Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The 3 Point Line, Luke Winn and the Big East, Pt. 2

Luke Winn outlined 4 points in his June 16, 2008 article, "How the new three-point line will affect the game", on the potential winners and losers when the new distance for the 3 point line is implemented next season. To reiterate his points:

1. Mid-majors Will be Hit the Hardest -- they tend to rely more on the 3 point shot as a equalizer against the (BCS?) high-majors who have larger, more athletic front court players. In a 1 - 2 possession game this can be crucial.
2. The Two Main National Title Contenders are Insulated -- next year's early favorites, North Carolina and Connecticut (Winn is among those who have anointed the Huskies a preseason favorite) have offenses that rely very little on the 3 point field goal for scoring.
3. There's Now More Space For Low-Percentage Two-Point Attempts -- and Defenses That Force the Most of These Will Thrive -- this one applies directly to both the regular and post season.
4. Marginal Shooters Won't Command Much Respect -- Winn referred to teams, but this could just as well apply to individual shooters.

I gathered some data from last season's conference games to see who might be harmed or helped by the change. I reviewed the data using Winn's first two points in an earlier post. I want to look at his third point now...

There's Now More Space For Low-Percentage Two-Point Attempts -- and Defenses That Force the Most of These Will Thrive
Winn was thinking of a piece written by Ken Pomeroy over at the Basketball Prospectus last February called "Shot Selection", as he made this point. Pomeroy surveyed 4,000 games over the past 5 seasons (by Pomeroy's estimate about 340,000 FGAs) and calculated the average number of shots taken (and the percentage made) by distance from the basket. According to the data, the avaerage number of FGAs rises from 5+ feet to about 12-13 feet and then declines sharply to about 19+ feet, at which point it rises steeply until about 20.5+ feet. Pomeroy also mapped the percentage of FGM over the same distances and ddiscovered the percentage of FGM declined along with the FGAs. Pomeroy quantified the much lamented Death of the Mid-range Jumper. He went on to note however that FGM% increase rather dramatically as the distance crosses the 3 point line -- Modern players are not (fill in with one or more...) lazy/stupid/ill disciplined...they most likely encouraged by their coaches are passing on the high risk/low reward shot for the high risk/high reward shot. Pomeroy (and emphasized by Winn in his article) goes on to assert... still makes me think that Mike Kryzyzewski, Ben Howland, Randy Bennett, Trent Johnson and Todd Bozeman have it right when they design defenses that rarely allow an open look from beyond the arc. That quintet constructs its defense to play the shot-selection game by encouraging opponents to drive to that dead zone on the floor where most players are uncomfortable hoisting a shot...
-- Ken Pomeroy 2/28/08, Basketball Prospectus

Winn asserts that pushing the line back another foot will increase the size of the "Dead Zone" (documented by Pomeroy's survey to be from about 15 to 19 feet frm the basket) by another foot. So which Big East teams run defenses that, as Luke Winn wrote...

...already understand how to take away threes and force twos without fouling -- suggesting that many of those twos are taken in the mid-range, rather than the paint...
-- Luke Winn 6/16/08, Sports Illustrated

I am looking for teams that allow few points from 3FGAs while simultaneously allowing few points from the free throw line.

Points FromPct. MadePct. FGA
Marquette21.951.826.3 49.829.571.5 67.832.2
Providence College25.451.523.1 49.332.874.8 67.033.0
South Florida25.653.620.9 48.137.467.0 71.029.0
Georgetown25.648.625.8 42.529.369.8 66.333.7
De Paul26.756.217.1 52.838.272.9 69.630.4
St. John's26.953.319.8 51.636.166.7 67.532.5
Cincinnati27.147.725.2 48.732.569.1 63.836.2
Villanova27.247.125.7 49.632.868.4 63.236.8
Rutgers28.355.016.7 46.638.268.7 70.529.5
Louisville28.849.322.0 42.329.870.0 64.435.6
Pittsburgh29.453.517.1 49.935.668.5 66.133.9
Notre Dame29.456.713.9 48.133.865.5 67.033.0
West Virginia30.450.019.5 46.837.964.9 66.733.3
Seton Hall30.547.322.2 46.938.467.0 65.634.4
Syracuse31.348.720.0 60.439.6
Connecticut35.151.013.9 40.838.668.8 67.332.7

Marquette appears in Winn's list (at #4), so topping a Big East only list should be no surprise. Since I used data from conference games only, the numbers are not identical to Winn's, -- the higher percentage from free throws should be no surprise. The Big East has a reputation for physical play on the inside and Marquette's bigs, Barro and Mbakwe, were not considered agile defenders. Providence fits the profile, but Keno Davis' Drake teams do not. Providence going into next season will be an enigma given that the playing styles of former HC Tim Welsch and incoming HC Keno Davis are very different. There is little information about how the players are working with Davis right now, and how much (and how well) they adapt to his style of coaching and systems will be known once the Friars begin play. Georgetown appears to be the next best fit, but there will definitely be changes on both the front court (with Hibbert, Ewing and Macklin departed and freshmen entering) and the back court (Jon Wallace departed, Chris Wright stepping in?), so the question in DC may well be how much the system overshadows the individual players. Don't be fooled by DePaul. The points from 3s, combined with low points from free throws, fit the profile surprisingly well. Remember however, that DePaul had a losing record, so their defense as a whole was not especially good (check the table at the bottom of my 5/21/08 post, "Offensive and Defensive Ratings: An Arial View" -- the Demons' defense was nearly 2 standard deviations below the average for the conference). Opponents passed on 3s because they were hitting 2s at a 52.8%, the worst in the conference, -- opponents didn't need to mix their shot selection to beat the Demons. Check the last column (3s as a percentage of all FGAs -- highlighted in acqua). South Florida is a more interesting case. They, like DePaul, come close to the profile, but like the Demons, the Bulls also had a losing record and a not well regarded defense. Pomeroy ranked South Florida #99 (adjusted), about the middle of the Big East conference. The new 3 point line may prove a help to the Bulls, but they will need to improve their offense if they want to improve their standing.

The longer distance may prove an advantage for Syracuse (highlighted in lime) as well. Opponents of the Orange took a conference high 39.6% of their FGAs as 3s. Considering that, at 32.2%, proficiency could not have been the motivation. Lack of opportunities, complements of Coach Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense, must have been the motivation. Pushing the shot that breaks that zone back another foot ought to make Syracuse's defense even more difficult to bust. Success against the zone may lie in finding and exploiting the seams in the zone. Looking, ironically, in the very places which Pomeroy identifies as the "dead zone" in the half court.

After watching Villanova's defense (the infamous "Flying Wildcats"...) the thought of stretching the distance between the lane and the 3 point line makes me nervous. Villanova applies a variety of presses and traps that sometimes leave the players confused about who to pick up when the press collapses. That tends to leave the defense vulnerable to a quick 3 (or a mid-range jump shot) just before beginning a half court set. In the half-court, the Wildcats play a help defense that allows switches on screens and picks. The by product, an occasional extreme mismatch, does not tend to punish nearly as much as the "help" feature that tends to kick in when a guard penetrates the lane has often been punished with a kick out 3.

Tomorrow I will take a look at Winn's last point, and see who (besides Pittsburgh...) might be affected.

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