The Four Factors: Offense


Over the course of the season, we will be talking a lot about the Four Factors of a basketball game, which Dean Oliver popularized in his book Basketball On Paper. The four factors cover everything that happens in a basketball game, and are the best way of evaluating a basketball team. For more information on this subject, watch this video by Jordan Sperber.

Obviously, there are two distinct parts of a basketball teams performance; offense and defense. Today, we will look at only offense.

Last season in conference play, CCSU averaged 98.9 points per 100 possessions, or .989 points per possession (PPP), according to Kenpom. That ranked 9th out of 10 teams, with Robert Morris being the only team that averaged fewer than 1.0 PPP. The average in the NEC last season, strictly in conference play, was 1.06 PPP (105.7 points per 100 possessions), while the average in D1 was 1.05 PPP.

So where did CCSU struggle? On to the four factors!

Shooting

The point of the game, obviously, is to get the ball in the basket (and stop the other teams from doing the same). The best way to measure shooting is to look at effective field goal percentage, or eFG%, which is basically; multiplied by two, how many points did a team (or player) score when they took a shot. A 50% eFG% means that team/player averaged 1 point per shot attempt.

The average eFG% in NEC play last season was 51.5%; meaning, on average, each shot attempt was worth 1.03 points. Put another way; in order to be an average shooting team, you need to average 51.5% on two-point field goal attempts, and 34.3% on three-point attempts.

The Blue Devils, in conference play, had a 50.2% eFG%, which placed them 8th in the NEC, just ahead of Bryant (49.5%) and Robert Morris (47.1%). Splitting that out a bit more, it’s easy to see why CCSU struggled shooting the basketball:

The Blue Devils owned the paint with guys like Deion Bute, Tyler Kohl, Mustafa Jones and Joe Hugley all shooting well over 50% inside the three-point line. However, only Joe Hugley (38.9%) and Kashaun Hicks (38%) shot well enough from outside to help the offense. A big part of that was the unexpected struggles of Austin Nehls (28.3% in conference play), but there was also a lack of three-point options; rarely did Donyell Marshall have more than two perimeter threats on the floor at the same time, and never more than three. Because of that, they took the third fewest three-pointers in the NEC, and made the fewest.

Of course, shooting is more than just the ability to make shots; it also has to do with shot selection. As I wrote about back in April, CCSU took more 2-point jumpers than any other NEC team. The results were not pretty.

Rebounding

Allow me to climb onto my soap box for a minute; looking at raw rebounding numbers (i.e. Team X out-rebounded Team Y by 4) is not the best way to determine which team actually rebounded better. Why? In Division 1 last season, teams only rebounded 31.1% of their own misses; in other words, the defensive team gets the rebound ~69% of the time. So, generally speaking, the team that misses more shots will likely lose the “rebounding battle”, at least when it comes to raw numbers. Which is why we will always talk about defensive rebounding percentage (DR%) and offensive rebounding percentage (OR%). This isn’t math. This is common sense.

Anyway, thanks primarily to the big man in the middle, Deion Bute, CCSU was 5th in the league with an offensive rebounding percentage of 32% (average was 30.4%). It doesn’t take much imagination to see the Blue Devils improving in this area this season; Jamir Coleman has a reputation has a good offensive rebounder, plus some of the teams that finished above CCSU in this area lost key players, specifically Sacred Heart and LIU.

Turnovers

Similar to raw rebounding numbers, raw turnover numbers can also be deceiving. Team A can average 12 turnovers in 60 possessions, while Team B averages 15 turnovers in 75 possessions. One is not better (or worse) than the other at limiting turnovers.

Last season, CCSU turned the ball over at a historic rate; their 21.8% TO% (overall) was the worst since the 2004 team, which turned the ball over 21.9% of the time. However, the game has changed; that 2004 team was 199th in the nation in limiting turnovers. The 2017 team? 337th out of 351 D1 teams.

It’s no surprise that Eric Bowles moved on from CCSU; his 32.2% TO rate was the worst in the league. However, Tyson Batiste (27.4%) and Joe Hugley (22.4%) were all in the “top 12” in turnover rate, and Tyler Kohl (19.3%) also had issues from time to time.

The goal for the Blue Devils shouldn't be to excel at limiting turnovers; given the youth in the backcourt, I'm not sure that's realistic. But it's imperative that they do improve in this area, because it'll be difficult to win many games while finishing dead last in turnovers again.

Free Throws

There’s two primary aspects of free throw shooting; how frequently a team/player gets to the line, and what percentage of those attempts do they make. I’d argue that Free Throw rate (free throw attempts/field goal attempts) is more important, because it brings opportunities while also hurting the opposing team (foul trouble). However, making them is helpful.

Last season, CCSU finished 6th in Free Throw Rate at 32.1%, which was just below the league average of 32.5%; however, they finished 7th in FT% at 69.7%. What’s odd is that the CCSU frontcourt players are actually very good free throw shooters; Bute shot 74.6%, Hugley 79.5%, Kohl 75.6%, and Mustafa Jones 72.7%. It was the guards that dragged the team down; Nehls shot just 48.3% in conference play, Eric Bowles was 64.7%, and Tyson Batiste was just 3 for 18 on the year.

There’s room for improvement here, and if last Saturday night's exhibition game against Arcadia is any indication (they shot 23 of 27 from the line, including 8 for 8 from Jamir Coleman), the Blue Devils will likely shoot it pretty well from the line.

Conclusion

Here again are the offensive four factors for NEC teams, ranked by points per 100 possessions:

As you can see above, there were no teams last year that were truly good in all four factors, yet the best offenses in the league did it in completely different ways.

Mount St. Mary’s, led by Junior Robinson and Chris Wray, led the league in efficiency by essentially shooting the lights out and taking care of the basketball. Meanwhile, Wagner shot it okay, but they really did their damage on the offensive glass.

On the flip side, Sacred Heart finished second in OR%, but still had a measly 1.03 PPP because they couldn’t make shots and turned it over a ton.

So how can CCSU improve from being a well below average offense to, say, average? Becoming elite in one factor and solid in a couple of others could get them there. Given the size on this team, becoming elite in offensive rebounding wouldn’t take a dramatic improvement, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Blue Devils finish near the top of the league in points off free throws.

If the Blue Devils can find some more three-point shooters (hello, Ian Krishnan), and get a bit better shot selection from Tyler Kohl, who took 108 two-point jumpers last season and made just 34.3% of them, there’s no reason to believe the Blue Devils can’t at least get into the middle of the pack when it comes to eFG%.

Which leaves turnovers. No one should expect the Blue Devils inexperienced backcourt to suddenly excel in limiting turnovers, but if they can go from “historically bad” to “below average” (think 18%-20% as opposed to 22%), there’s no reason CCSU can’t improve on 2017-18’s offensive output.