Three and D and turnovers too

Photo+by+Lee+Sanderlin

Photo by Lee Sanderlin

Lee Sanderlin

Editor’s Note: All Statistics used have been obtained from kenpom.com

The most important shot in basketball is the 3-point shot. This isn’t even disputable on any level. They are worth 50 percent more than any other shot, evidence enough to prove their value. Teams that shoot and defend the three at above average levels typically play well as a result.

Now with that said, it might be surprising to hear that App State is in the nation’s top 100 in offensive 3-point percentage. That’s right, the Mountaineers are one of the better 3-point shooting teams in college basketball, averaging 36.7 percent from downtown, good for the No. 90 ranking out of 351 Division I teams.

Even better for Appalachian State, three of the team’s players are shooting better than 36 percent from beyond the arc (minimum 50 attempts). Ronshad Shabazz, Chris Burgess and Frank Eaves are shooting 36.8, 38.9 and 44.4 percent from 3-point land, respectively.

But it gets better than that. Frank Eaves leads the Sun Belt in 3-point shooting percentage, as well as 3-point attempts this season. Chris Burgess and Ronshad Shabazz are no slouches either, ranking eighth and 14th in the conference, respectively.

Not only do the Mountaineers have arguably the best shooting three-man combination in the Sun Belt, they’re one of the best teams in the nation at defending the 3-point line.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s 3PA/FGA stat, which calculates what percentage of an opposing team’s shots come from behind the arc during the game, the Mountaineers only allow an average of 24.8 percent of opposing team’s shots to come from behind the 3-point line. This mark is the best in the nation and is 10.4 percentage points better than the national average.

The 3PA/FGA stat is a much better indicator of a teams 3-point defense than traditional stats because this is the only stat that is able to measure a team’s ability to prevent opponents from shooting 3-point shots, the overall goal of 3-point defense.

Now, the question needs to be asked, how do the statistical leaders in the Sun Belt conference for 3-point shooting and defense have only five wins on the season thus far?

Although the importance of 3-pointers has already been established, it is important to remember that everything else is important as well, and App State has been fairly awful at everything else this season.

The number that sticks out more than any of the other stats is the team’s turnover percentage – a measurement of what percentage of a team’s possessions will end in a turnover.

The Mountaineers turn the ball over on 23 percent of their possessions. There are only six teams in all of Division I basketball that turn the ball over more than the Mountaineers.

This isn’t a problem that is isolated to one group of players, either. Out of the ten players who have appeared in every game this season, seven of them have an individual turnover percentage of 22 percent or higher.

A little secret to the game of basketball: If you turn the ball over a lot, as in 23 percent of the time your team has the ball, you aren’t going to win many games. Period.

But the turnover problem runs deeper than their own turnover woes. The Mountaineers aren’t forcing any turnovers either.

Mountaineer opponents only turn the ball over 16.7 percent of the time, which puts the App turnover defense at 280th in the nation.

To take this out of percentages, App State averages 16.3 turnovers a game, while forcing opponents into just 11.8 turnovers a game. So that means the Mountaineers are allowing opposing teams four extra possessions a game from turnovers alone.

Four extra possessions a game means an opportunity for opposing teams to score about eight more points a game than they would have without the turnover differential being what it is. It is probably more than coincidence that the Mountaineers have a scoring margin of -7.3 points a game, or the equivalent to allowing the other team four extra possessions a game from turning the ball over.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the best 3-point shooting team in your conference if you can’t hold onto the ball. It also doesn’t matter if you don’t let opponents shoot the three if you’re not applying enough pressure on the perimeter to force enough turnovers to gain easy transition points.

Despite being one of the absolute worst teams in the country when it comes to turning the ball over, all hope isn’t lost. Committing four more turnovers than the other team may seem like a lot, but it isn’t that much when you factor in the Mountaineers’ ability to shoot the 3-pointer. Hypothetically, if the team could hit two more 3-point shots a game than they are now, and commit one less turn over, the tallies in the win column would start to grow.

Now of course there is much more to winning basketball games than a sequence of three plays, but just reducing their turnover margin by one or two a game, whether that be forcing two more, or committing two less, and hitting a few more shots from deep, App State would be a much more competitive team than they are now.

Fortunately for the Mountaineers, these aren’t huge obstacles. They can reduce turnovers and increase the amount of open looks from beyond the arc just by making smarter passes. If they’re able to cut down their turnovers, and keep hitting the 3-pointers at the rate they do, they’ll find themselves in the win column more often the rest of this season, and maybe, just maybe, in the conference tournament in March.

As I said above, the Mountaineers could make life a lot easier for themselves if they cut down on just a few turnovers a game. While this possession ends in a blocked shot, it’s essentially a turnover all the same.

The key missed opportunity in this possession occurs during the exchange between Shabazz and Eaves. When Shabazz passes to Eaves, he cuts to the corner between his and Eave’s defender, effectively freezing both of them. The defense decides to double Frank, leaving Shabazz open in the corner for a decent look at the three point shot, or giving him the option to drive and kick. Instead, Eaves hesitates to make the pass, allowing for the defense to regroup, forcing Eaves to over dribble and end the possession with a terrible shot to beat the shot clock.

Here the Mountaineers run into virtually the same situation, but with different results. This time Shabazz is the primary ball handler on the play, and he’s forced into a double-team just like Eaves was. Instead of hesitating, Shabazz draws in the pressure then hits Burgess in the corner, leaving the offense with options for the rest of the possession. While personally I would have liked to see Burgess shoot the three, considering he is shooting above 38 percent from three for the year. But, the important thing to notice is that he had options, unlike the play with Eaves as the primary ball handler. Burgess made the smart play as a point guard by driving and creating an open look for his teammate.

Another example of failing to make the smart pass, this time from Jacob Lawson. Michael Obacha comes up to set the screen for  Burgess, which frees him in order to find Lawson open along the baseline about 18 feet out. The 18 foot baseline jumper is probably not the shot you want your center/power forward to take in this situation. It’s definitely not the shot you want him to take when you see Michael Obacha rolling to them rim off the screen he set, wide open, calling for the ball. If Lawson makes that pass, Obacha gets a dunk or a layup at worst. Instead, he shoots and bricks the long two, which might as well be a turnover.

Unfortunately, the problems on offense run deeper than a missed pass here and there. It seems like most of the time the offense is unsure of where to go with the ball when the turnovers happen.

Here you have the guards working the ball around the perimeter, but they’re all ignoring Griffin Kinney’s calls for the basketball. Why? If Kinney is meant to be a decoy to distract the defense, it isn’t working considering he’s wide open, so you might as well pass it to him. Kinney is in lots of room around the top of the key, which is rare for a big man in college basketball. Should Kinney get the ball, he would be able to take a 17 foot jump shot that he is capable of making, drive to the basket, or work it back outside for an open 3.

None of these things happen, and the ball ends up in Shabazz’s hands, where he dribbles aimlessly before deciding to drive into the paint where he panics and try to get the ball to Tyrell Johnson and turns it over. Even if the offense was never going to pass it to Kinney, Shabazz should have known what he was going to do with the ball before taking it into the paint.

In order to turn the season around and make a late charge for the Sun Belt tournament, the team needs to start playing smarter and exploit the opportunities that opposing defenses are giving them.

 

Story by: Lee Sanderlin, Associate Sports Editor