This isn’t how it normally goes for Baylor. Usually, the Bears win with excellent offenses and struggle to defend. This season, Baylor has the fifth best defense in the country, but the 32nd ranked offense (all stats are from KenPom, hoop-math, or Synergy). Fixing their offensive problems will be vital to making a deep run in March.
Having the 32nd ranked offense is not terrible by any stretch. But Baylor is not looking to just win a game in the tournament, or finish in the top half of the Big 12. This team is too good and too well coached to settle for that, despite how poorly they were thought of by many entering the season.
Baylor has two giant problems on offense. First, they turn the ball over too much. Baylor is turning it over on 23.5% of possession in conference play, which ranks last in the Big 12. Second, Baylor is shooting poorly. The Bears are 9th in effective field goal percentage.
The Bears have kept their offense afloat through offensive rebounding. The Bears rank 9th nationally in adjusted offensive rebounding. Playing Jo Lual-Acuil and Johnathan Motley together helps the Bears get second chances and those two often finish when given the opportunity.
Motley is one of the best players in the country. He’s probably the best player Scott Drew has ever had, and right now, he’s the Big 12 Player of the Year on KenPom. He occasionally will have an off night, but the Bears can often rely on him to dominate games:
Conference play is difficult though. Teams scout well, try to take away your best players, and plays that work earlier in the season suddenly stop. What I dub the awesome play—Ish Wainright going around a high screen, then throwing the ball to a big man underneath the hoop or a guard kicking out for a 3-point shot—is no longer generating much.
There are a few things Baylor might change to fix their offensive problems. I expect Baylor will start using Manu Lecomte off the ball more. They’ve done that some recently. Lecomte is averaging 1.33 points per possession in spot up opportunities, which puts him in the 97th percentile nationally. He’s excellent when he has a second to shoot:
And he’s good catching the ball off screens too:
There are a few difficulties playing Lecomte off the ball though. First, Baylor would risk more turnovers with the ball not in Lecomote’s hands. Lecomte is the best ball handler on the team. Every minute someone else has the ball is an increased risk of a turnover. Second, Lecomte is likely to get worn out if he’s running around screens all night. If he’s tired, his shots are less likely to fall and his defense might lapse. With that said, everything in basketball presents a trade off, and Lecomte playing some off the ball is probably a worthwhile risk. He’s an excellent shooter, and the Bear’s need help spacing the floor. This is certainly a tough balance.
Second, when Terry Maston plays, Baylor needs to consistently run pick and rolls with him. On plays he finishes in the pick and roll, the Bears are averaging 1.39 points per possession, which ranks in the 90th percentile. Lately though, the Bears are running that pick and roll a little too high. Maston is not a 3-point shooter, but he is money from inside the arc. When they run it too high, he either is forced to pass or this is the result:
Third, the Bears could play different lineups. The problem with that idea is that those differently lineups present a trade-off. If you’re a Republican trying to win a Senate race in Illinois, you can move to the left on a few issues to win over voters in a more liberal state, but if you do, you risk losing your base. Similarly, if the Bears go smaller or move someone to the bench, they risk the defense not playing as well, or their offensive rebounding collapsing.
Nuni Omot has earned more playing time. He’s made a few mistakes, but he sat out the first semester and is figuring out the game more. The best advantage Omot offers is his ability to make 3-point shots in pick and roll chances. A lot of teams trap against Baylor and that can open up shots from the perimeter. Here, Omot adjusts his screen against Texas Tech’s attempt to ice the pick and roll, which leaves him free to hit this shot:
Fourth, the Bears need to get better offensive production from the shooting guard position. Al Freeman and King McClure have really struggled in conference play. Freeman is down to just 22% from 3-point range, and McClure has been unable to get open much as he returns from a knee injury. These two are both talented and smart basketball players. It’s not like they’ve suddenly forgotten how to play basketball. But the Bears aren’t going to get the run they need without them returning to form. Freeman was excellent in the Bahamas, so it might be time to run a few plays to reestablish his confidence and get him back to this situation:
The last point seems fairly obvious. Just play better. But I think too many people are ready to give up on Freeman. There is no doubt he’s played poorly. We’ve seen him play well though, and he’s 22. Lindsey and Omot have earned more minutes, but Baylor isn’t going to make a Final Four without Freeman playing like he did in non-conference play.
Finally, Ish Wainright can look to take a few more shots. Wainright is one of the best defensive players in the country. In spot up opportunities, opponents are scoring just .535 points per possession when Wainright is the defender, which puts Wainright in the 96th percentile. Even when Wainright struggles to shoot, and he is right now, his defense makes him a star. But Wainright can step in and make shots, and if he takes a few more of these, he’ll draw a little more attention and free Motley up:
Baylor is a fantastic team that has a chance to win it all. They play excellent defense, and Johnathan Motley is one of the best players in the country. Yet, the offense has held them back at key times. Baylor has built great offenses lately and has some pieces to do so again. With improved guard play and a few tweaks, they can return to their usual offensive performance and have the best finish in school history.