You don't need to engage in deep analysis to realize that the Texas offense struggled a season ago. Averaging only 0.96 points per possession last year, the Longhorns often found themselves locked in rock fights with opponents. The struggles were the greatest early in the season, when Rick Barnes' most dynamic offensive player, Myck Kabongo, was serving an NCAA suspension. Particularly early in the non-conference season the young Texas squad had a hard time scoring points, even when facing opponents that weren't particularly good on D.
While Kabongo was sitting out, the ball was put in the hands of Texas freshman guard Javan Felix, and the Texas offense floundered(*). While Felix was on the floor last season, the Texas offense managed to score only 0.91 points per possession. This analysis might be a bit uncharitable to Felix, as he played heavy minutes early in the season when the Texas offense was at its worst. But it is not that uncharitable; much of the late season improvement in Texas' scoring related directly to Myck Kabongo replacing Felix in the lineup.
(*This article is going to be a little hard on Javan Felix. I just want to warn you in advance. Please don't take it the wrong way. Struggling as a freshman didn't exactly make Felix unique in D-I ball. There is reason to believe that he can improve. But this article is going to look back on his freshman season, which wasn't always pretty.)
In the table below, I compare the Texas offense when Felix was on the floor with when Kabongo was on the floor. Note that there were some possessions where both players played together. I haven't removed these from the data used to generate the table. The results show that Texas was approximately 15 points per 100 possessions better when Kabongo was on the floor than it was when Felix was on the floor.
|When Javan Felix Played
|When Myck Kabongo Played
The Texas offense was better across the board when Kabongo played. A three percentage point difference in effective field goal percentage is not a small thing. More than half of this difference is simply the difference in eFG% on shots attempted by Felix and Kabongo. Felix's eFG% last season was 37.8 percent, whereas Kabongo managed an eFG% of 45.5 percent. We will dive more deeply into Felix's eFG% below.
Comparing the team turnover rate when Felix was on the floor to when Kabongo was on the floor is a bit unfair to Javan Felix. Felix did turn the ball over more frequently than Kabongo, but about half of the two percentage point difference between the team when the respective players played was due to teammate turnovers. It is not fair to blame all of these extra turnovers on Felix; early in the season last year the Longhorns had serious problems protecting the rock that went well beyond anything Felix could be blamed for, and these difficulties started to go away as the season progressed. Felix played a high fraction of his minutes early in the season, whereas Kabongo did not play at all during this time.
Perhaps the most intriguing difference in the table above is the substantial improvement Texas experienced in offensive rebounding percentage when Kabongo played. It is a striking difference that we cannot attribute to the offensive rebounding abilities of either player -- neither Kabongo or Felix did much damage on the offensive glass.
While some of this difference is likely a fluke, at least some of it surely relates to the fact that Myck Kabongo was much more likely to attack the basket on offense then was Javan Felix. 62 percent of Myck Kabongo's shot attempts came at the rim, compared with 22 percent for Javan Felix. Missed shots at the rim are far more likely to be rebounded by the offense than any other type of shot. In half-court situations where an offensive rebound is more likely, Kabongo took 55 percent of his shots at the basket, compared with only 13 percent for Felix.
Kabongo's ability to attack the basket also had an effect on opponent fouling rates. When Kabongo was on the floor, the Texas offense drew far more fouls than when Felix played.
Javan Felix's Shooting Problems
Felix's shooting struggles are easy to understand. Undersized guards who are below average long range shooters have a hard time scoring efficiently. When we examine Felix's numbers, we see a clear example of just why this is.
The table below breaks down Felix's shooting statistics by situation and location. About one third of Felix's attempts came in transition, with the balance occurring in half-court situations. Felix's transition numbers were hurt by his propensity to pull up for jumpers and take low percentage floaters that are logged as two point jump shots. Nearly half of Felix's transition attempts were logged in the play-by-play results as two point jump shots, and he converted on these shots 29 percent of the time. These just aren't very good shots -- they are the sort of shots that Felix can get at any point in a possession, so there is no reason to rush into taking them. When Felix did reach the rim in transition, he converted on these shots a little bit more than half the time. These are the transition baskets Felix needs to be looking for.
|Name||% of shots||eFG%||% shots at rim||FG% at rim||% shots 2pt Jumpers||FG% 2pt Jumpers||% shots 3s||FG% 3s|
|30 s or more into possession||17%||37%||5%||0%||61%||36%||34%||29%|
(*Transition attempts are shots that occur within the first 10 seconds of possessions starting with a defensive rebound, steal, or made basket by the opponent. Data from the new and improved Hoop-Math.com.)
In half-court situations, Felix's height becomes a much bigger disadvantage. On the rare occasion last season where the Texas guard was able to get to the basket against a set defense, his percentage converting on these attempts was poor. Felix made only 32 percent of the layups he attempted in half-court situations last season. The bulk of his half-court attempts were mid-range shots. He connected on these shots 37 percent of the time, which is around the NCAA average.
We cannot attribute Felix's struggles in the half-court to the fact that he took a disproportionate number of his shots with the shot clock winding down. While he was forced to shoot late in a possession more often than any other Texas player, his eFG% on these shots was a tiny bit better than it was in his other half-court attempts.
At no point last season were Felix's limitations more on display than when Texas ran high ball screens. Like most college and professional teams these days, Rick Barnes' offense in recent years has made heavy use of high ball screening. I recently went back and watched a large percentage of Felix's possessions where he worked with a high ball screen. In these situations, Felix is far more dangerous when the defense commits more resources to stopping him, turning him into a passer. But when the defense chooses to make Felix a shooter in the pick-and-roll game, the Texas offense suffers.
This isn't surprising. In these situations, Felix lacks the ability of a guard like Kabongo to turn the corner and attack the basket. Additionally, Felix's shaky three point shooting makes him less of a threat to come off a ball screen and immediately pop a three in the way that J'Covan Brown once did for the Longhorns. When the defense refuses to over-help in screen and roll situations with Felix, often he is left with a 12-17 foot pull up jump shot, which is a shot most teams will be happy to see him take.
However, when defenses committed more help to stopping Felix last year, he was able to make them pay with his passing. Felix found teammates for open looks from three or in a position to attack off the dribble. The Texas point guard also found cutters and the roll man going to the basket for dunks. In general, in these situations Felix was able to make the right play, and the Texas offense benefited.
This difference in the Texas offense when Felix passes vs. when he shoots cannot be lost on any savvy opponent who carefully scouts the Longhorns. Look for opponents to make Felix beat them when he is on the floor this season.
Asking Javan Felix to assume the primary scoring role for the Texas offense feels like it is setting both him and the team up for failure. This is at least true until Felix develops a credible outside shot. At this point, Felix is far more effective when he can set up his teammates than when he needs to look for his own points.
However, this brings us to a tricky issue. If the offense is better off not coming from Felix, then just where will it come from? One possible source is the Texas big men, who we will look at in detail tomorrow.