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Texas Basketball, Inside the Numbers: Shooting Troubles in Shanghai

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A look at a miserable offensive performance by the Texas Longhorns.

An athletic Husky defense gave the Texas offense problems.
An athletic Husky defense gave the Texas offense problems.
Danny La-USA TODAY Sports

The first game of the Shaka Smart era of Texas basketball did not go as hoped. The Longhorns traveled to Shanghai to face one of the youngest squads in Division I and returned home with a six point loss. So what happened?

It is a new season for the Texas Longhorns, with a new coach, but our approach here is the same. The goal will be to ask the most important questions: why did the game go the way it did? Why did the winner win, and the loser lose?

To answer these basic questions, we start from the premise that basketball is fundamentally a simple game. In a contest between two teams, the squad that scores the most points wins. You score more points than your opponent by doing some combination of the following:

1. Taking more shots than your opponent.

2. Scoring more points per shot than your opponent.

That is it. Every properly scored basketball game in the nearly 124 year history of the sport has come down to these two simple things. Nothing else matters.

Counting shooting chances

In a basketball game with no turnovers and no offensive rebounds, both sides would have nearly the same number of chances to shoot. But all games have at least some offensive rebounds, and some turnovers. Every offensive rebound creates an extra chance to shoot. Every turnover takes a chance away. An offense that gets a lot of offensive rebounds or avoids turnovers will get extra chances to shoot. A defense that forces many turnovers or prevents offensive rebounds effectively will limit its opponents chances to shoot.

During the Washington - Texas contest, both teams ended up the game with a fairly similar number of shots. Washington launched 71 attempts from the floor, and took 40 free throws. We approximate total shooting chances using the formula:

{Shooting chances} = FGA + 0.475 x FTA

By this measure, Washington had 90 chances to shoot, while Texas (with 71 FGAs and 48 FTAs) had 94 chances to shoot. This counts as a small advantage for Texas.

Both teams did well on the offensive glass with Washington pulling down 49 percent of their own misses, for 25 offensive boards. Texas was a bit less effective on the offensive glass, grabbing 38 percent of the potential offensive boards for a total of 23 offensive rebounds. Washington created a small advantage on the offensive glass.

But this advantage was erased by turnovers. The Huskies turned the ball over 17 times (21 percent of possessions) compared with 14 turnovers for Texas (17 percent of possessions). The result of this was a slight advantage for Texas.

In the end, neither team gained a decisive advantage in the number of shots attempted. Both teams did a good job of offensive rebounding (or a poor job on the defensive glass, depending on your view -- and we would need to review the tape in detail to really sort this out). Neither team melted down with an excessive number of turnovers.

So the small shot differential in this game was not decisive.

But what happened with those shots?

When two teams end up with close to the same number of shooting chances in a game, the game ends up being decided by shooting efficiency. We can measure this by dividing total points scored by a team by shooting chances.

For Washington, this number was 0.86, which is a fairly poor rate (a value of 1.0 or better is typically what I associate with as a basic level of offensive competence). While Washington shot the ball horribly, Texas did even worse, scoring 0.76 points per shooting chance.

No matter how you slice it, this game was an exhibition of some pretty terrible offense. But let's go ahead and slice some more.

Both teams shot a substantial number of free throws, which generally leads to fairly efficient offense. And while neither team was great from the free throw line -- the Huskies hit 60 percent from the stripe, while the Longhorns were somewhat better at 65 percent -- free throw shooting that was merely a little bit below average for a D-I game was not what was dragging the offenses down. The real issue was the shooting from the floor.

Washington managed to shoot 22-51 (43 percent) from inside the arc, and 3-20 (15 percent) from outside the arc. This combined for a putrid effective field goal percentage of 37 percent.

But the Longhorns would not be outdone, and somehow managed to shoot even more miserably from the floor, going 17-56 (30 percent) on twos and 2-15 (13 percent) on threes. The effective field goal percentage worked out to be 28 percent.

And there is your ball game; wins are highly unlikely for a team that manages only a 28 percent effective field goal percentage, even when its opponent also struggles to score.

Why was the shooting efficiency so low?

It is worth a deeper look to try to understand the complete failure of the Longhorn offense in the season opening game. To do this I rewatched the game, charting every shot taken by Texas.

I wanted to answer a few related questions: Were the Longhorns getting good shots and simply missing them? Or instead were they predictably struggling to make bad shots?

To grapple with this concept, we first need to define a good shot and a bad shot.

At a basic level, there are three really good shots on a basketball court:

1. Free throws. The NCAA D-I team median free throw percentage in most seasons (going back many decades) is about 69 percent. Even for a guy who is only a 50 percent free throw shooter, the free throw line is still a pretty decent place to score.

2. Shots close to the basket. Layups in NCAA games typically fall about 60 percent of the time. Open layups are better, but even contested chances around the basket are usually decent shots, particularly for big men.

3. Open catch and shoot threes. NCAA average three point shooting is typically about 34 percent in most seasons, which carries with it an effective field goal percentage of 51 percent. For open catch and shoot looks, percentages go up further. The NCAA team median for these sorts of shots was around 38 percent in the 2014-2015 season (based on Synergy Sports data), which works out to an effective field goal percentage of 57 percent.

There are other shots that are almost as good as these (contested catch and shoot threes aren't terrible, and I can also live with open catch and shoot twos for really good shooters), but at a simple level these are the main sorts of shots that a team wants to take. Every time a defense forces an opponent to take a jump shot off the dribble, it should be viewed as a good thing for the defense.

In my charting of the game, I found that 51 of the Longhorns' 71 shots from the floor were either open looks from three point range or were taken approximately six feet or fewer from the basket. So 72 percent of the shots attempted by Texas were the sorts of shots that are typically the most efficient.

Honestly, that is a pretty good rate. A major objective of defense is to limit good shots for an opponent. My rewatching of the game revealed an offense that was mostly functioning fairly smoothly, with decent ball movement and successful penetration of the ball into the middle of the defense. Texas played fast, working the ball ahead in transition to quickly find the open man. When transition was cut off, the Longhorns generally ran sets designed to create ball screening opportunities that led to a chance to attack the rim or kick the ball out to a shooter.

The core issue for Texas was finishing these chances to score. By my count, the Longhorns were 1-11 on open catch and shoot three point attempts. All 11 of these attempts were shots that I was fine with Texas taking.

Eight of these open three point attempts were taken by one of Texas' three freshman guards (Tevin Mack, Kerwin Roach, and Eric Davis), and all eight of these shots missed. Felix and Holland both missed their own uncontested looks from three (one for each of them). Only Connor Lammert was able to connect on an open catch and shoot three point shot.

Washington was fairly effective at limiting clean three point looks for Texas; I am sure that in an ideal situation Shaka Smart would like his offense to generate more than 11 easy looks from three point range. Credit goes to the Huskies for this; limiting opponent three point attempts has long been something that Lorenzo Romar's defenses have done well.

The combination of Washington's defense and Texas' offense pushed much of the action near the basket. When going to the rim, Texas was only a little more effective. For attempts that I judged as being close to the basket, but that were not the direct result of an offensive rebound, the Longhorns went 11-37 (30 percent).

When looking at Texas' troubles scoring near the basket, we have to give a decent amount of credit to the Washington defense. The young and athletic Huskies were aggressive at contesting shots near the rim, blocking 14 percent of Texas' two point attempts, and contesting 31 of the 37 close looks that I charted.

The Longhorns really struggled against the athletic interior Washington defense, going 6-31 on contested non-putback attempts near the basket. 20 of these attempts were taken by a perimeter player, and only 5 of these went in. On a percentage basis the big guys did even worse, with Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert, Prince Ibeh, and Shaquille Cleare combining to shoot only 1-6 on contested non-putbacks attempted near the rim. (This quartet did redeem itself on putbacks, converting 4-6 on these second chance opportunities.)

In summary, the Longhorns took mostly good shots and missed almost all of them. This is a shooting problem, and is not indicative of a broken offense.

Outlook

I don't know that we can learn very much about a team in a game where the outcome was decided mostly by poor shooting performances. This may be frustrating for people, but I don't advise drawing conclusions broader than saying that if the Longhorns continue to make less than 10 percent on clean looks from three point range, and continue to convert on less than 20 percent of their chances near the rim, then they will be headed for a very long season.

I don't think either one of those things is actually very likely to happen. The Texas players who missed those open threes against Washington are the same ones who went 12-30 from behind the three point line during the exhibition against Tarleton State. (And you can't account for this difference in shooting by differences in the defense; Texas' poor three point shooting against Washington was on shots that were open.) This may not be the best shooting team in the Big 12, but it won't be this awful.

There are teams that consistently struggle to convert chances near the basket. I just don't think Texas will be one of these teams, which tend to be small and have guards with limited athletic ability. No one will argue that the current iteration of the Texas Longhorns are small, and the perimeter players are plenty athletic.

We also need to give credit to a Washington defense that played well, limiting open threes and effectively challenging Texas' many chances close to the rim. While the Longhorn offense did itself no favors by missing all of its good attempts, the Husky D was part of the reason why. I know people think that Lorenzo Romar may be on his way out at Washington after this season, but given the defensive performance of his talented young freshman, I wonder if this is truly the way things will play out.

In conclusion, I don't advise Texas fans hitting the panic button just yet. At least give it a few more games.