Inside the Numbers: How is touching the paint working for Virginia?

UVA basketballA Twitter conversation got me into updating my math – and thinking – on the offense tweaks we’ve seen of late from Virginia coach Tony Bennett.

It started with a comment from a fan asking the Twitterverse if anybody else had noticed that Virginia is running a lot of high ball screens of late.

Which, yeah, I’ve noticed it, written about it, think it’s a good idea, so, I responded.

The fan, Darius Winn, isn’t sure that the ball screens are, necessarily, a good idea, instead advocating for more mover-blocker, and this led to a bit of back-and-forth, and got me to review the numbers, and do a deeper dive.

The line of demarcation, from that deep dive, seems to be the week between the Navy and Virginia Tech games, between Dec. 29 and Jan. 4.

Up until and including the Navy game, Virginia was putting up two- and three-point jumpers for 68.0 percent of its overall shot attempts from the field, which, if you have a roster stocked with guys who can hit jumpers, like last year’s group, great.

Just for reference: 66.7 percent of the shots from the field for last year’s national-title team were two- and three-point jumpers, and the team shot 39.0 percent, with an effective field-goal percentage of 50.7 percent.

The 2019-2020 numbers, not as good: Virginia is shooting 28.9 percent on two- and three-point jumpers, with an effective field-goal percentage of 36.6 percent.


Ahem, anyway.

So, need to do something different, and changing things up to try to get the ball in the lane would seem to be a pressing point of focus.

Since the start of the Virginia Tech game, then, we’ve seen a lot more high ball screen action, some five high, mixed in with mover-blocker and middle third, the idea being to get guards touching the paint, and get the ball to bigs with space.

The results have been mixed.

Positive: the percentage of shots coming from two- and three-point jumpers is down from 68.0 percent to 55.1 percent.

On paper, this should lead to improved shooting, and … it actually hasn’t.

Virginia is shooting 39.4 percent from the floor in its last six games.

In the first 12: 40.9 percent.

Some of that is the last six being ACC games, and the first 12 being a mix of games against Power 5s and non-Power 5s.

Some of it is that the shots at the rim aren’t falling at the rate they need to be.

In the first 12, Virginia shot 63.8 percent at the rim.

In the past six: 55.7 percent.

Again, one reason for that dropoff could be strength of schedule.

Another reason: too many of the shots are coming from Kihei Clark.

Clark has accounted for 32 of the 140 shots at the rim over the last six, and is shooting just 43.8 percent on those shots (14-of-32).

Take Clark’s numbers out, and the numbers for the past six track more in line with the season numbers.

So, the tweaks to get the ball in the lane are getting the ball in the lane. They’re just not creating more shots for guys like Jay Huff (76.5 percent at the rim this season), Braxton Key (67.7 percent) and Mamadi Diakite (66.7 percent).

Well, maybe marginally more:

  • Key is up to 5.5 shot attempts at the rim per game over the last six, after averaging 3.2 per game in his first nine (he missed three early-season games to a wrist injury).
  • Huff is up to 4.3 shot attempts at the rim over the last six, after averaging 3.5 per game in the first 12.
  • Diakite is about where he was, at 3.3 shot attempts at the rim per game over the last six, after averaging 3.6 per game in his first 12.

Clark, meanwhile, is way up: he was averaging 2.4 shot attempts at the rim in the first 12, and has averaged 5.3 per game over the last six.

Raw numbers-wise, only Key (who is 20-of-33 at the rim over the last six) has more attempts at the rim over the last six.

(Huff is 18-of-26; Diakite 13-of-20).

Bottom line: anything that gets this team shooting fewer threes is good, but it’s clear that more tweaks are in order.

Winn wants to see more Casey Morsell initiating, but Morsell is shooting just 44.8 percent at the rim (on 29 attempts) this season himself.

That said, maybe the sample size bumps up, and we see better results. Morsell seems like the ideal type guy to be able to create shots for himself and others.

Otherwise, maybe you try more Kody Stattmann (57.1 percent at the rim, on 28 attempts).

Those are your only other options, unfortunately.

This is today’s reminder that Ty Jerome isn’t around to initiate, and Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter aren’t on the wings to knock down shots when the defense sags.

Story by Chris Graham

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