The Inaugural Nerd-Post: Mining the Hoop-Math Data

In this day and age of basketball (both college and pro), it’s no secret that the three-point shot is en vogue. And rightly so…they count for three points, ya know. That’s more than two. This is the primary reason many teams have eschewed two point jump shots in favor of the three-ball, as well as for higher percentage two-point shots (i.e. layups and bunnies in the paint).

If you disagree with this general premise, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can take his and his and his word for it. But how does it apply to the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils?

Our friends over at Hoop-Math track these things. Sure, there’s more nuance than “three-pointer, two-point jumper, at the rim, and free throw”, but it’s a pretty good proxy for the quality of shot selection the team had. First, let’s take a look at what kind of shots were taken by NEC teams in 2017-18, and compare it to CCSU:

As a team, the Blue Devils took more two-pointers and fewer three-pointers than average, which most likely jives with what one would expect. Leading scorer Tyler Kohl did the majority of his damage in the paint, while 2nd leading scorer Deion Bute took ~70% of his shots at the rim.

OK, so how did the Blue Devils fare on these field goal attempts?

Seems that Marshall’s offensive game-plan of pounding the paint with Kohl, Bute and company was a solid one; the Blue Devils were 2nd in the NEC at the Rim, converting 61.2% of their attempts (LIU was tops in the league at 61.4%). However, it was the jump shooting that really dragged down this offense. The combination of taking a limited number of threes (3rd lowest rate in the NEC) and not making many of the shots they did take (2nd lowest 3P%) resulted in just 25.9% of their points coming from long range, the fewest in the Northeast Conference.

The other issue negatively affecting the CCSU offense last year (as well as the 16-17 season) is that 2-point jump shot data. No team in the NEC took a higher percentage of two-point jumpers than the Blue Devils last year, and while they made them at about an average clip, that’s simply not good enough.

To put it another way; every time CCSU took a shot at the rim, it was worth 1.22 points, while each three-pointer was worth .99 points. But those two-point jump shots? Worth just .69 points per attempt!

So is this a problem with Donyell Marshall’s offensive philosophy? No, a lot of that had to do with Mustafa Jones. Now, Moose was a good player who had a strong senior season (and a solid career at CCSU), but Mr. Jones really liked taking two-point jump shots. He took 146 such shots this past season (36% of the teams 2P jump shot attempts), and while he made a well above average 41.8% of such shots, they were still much less efficient than your average layup or three-pointer. Moose had a strange offensive profile; you’d think a guy who can consistently make an 18 foot jumper would be able to knock ‘em down from 21 feet, but that never became a thing for Jones. In a parallel universe, he’s a 35% three point shooter and an All-conference player.

Anyhow, let’s take a look at the most efficient shots (based on points per attempt) for the Blue Devils this past season (minimum 30 attempts):

#5: Joe Hugley (72 attempts) and Eric Bowles (56 attempts)- At the Rim- 1.14 points per attempt (57%)

Joe Hugley’s offensive profile is something else; a true inside/outside threat who was almost as good at the rim (hint hint) as he was from beyond the arc. And he knew it; just 10% of his shots were of the two-point jump shot variety.

Eric Bowles, who is obviously quite a bit different of a player than Hugley, got a lot of his offense at the rim, specifically in transition. Bowles did a really good job finishing at the rim, and would do well to look to do that more in his senior season.

#4: Tyler Kohl- At the Rim (173 attempts)- 1.16 points per attempt (58%)

There were multiple games this past season during which Tyler Kohl seemed to just take over. And when he did that, he did it by bullying his way to the hoop. Given his 58% FG% at the rim, one could make an argument that he should make that an even larger part of his game (41% of his shots were at the rim, which is right around average when compared to the Northeast Conference).

#3: Joe Hugley- Three-pointer (112 attempts)- 1.18 points per attempt (39%)

In the pre-season, Donyell Marshall was quoted as saying that Hugley could “shoot the bejesus out of the ball”. He wasn’t lying. Hugley was easily the best long-range shooter on the team, knocking down a team-high 44, and had a knack for ending scoring droughts. If he can curb the fouling issues, the sky is the limit.

#2: Mustafa Jones- At the Rim (122 attempts)- 1.36 points per attempt (68%)

Therein lies my frustration with Jones’ infatuation with the 18 foot jump shot; he was awesome attacking the rim this season (and I did love that little lefty hook he could drop on you). I doubt there were many players in the NEC who had more dunks than Moose did, as he got the opportunity to show off his athleticism in transition a bit more than he did at any other point in a CCSU uniform. A lot of Jones’ improvement coincided with the presence of Tyler Kohl (Jones was just 59% at the rim as a junior), both due to his passing ability, as well as taking more of the offensive load away from Mustafa, but Jones’ smooth left hand will be missed.

#1: Deion Bute- At the Rim (157 attempts)- 1.40 points per attempt (70%)

During conference play, the coaching staff made a concerted effort to get Bute the ball down low on the block, and rightfully so; he was super efficient during his first season in New Britain. The 6’9” center had a 61.9% True Shooting % during conference play, good for 6th in the NEC, and that’s after a knee injury affected his play down the stretch. Not only was Bute really good at finishing at the rim (who could forget the game winning dunk against FDU in January), but he knew it; 76% of his shot attempts were drunks or layups. It seemed that his confidence in attacking the hoop improved as the season went on given his in-season improvement at the foul line (75% during NEC play compared to 67% during the non-conference season).