A while back, Scott Drew blasted this out on social media:
How Baylor's OFFENSE has ranked the last 8 years. pic.twitter.com/avO3TKXY9B— Scott Drew (@BUDREW) April 23, 2015
An impressive list, to be sure.1 I would reckon that at least 7 of those coaches are sure-fire Basketball Hall of Famers -- some are already in -- and Drew has managed to craft the 2nd most efficient offense among them for the past two recruiting cycles. The other schools in the top 11, pardoning maybe Pittsburg and Wisconsin, consistently have top-ranked recruits up-and-down the roster, and even those two excepted schools have produced players who have/will contribute significantly in the NBA. What has Drew figured out about creating offense in college basketball? How has he learned to combat the inconsistencies innate in the incongruence of a college roster without landing in the top ten of each year's recruiting rankings?
The answer comes from the statistical analysis of Dean Oliver and the heroic tale of David and Goliath.
Originally, this was going to be one post, but as it has grown, I've decided to chop it up a bit to create some extra #content. For this post, I will lay down some basic concepts and see how they apply to the 2008 and 2010 Bears. I will return at a later date to explore later incarnations of Scott Drew's offensive creativity.
The David Strategy
I am sure the majority of this column's readers are familiar with David and Goliath (this is a Baylor blog, after all), but let me break down the relevant parts of the story. David, a young shepherd, volunteers to engage in single combat against the champion of the enemy army, Goliath the Giant.2 David, recognizing the foolhardiness of fighting Goliath at his own game, refuses traditional armor and weaponry in favor of a simple sling, with which he was practiced at killing lions and other animals that would prey on his flock. As Goliath mocks the small, plainly equipped boy, David loads up his sling with a pebble, winds up, and crushes the giant's skull with a precise strike to his opponent's bare forehead. The shepherd conquered the war hero.
What are we to take from this story of heroism? When facing a massive disparity in talent, find a strategy to neutralize your opponent's strengths and level the playing field. These strategies have come to be known as 'David strategies.'
In the realm of sports, David strategies often involve taking risks. In football, for instance, a David strategy is to go for it on fourth down when the other team has a clear advantage and you don't think traditional tactics can stop them.3 Alternately, an offense like the one Art Briles implements is an evolution of another David strategy. Baylor fans should remember the days when every play seemed to be a bubble screen. It wasn't that long ago. The bubble screen is a David strategy that recognizes the offensive line cannot hold up against a more talented defensive line, and so it attempts to move the ball as far from the talent disparity as possible as quickly as possible by throwing the ball to a speedy wide receiver on the outside. Football, and college football in particular, is full of such strategies to combat the ever increasing talent gap between the top and bottom of the sport.
In basketball, David strategies similarly attempt to play the odds in hopes that over the long run, a high volume of plays that have a low rate of success will turn out in your favor. The Houston Rockets are the golden child of basketball David strategies. Their roster isn't replete with three-point makers, but they make up for that weakness by jacking a lot of shots from deep and hoping that, every once in a while, a career .285 three point-shooter will go 4-4 in the 1st quarter. The Rockets management and coaching have recognized what the most valuable types of plays are, and they have gone all in. It doesn't mean they're fun, but it does mean that they're effective.
Like the Rockets, the Baylor Bears have recognized what types of plays contribute most frequently to winning and have emphasized a style of play that utilizes its players skills as they apply to those winning plays. How did Scott Drew discover these winning plays? He probably looked to the same place many others have: Dean Oliver's Four Factors.4
Four Ways to Win
There are, essentially, four measurements that correlate highly with a team's success or failure. Dean Oliver called these the Four Factors. Putting out an efficient and effective offense or defense requires that a team be proficient in the following elements: effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, and free throw rate. For a fuller breakdown of these factors, I highly recommend you check out the link above. I'll provide a basic explanation here for the uninitiate. Some of this may seem familiar, as I and others have brought them up on the site before and these statistics are well integrated into the parlance of the basketball blogosphere.
Effective field goal percentage
The formula to determine a team's effective field goal percentage is eFG% = (.5*3FGM + FGM) / FGA. Here is the basic premise of the formula: in order to compare more holistically the scoring proficiency of teams or players, the three point make is allotted 50% more weight in calculating field goal percentage because it is worth 50% more than a two-point make. This allows us to compare how efficient different sorts of players are. Here's an example: when comparing traditional field goal percentages, Rico Gathers (.459) far outpaced Kenny Chery (.381) because Gathers shoots closer to the basket on average than Chery; but accounting for the extra point scored by the three-point shots Chery took, effective field goal percentage reveals that Chery (.473) was actually a more efficient scorer than Gathers (.459). That .5*3FGM in the formula above accounts for the extra point delivered by the long ball.
This statistic measures how frequently a team coughs the ball up: TO% = TO / Possessions. In a way, this is the opposite of offensive rebounding percentage. The latter measures how frequently a team gives itself extra opportunities to score in a possession, while the former measures how frequently a team fails to give itself any opportunity at all. Bears fans only have to think back to the final five minutes of the collapse against Georgia State to understand how devastating a high turnover percentage can be. Not only did a high volume of turnovers mean that Baylor didn't give themselves opportunities to score, but it also frequently meant easier opportunities for Georgia State. Scoring in transition after a steal is often easier than scoring against a set half-court defense.
Offensive rebounding percentage
Baylor fans of the last two seasons should be more familiar with this concept than anyone. Offensive rebounding percentage is calculated using the following formula: OR% = OR / (OR + DRopp). A team that can lengthen possessions through offensive rebounding at a high rate improves its chances of scoring on that possession. That's a pretty basic concept. The above formula helps us to calculate how proficient a team is at that particular skill by dividing offensive rebounds by rebound opportunities (offensive rebounds + opponent's defensive rebounds). A higher percentage means that a team is giving itself more opportunities per possession to score.
Free throw rate
Free throws, it turns out, are one of the best shots in basketball. It's a chance to score points while the defense can do nothing to stop you. Think of it this way: last season, the D-I average for points per 100 possessions was 102, per KenPom. Dividing both those numbers by 100, teams scored an average of 1.02 points every possession, roughly equivalent to one made free throw. That means that a team that shot only 50% from the free throw line but that also drew a two-point shooting foul each possession would be a near-average collegiate offense in 2015. That scenario is obviously absurd, but it highlights how valuable a made free throw is. A team that can draw a high rate of fouls and can subsequently make a high rate of those shots can boast a devastating offense even if they are below average when shooting from the field. It's what made James Harden one of the most efficient scorers in basketball last season.
The order in which I presented those metrics matches their respective importance to winning. eFG% obviously holds the most importance. The very heart of the game, after all, is to get buckets. The other three factors, however, are a bit more flexible. Looking at a large swath of data, TO% tends to be more important than OR% and FT rate. Focusing on specific teams and specific games reveals that offensive rebounding sometimes has a larger impact than turnovers. Such has been the case with the Bears for the last five seasons.
So how has Scott Drew taken all this information and transformed it into offensive success on the floor with such consistency? He has taken stock of the talent of his personnel and has tweaked his offense to best utilize that talent. To demonstrate this, I'll break down a couple of the standout seasons and explain what has made Baylor's offense tick over the past eight seasons.5
2008: Run, Hold, Shoot
|Aaron Bruce||SR||G||6-3||8.4 Pts, 1.7 Reb, 1.9 Ast|
|Tweety Carter||SO||G||5-11||9.6 Pts, 1.8 Reb, 2.8 Ast|
|Mamadou Diene||JR||C||7-1||3.4 Pts, 3.9 Reb, 0.2 Ast|
|Henry Dugat||JR||G||6-0||12.2 Pts, 4.1 Reb, 1.6 Ast|
|LaceDarius Dunn||FR||G||6-4||13.6 Pts, 4.1 Reb, 0.8 Ast|
|Richard Hurd||SR||F||6-5||0.5 Pts, 0.5 Reb, 0.0 Ast|
|Curtis Jerrells||JR||G||6-1||15.3 Pts, 3.5 Reb, 3.8 Ast|
|Josh Lomers||SO||C||7-1||3.7 Pts, 2.2 Reb, 0.1 Ast|
|Kevin Rogers||JR||F||6-9||12.3 Pts, 8.5 Reb, 0.7 Ast|
|Mark Shepherd||SR||F||6-9||1.6 Pts, 2.4 Reb, 0.3 Ast|
|Delbert Simpson||JR||F||6-8||2.3 Pts, 2.2 Reb, 0.1 Ast|
|Djibril Thiam||FR||F||6-10||2.7 Pts, 4.1 Reb, 0.1 Ast|
|Category||Stat||National KenPom Rank|
|Adjusted Off. Eff||114.5||11|
If you had only watched Baylor the last few seasons, the team above is entirely unrecognizable in both roster construction and style. Baylor's recent success has been centered on front line play, focusing on rebounding and a sluggish pace. Back in the day, however, in the season that saw Scott Drew's first NCAA Tournament birth, the Bears relied on ball-dominate, shoot first guard play. Junior guard Curtis Jerrells, freshman guard LaceDarius Dunn, sophomore guard Tweety Carter, and junior guard Henry Dugat soaked up major minutes. With so many guards on the floor, you might expect that passing was the preeminent strength of the team's offense, and that TO% of 17% might seem to justify that assumption.
You know what holds down the turnover rate as much as smart passing? Not passing. In 2008, only 42.7% of Baylor's field goals were assisted, 330th in the nation. Of the above guards, only Jerrells and Carter had respectable assist rates for guards, 23.5 and 19.3 respectively. Meanwhile, Dunn soaked up 28.2% of the team's shots when he was on the floor with an abhorrently (or hilariously, depending on how you feel about gunners) low assist rate of 7.2. Even so, Dunn was Baylor's most efficient offensive player that year, boasting an eFG% of 58%. He reached that mark while firing 178 three-point attempts to just 110 two-point attempts. Dunn was also proficient at getting to the line, where he converted 104 attempts at an .837 rate.
Drew's offense that season succeeded by running the floor, limiting turnovers, and making a lot of outside shots. They didn't rebound particularly well, but they defended well for their size, and they could score in bunches. They averaged 81.3 points per game while only allowing 74.9. That's far and away Baylor's highest PPG total in the Scott Drew era, a number that would send Baylor fans' hearts aflutter nowadays.
Drew recognized that he had creative, capable guards and let them run the show. They weren't the most talented team, but Drew knew how to use what he had. In just two short years, however, his entire strategy would change.
2010: Slow and Steady
|Quincy Acy||SO||F||6-7||9.3 Pts, 5.1 Reb, 0.3 Ast|
|Tweety Carter||SR||G||5-11||15.0 Pts, 2.8 Reb, 5.9 Ast|
|Givon Crump||FR||F||6-7||0.5 Pts, 1.1 Reb, 0.1 Ast|
|Nolan Dennis||FR||G||6-5||2.2 Pts, 0.9 Reb, 0.5 Ast|
|LaceDarius Dunn||JR||G||6-4||19.6 Pts, 4.8 Reb, 1.9 Ast|
|Fred Ellis||SO||F||6-6||1.4 Pts, 1.6 Reb, 0.2 Ast|
|Oscar Griffin||FR||G||6-4||0.4 Pts, 0.4 Reb, 0.3 Ast|
|Cory Jefferson||FR||F||6-9||1.3 Pts, 1.2 Reb, 0.0 Ast|
|Anthony Jones||SO||F||6-10||6.2 Pts, 4.8 Reb, 1.1 Ast|
|Josh Lomers||SR||C||7-1||6.6 Pts, 3.7 Reb, 0.3 Ast|
|Dragan Sekelja||FR||C||7-0||1.4 Pts, 0.8 Reb, 0.1 Ast|
|Ekpe Udoh||JR||C||6-10||13.9 Pts, 9.8 Reb, 2.7 Ast|
|A.J. Walton||FR||G||6-1||3.8 Pts, 2.3 Reb, 2.0 Ast|
|Category||Stat||National KenPom Rank|
|Adjusted Off. Eff||118.5||3|
1. Obviously it has its own selection bias, but that doesn't revoke its impressiveness, and what promotional list doesn't suffer from a little bias?↩
2. If you need a frame of reference for the size and intimidating presence of Goliath, Game of Thrones' The Mountain is a good starting point. ↩
3. Maybe it will stop being fun to bring up #61-58 one day, but this is not that day. ↩
4. Should you be growing weary of the reading list of links I'm throwing your way -- and there's more to come! -- worry not. It's all optional for the purposes of this column, though highly recommended as an introduction into the modern day's sports conversation. ↩
5. Before we start to dig in, I would note that I didn't watch Baylor basketball until the 2009-10 season, so any analysis of the seasons previous to that will require some amount of speculation, though the statistics provided by Ken Pomeroy provide a very decipherable image.↩
6. Five of their 8 loses came by 7 points↩