Texas junior guard Demarcus Holland is a player who primarily is known for his defense. And that is with good reason; for the last two seasons in Austin, Holland has regularly drawn Texas' most challenging perimeter assignments, and has generally excelled in the role.
Over his time in Austin, Holland's contributions on offense have been more limited. While there is some evidence that Holland hasn't been the drag on Texas' offense that many might assume (the Longhorns' offensive efficiency was the same with Holland on the floor as it was when he was on the bench last season), during his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was never a consistent threat to score.
But this is a new year, and the early indications are that Holland may be taking a step forward. Through Texas' first four games of the 2014-2015 season, Holland has made a valuable contribution to the Texas offense.
Regular readers of this column know that I am fond of a number I call Points Above Median (PAM), which measures how many "extra" points a player scores relative to the number of shots he takes. A player with a large PAM total improves his team's points per shot attempt more than a player with a small PAM value. PAM is a powerful way of telling how much a player's scoring is helping his team.
Through Texas' first four games, Demarcus Holland ranks second on Texas in PAM, with a total of 12.9. This is significant when we consider that last season Holland's total was -5.3, meaning that over the season his shooting efficiency was slightly lower than the PAM baseline value of scoring 0.98 points per shot or trip to the free throw line.
Before I go any further, I need to point out that their are certain aspects of Holland's improved output that are simply a small sample-size effect. Three point shooting contributes 4.2 to Holland's PAM total of 12.9, as Holland has hit 3-5 from beyond the arc. While it is entirely possible --- likely even -- that Holland will shoot the ball better than he did last season when he shot 29 percent from three, just about any shooting percentage is possible over only five shots.
So we are dealing with small sample sizes so far in the year, and shooting percentage statistics probably have little predictive value. The same could be said about any shooting number for any player at this point in the season. Because of this, we need to be really cautious in interpreting numbers after only four games, and should use the stats as indications of things that might be different about Holland's game, rather than trying to draw definitive conclusions of how he will play.
PAM tells us more than just how much a player's total scoring is contributing to his team's offensive efficiency. Using play-by-play data, it is possible to break down scoring into distinct categories, and then calculate the PAM results for each category. This exercise helps us see just where an individual player is creating (or hurting) his scoring value.
In the 2013-2014 season, Holland generated efficient offense getting to the rim in transition, and going to the free throw line. When shooting a layup or dunking the ball in the first ten seconds of a live ball possession, Holland's PAM was 14.8. In these early opportunities, Holland converted 64 percent of his layups and dunks.
But aside from getting shots at the rim in transition, and shooting free throws, last season Holland's PAM total was negative in every other category that I track. Specifically, Holland erased 80 percent of his positive scoring value by shooting two point jump shots, 17 percent of his positive scoring value by shooting at the rim in the half-court (where he converted on 42 percent of his layups and dunks), and 17 percent of his positive scoring value by shooting threes. The net result of all of this was a player who's overall PAM contribution was below zero.
The initial results this season are better
So far this year the story has been different. Holland's efficency numbers have been boosted in a variety of ways. The biggest positive contributor to Demarcus Holland's PAM has been free throw shooting. So far, Holland is 13-17 from the line on the season. 17 free throw attempts through four games is a big number, particularly for a player who is not typically a primary option on offense. Holland has been getting fouled a lot, in part because he is attacking the basket with authority.
For Holland, being selectively aggressive attacking off the dribble has been key. So far, 11 of his 16 field goal attempts have been at the rim, and he has converted on seven of these shots. Six of these attempts have come in the half court, where Holland is driving the rim with authority, and finishing more effectively than he did last season.
In the example below, we will see Holland take a dribble hand-off and attack the rim without hesitation. He then completes the play with a nice left-handed finish.
Holland is still getting out in transition, sometimes in situations that are surprising. Take the example below, where after a missed Iowa free throw, Javan Felix pushed the ball up the court to Holland, who attacks the rim and finishes.
With so much time spent driving the basket, Holland has basically dropped the mid-range game. Through the first four games Demarcus Holland has yet to attempt a single mid-range jump shot; every shot has either been at the basket or beyond the three point line. This is a big deal, as Holland flushed nearly all of his positive scoring value right down the toilet with mid-range shots last season. It is not that Holland was a particularly poor mid-range shooter, as he connected on 36 percent of his two point jump shots, which is right around the NCAA D-I average. It is just that for all but a small handful of players, these sorts of midrange attempts are typically not very efficient.
Shooting the three
A season ago, Holland seldom shot from beyond the arc, taking slightly more than 20 percent of his field goal attempts from long range. This season, Holland has only pulled the trigger from long range a little more frequently, but he has found some success shooting the three, hitting 3-5 from distance.
While I am certain that Demarcus Holland won't finish the season shooting 60 percent beyond the arc, he has been pulling the trigger when open from three with much greater confidence, avoiding the hesitation that he frequently showed last season. His three point shot attempts have come with his feet set, in rhythm catch-and-shoot situations. For instance, we see the example below where Holland gets ready and lets the ball fly, after the defense has been broken down by someone else.
To help the Texas offense with his perimeter shooting, Holland doesn't need to turn into Phil Forte. All he has to do is shoot a respectable percentage on wide open catch-and-shoot threes.
What improved offense from Holland means for Texas
Demarcus Holland is not a focus of the Texas offense, and is unlikely to become one. Through the first four games of the year, Holland is sixth on the team in field goal attempts, and takes an estimated 10 percent of Texas' shots when he is on the floor (per kenpom.com). He is not going to carry the scoring load for Texas.
But that is not really what Rick Barnes needs from Holland. Holland is in the game primarily for his defense. If he can do this while playing the role of an efficient secondary offensive option, hitting the occasional open three and attacking the rim off the dribble, he helps Texas win at both ends of the floor. This doesn't seem like a pipe dream.