It’s All Relative

In the run-up to this season’s Final Four we were greeted by two interesting but unsurprising commentaries. Unsurprising because they merely confirmed what we already knew: that the number of 3-point attempts in college basketball continues to surge, and correspondingly, the number of dunks has followed suit. 

In his April 8th Sports Illustrated piece, citing data compiled by Ken Pomeroy, Andy Staples recounted the record number of treys attempted in the tournament. Back in 2014 and ‘15 the percent of three-point field goal attempts per tournament game hovered around 32% but rose to 35% in 2016, then cleared 38% last season. Through the first 64 games of this year’s tournament, Pomeroy found that the average percent of three-point attempts had grown to nearly 41%.

Hoop Vision’s Jordan Sperber chimed in with a nifty chart, illustrating the trend over a ten-year period.

And what does the dramatic uptick in three-point attempts have to do with the increasing number of dunks generated in this year’s tourney?

Josh Plano’s March 28, 2019 piece at FiveThirtyEight.com revealed that six of this year’s Sweet 16 entries had a dunk share, or percent of 2-point attempts, exceeding 10%. Four years ago, only one did. “This is less about a few dunk-crazed teams and more a reflection of the nationwide trend in college basketball,” reported Plano. On the eve of the Final Four, the season had produced 19,550 dunks, about 2,000 more than just five years ago.  

And the reasons?

“We’re seeing more dunks,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told The New York Times, “because there are more spectacular athletes out there.” More significantly, though, Bilas cited the symbiotic relationship between 3-pointers and dunks. 

The rise of the three as a strategic weapon has created an either-or game: you shoot the three or drive to the rim for a high percentage layup or dunk. You avoid all other lower percentage 2-point attempts. Throw in the long-range accuracy of a Carson Edwards or Kyle Guy and the crazy athleticism of players like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, and you end up with lots of threes and dunks. 

Again, interesting but not really surprising. 

While the three-pointer has greatly influenced offensive schemes and strategy, I sometimes wonder if the media echo chamber has overly dramatized its importance, imbuing it with near magical qualities when its actual benefits are, in many ways, quite relative.

Continue reading…

A Picture is Worth…

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.57.15 AMIs there a more dramatic explanation for why this season’s rule changes – while steps in the right direction – were insufficient to reverse the decline in pace and scoring in any significant way?

I don’t mean the embarrassed looking Hall of Famer and coaching extraordinaire Mike Krzyzewski during last season’s Final Four but the stool on which he’s perched and what it represents: the ascent of the coach from the bench to the court, the shift from coach as teacher to coach as participant.

In effect, today’s game is presented as strange theatrical production in which the director shares equal stature with the performers. He’s on the stage with them, shouting instructions and modifying the script as the play unfolds, and in the process, leaving little room for the actors to actually act. That’s what we have in college basketball today.

The coaches are smothering the game. Continue reading…

The Blind Men and the Elephant

It’s over… finally. Much of it unwatchable. The slowest, lowest scoring collegiate season since 1981-82. In fact, you’d have to go back 64 years to 1951-52 to find a less productive season. That’s an era when many players still relied on two and one-handed set shots.

The tournament, of course, presented many of the old delights – the “combination of upsets, buzzer-beaters, frenzied comebacks, court-storming, dancing, and weeping” recently noted by ESPN’s Brian Phillips – but also contributed to the season-long agony of pushing and shoving, interminable timeouts, coaches prowling the sideline, often straying onto the court, jump shots clanging off the rim… well, you get the picture.

  • According to analytics expert Ken Pomeroy, three of this year’s Final Four teams ranked outside of the top 200 in tempo. The lone exception? Duke ranked No. 114.
  • In its semi-final game against Duke, Michigan State scored 14 points in the first 3:42 of play followed by only 9 points in the remaining 16:18 of the half. Duke advanced to the finals on the back of 27 free throws and 26 field goals in 40 minutes of competition. That’s an average of one basket every 90 seconds.
  • Forty-eight hours later, the halftime score of Duke’s national championship game with Wisconsin ended 31 apiece. In the 1988 matchup, Kansas and Oklahoma battled to a 50 – 50 tie in the same period of time, collectively outscoring this year’s stalwarts, including nine McDonald’s All Americans, three of whom are surefire one-and-doners, by 38 points.
  • The final five minutes of the Duke – Wisconsin brawl took 18:41 minutes of real time to play.

To place the dismal offensive performance of this year’s tournament in historical perspective, consider the following: Continue reading…