An examination of the performance of Rick Barnes’ offenses


There has been plenty of discussion about what sort of coach Rick Barnes is.  A common take goes like this:  Barnes and his assistants recruit top talent, get them to play hard on defense, and sort of let the chips fall where they may offensively.  In years where Barnes has a great playmaker, his teams are good offensively.  Otherwise, they are not.

I don't agree with this narrative, because it doesn't seem to match the data.  I think the truth about the Texas offense is more complicated.  Let's take a look at the actual performance of Barnes' offenses, going back to the T.J. Ford years.

We start by looking at the kenpom.com rankings for Texas going back to the 2002-2003 season.  The 2002-2003 season is the first year that kenpom provides data.  My interest here is to use its team rankings.  Kenpom.com ranks each team offensively and defensively, and also provides rankings for each team in a variety of statistical categories.  These rankings are generally based on per possession statistics.



Overall offensive and defensive rankings by season for the Texas Longhorns.

Year

Offensive rank

Defensive rank

2003

3

44

2004

15

22

2005

25

44

2006

4

10

2007

5

62

2008

3

36

2009

39

28

2010

25

25

2011

21

2

mean

15.6

30.3

median

15

28


Rick Barnes' reputation is as a defense-first coach.  But his teams usually were ranked higher offensively than they were defensively.  In this table, there are four seasons where the offense was rated in the top 5, whereas there was only one top 5 defensive season.  The median offensive ranking is 15.  The median defensive ranking is 28.  In only one season was the offense outside of the top 25.  There were 5 seasons where the defense finished outside of the top 25.

Let me repeat myself; in 4 out of the last 9 seasons, Rick Barnes has had a top 5 offense.  These four teams featured elite offensive talent, and Barnes was able to get them to perform.  

We can look at the various aspects of offensive performance to understand Rick Barnes' teams a bit better.  It is common to look at the so called "four factors."  These are the four things that seem to be most important to a basketball offense.  They are shooting efficiency from the floor, avoiding turnovers, getting offensive rebounds, and getting to the free throw line.  (A discussion of these factors can be found in the book "Basketball on Paper," by Dean Oliver.)  Kenpom.com rates each team, both offensively and defensively, in terms of these four factors.  Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) is used to measure shooting from the field.  It is like a FG% that weights three point shots more heavily.  Turnover rate (TO%) is the percentage of possessions that end in turnovers.  Offensive rebounding rate (ORB%) is the percentage of available rebounds that an offense grabs.  And free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is the ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts that a team gets.

 

Texas offense ratings in the "four factors."                            

Year

eFG%

TO%

ORB%

FTA/FGA

2003

160

24

2

96

2004

129

9

2

208

2005

45

96

26

54

2006

52

94

5

194

2007

105

12

57

106

2008

108

1

40

275

2009

194

59

19

110

2010

77

59

20

96

2011

111

28

25

49

mean

109.0

42.4

21.8

132.0

median

108

28

20

106



This table tells us a lot about what the Texas offensive approach is all about.  In terms of shooting from the field and getting to the line, Texas has been decent, but not great.  When it comes to getting offensive rebounds and avoiding turnovers, Texas has been consistently good.  The median ranking for turnover rate for Texas is 28.  The median ranking for offensive rebounding rate is 20.  

Barnes' teams seem to excel at taking care of the ball.  I think he and his coaching staff deserve some credit for this, as avoiding turnovers has been something Texas has done consistently.  It makes the offense much more efficient than it would otherwise be.  People don't really notice when you don't turn the ball over, so it is not much of a surprise that Barnes doesn't get much credit for this aspect of his team's performance.

Barnes' teams also seem to excel at getting offensive rebounds.  When combined with the low turnover rate, this means that Texas can get more opportunities to score than their opponents.  Offensive efficiency basically boils down to two things:  how a team does at making the shots it takes, and what it does to get "extra" shots through rebounding and avoiding turnovers.    If you combine average shooting efficiency with a lot of extra shots, you end up with a pretty good offense.  It can look ugly at times, but it is pretty effective.

There have been a few Texas teams that didn't exactly match this profile.  The 2005 and 2006 teams were not quite as good as the other teams at avoiding turnovers.  If you will recall, those teams had Daniel Gibson doing much of the ball handling.  Gibson was (and is) a very good player, but his strength is not as a ball handler.  The 2005 and 2006 teams made up for these turnovers by shooting at a much higher percentage from the field than any of the other Texas teams.  Gibson was not a pure point guard, but he sure could shoot.  Those teams also featured other efficient scores, including Aldridge, Buckman, and P.J. Tucker.

The weakest offensive rebounding teams of the bunch were the 2007 and 2008 teams.  Those teams were talented, but the front line was very young.  Damion James and Dexter Pittman eventually became a major force on the glass, but as Freshmen and Sophomores they were not quite there yet.

No discussion of Rick Barnes' recent Texas offenses would be complete without discussing free throw shooting.  Below is a table of the Texas free throw shooting percentages, along with the ranking in Division I.

 

Texas free throw shooting percentage by season.                           

Year

FT%

Rank

2003

72.1%

78

2004

68.0%

190

2005

69.6%

142

2006

72.7%

57

2007

73.6%

36

2008

68.3%

189

2009

66.8%

246

2010

63.3%

326

2011

65.4%

282


In most seasons, Texas' free throw shooting seems to hover pretty close to the D-I average.  The 2003, 2006, and 2007 teams had some really good free throw shooters.  The last three seasons have been brutal.  

I think Barnes is a better offensive coach than he gets credit for.  His teams protect the basketball and get a lot of second chance opportunities with offensive rebounds.  I also understand why his offenses are criticized, as some of the things they do well tend to be the types of things that go unnoticed.  This is particularly true with turnovers.  After a game is over, no one ever says, "man, they didn't turn the ball over very much."  All anyone ever remembers is the missed shots.

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