Washington was taking. Synergy Sports breaks down the court into 32 zones and provides information about the FG% in each of them. By looking at how many shots a player took in each zone and comparing it to the average field goal percentage among everyone on that shot type we can see two different things. 1. How difficult a player’s average shot attempt is and 2. Whether a player made more shots than expected given the difficulty of their shots.
I will note from the outset that the big caveat of this kind of analysis is it does not factor in drawing fouls. You have a better shot at scoring when at the rim than behind the 3-pt line but you also have a better chance of getting fouled and getting to the free throw line. When you see expected points per shot totals note that they don’t account for the bonus free throw makes.
Let’s start with an examination of the average college basketball player. These numbers are taken from last season from the traditional Power 5 football conferences plus the Big East.
At the Rim- 37.9% of shots, 1.17 points per shot attempt
Within 12 feet (not at rim)- 14.6% of shots, 0.75 points per shot attempt
Midrange- 11.4% of shots, 0.71 points per shot attempt
3-Pointers- 36.7% of shots, 0.99 points per shot attempt
Anyone who knows anything about basketball statistics will take those numbers in stride. Once you get outside of about 5 feet from the rim players on average shoot pretty close to the same percentage. About 37% on jumpers/hooks inside 12 feet, 35% on midrange shots, and 33% on 3-point shots. Obviously, the percentages for a completely wide open free throw line jumper are better than for an off-balance contested 3-pointer but there’s a reason the NBA has been revolutionized by teams trying to only take 3’s and layups. It’s just not good for the average player to consistently take midrange jumpers.
Let’s compare those totals to the overall Husky distribution from 2019-20:
At the Rim- 37.3% of shots, 1.21 points per shot attempt
Within 12 feet (not at rim)- 12.9% of shots, 0.80 points per shot attempt
Midrange- 11.5% of shots, 0.63 points per shot attempt
3-Pointers- 38.2% of shots, 0.98 points per shot attempt
That’s actually not too bad. Washington essentially took about 1.5% of their shots and shifted them from jumpers inside the paint and turned them into 3-pointers. Over the course of a single game that’s not really enough of a benefit to see a major improvement but from a math perspective it’s a move in the right direction.
The Huskies took slightly fewer shots at the rim than the average team but they were a little more efficient at them which shouldn’t be surprising given the presence on the roster of Isaiah Stewart. They also took almost exactly as many midrange jumpers as you’d expect but were incredibly poor on those shots making just 31.7% of them. Jaylen Nowell was an above average talent in this range in past seasons but there was no one to pick up the mantle this season.
Now let’s look at the numbers by individual player. Expected points per shot is a metric that assumes the same shot distribution for every player but instead puts an average player in their place. It’s a measure of how difficult their average shot is.
10. Quade Green- 0.926. 20.1% of shots at rim, 19.3% under 12 ft, 16.5% midrange, 44% 3pt
9. Elijah Hardy- 0.931. 19.7% at rim, 16.7% under 12 ft, 13.6% midrange, 50% 3pt
8. Jaden McDaniels- 0.937. 25.1% at rim, 14.5% under 12 ft, 23.0% midrange, 37.5% 3pt
7. Marcus Tsohonis- 0.948. 24.4% at rim, 25.2% under 12 ft, 8.4% midrange, 42.0% 3pt
6. Nahziah Carter- 0.993. 37.4% at rim, 16.9% under 12 ft, 9.0% midrange, 36.7% 3pt
5. RaeQuan Battle- 0.995. 9.3% at rim, 2.1% under 12 ft, 3.1% midrange, 85.6% 3pt
4. Hameir Wright- 1.002. 14.8% at rim, 4.9% under 12 ft, 4.2% midrange, 76.1% 3pt
3. Jamal Bey- 1.037. 41.2% at rim, 9.8% under 12 ft, 2.0% midrange, 47.1% 3pt
2. Isaiah Stewart- 1.059. 71.5% at rim, 11.3% under 12 ft, 11.01% midrange, 6.2% 3pt
1. Sam Timmins- 1.116. 75% at rim, 5% under 12 ft, 0% midrange, 20% 3pt.
It’s pretty easy to see the roles of everyone on the team based on the information listed above. Quade Green and Elijah Hardy held the majority of the ball-handling responsibilities and consequently their shot selection was the worst on the team. A consequence of losing the game of hot potato with the shot clock winding down and being forced to get up a shot. They were about equal at getting to the rim but whereas Green would drive for pull-up midrange jumpers more often Hardy instead let it rip from deep 6% more often. Essentially though they had pretty close to an identical shot profile which makes it even more astonishing how different their results ended up being.
Next we had Jaden McDaniels, Marcus Tsohonis, and Naz Carter who each had the ball in their hands plenty but also played quite a bit off ball. McDaniels much more frequently pulled up for a midrange jumper while Tsohonis was prone to get into the paint for a floater or just attempt the shot from beyond the arc. Jaden’s propensity for midrange jumpers was particularly infuriating during the season and is part of what led him to be removed from the starting lineup midway through conference play. He shot midrange jumpers about twice as often as the average college player and yet shot about 3% worse than the average player on those attempts. Carter’s average shot was a good amount easier than either because he was much more frequently able to get all the way to the rim.
Next come RaeQuan Battle, Hameir Wright, and Jamal Bey who generally are on the receiving end of a kick out pass and are willing to be the 5th option in the offense. Battle in particular was a mad bomber who rarely left the 3-point line, attempting 85% of his shots from there. Wright with his size took 10% of those attempts and distributed them equally between the rim and the midrange. Jamal Bey was a bit different as he was extremely adept at getting all the way to the basket. We’ll get to his troubles finishing from there in a moment.
Finally, we have Isaiah Stewart and Sam Timmins who played almost exclusively under the basket as UW’s center. Sammy’s shot distribution in particular is Mike D’Antoni’s wet dream for a big man with almost everything coming at the rim or behind the 3-point line.
The question now that we’ve seen the shot distribution is who on Washington’s offense struggled because of their shot selection versus because of lack of skill. Once again, this number doesn’t tell the whole story. I’m not factoring in which shots occurred off the dribble or with a hand in their face. Those would provide even more context. But nonetheless, here’s Excess Points per FG Attempt which shows how much better each Husky performed than an average college player would’ve given their shot distribution.
- Quade Green +0.294
- Sam Timmins +0.209
- Isaiah Stewart +0.083
- Marcus Tsohonis +0.069
- Jaden McDaniels +0.003
- Naz Carter -0.002
- Hameir Wright -0.037
- RaeQuan Battle -0.109
- Jamal Bey -0.220
- Elijah Hardy -0.280
Those totals really put into perspective how magnificent Quade Green was when on the court for Washington last season. Green was 14.3% better than average at the rim, 24.5%(!) better on other shots under 12 feet and 10.6% better on 3-pt attempts. If Green was allowed to pull up from deep or get past the free throw line then defenses were completely toast. Their only chance was to force him to pull up on a true midrange jumper to make him mortal. If Washington can find a way to make sure he’s not forced to settle for that shot more often this upcoming season then it’s a scary proposition.
Sam Timmins comes next after shooting a ridiculous 70% at the rim which comprised almost all of his attempts. Big Sammy’s problem was of course he often would lose the ball before getting off a shot but if he shoot it then good things happened. Isaiah Stewart also took a ton of shots at the rim and also was above average when he did so. He also was better than average when trying a 12 foot or under jumper but didn’t show enough range to reliably knock down anything longer than that. Tsohonis is also a pleasant surprise to see on this list but it’s largely explained by his well above average 41.2% 3-pt mark. He was a below average finisher everywhere else on the court even if he loves that floater.
Jaden McDaniels and Naz Carter kept up their nearly identical seasons by being almost exactly average in their shot making ability. Jaden as noted earlier was infinitely too reliant on his midrange pull-up jumper. He also was much better shooting on the left side of the court. McDaniels made 41.5% of jumpers to the left and 29.2% from the center or the right. Carter was surprisingly inefficient around the rim given his dunking ability and below average from everywhere except the 3-pt line.
If you factor in that almost all of Hameir Wright’s 3-pt attempts were unguarded then maybe he wouldn’t grade out as above average from there but so be it. Battle on the other likely would be helped by increasing the perceived difficulty of his 3-pt attempts with his propensity for off the dribble shots.
Bey and Hardy stand significantly at the bottom however. Hardy not only had an extremely difficult shot profile but he also significantly underachieved the average player. That’s how you wind up with the lowest offensive rating in the conference. He and Quade were pretty close as players until the ball left their hands and at that point Green was a superstar while Hardy was unplayable.
The biggest disappointment though is Jamal Bey. Bey shot an incredibly poor 9/52 on 3-pt attempts from the wings last season. He also made just 3 of his 18 shots inside the arc that didn’t come at the rim. It was encouraging that Bey got to the cup as often as he did but his 54% shooting percentage from there was still 4% worse than average. Essentially the only spot on the floor where he was an above average scorer was on straight away 3-pointers (43%). If Washington is to see a bump in their offense next season then it’s going to be partly because Bey regains his confidence and knocks down shots at a league average level with his tremendous shot profile.