Last night, I asked some questions about the offense that I didn't readily have a lot of answers for. I mentioned in that previous post that I'm not an X's and O's guy, but I'm not sure there are really X's and O's adjustments that need to be made. (Or, at least, none that are going to produce significant results.) Ken Bone is a smart coach. I don't think strategy is lacking.
That said, I think I might have stumbled on a stat that explains, to some degree, what's going on with these guys.
We all talk a lot about "sharing the ball," but sometimes I think that's a bit of a canard. I mean, look at Memphis two years ago -- made it to the national championship game (which, by all rights, the Tigers should have won), ranked No. 2 by Pomeroy, No. 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency ... 179th in assist rate (percentage of made baskets on which there was an assist). Their dribble-drive motion offense was just fine, thank you very much.
However, most teams don't have the athletes to pull that off, so getting baskets off assists is an important feature of most other efficient offenses. The Cougs prove to be no exception.
In games where the Cougs assist on 50 percent or more of their baskets, they're 10-1. The lone loss was Arizona. (Supporting the widely held idea that the loss to the Wildcats was actually more about just missing shots they normally make.) Put into context, an average assist rate is 54 percent, so it's not like we're even talking about setting the world on fire here. We're just talking about being an average team at sharing the ball.
Conclusion? This team is better when it assists more, so it just needs to assist more to get better. Simple, right?
But let's put it a little further under the microscope.
Those 11 games in which they're 10-1? Just two of those games came against teams currently ranked in Pomeroy's top 100 (Gonzaga and Baylor). In the other nine games -- in which they've posted an assist rate of less than 50 -- the Cougs are 4-5. And guess what? Six of those were against teams in Pomeroy's top 100 (UCLA, USC, Cal, Stanford, Butler and Kansas State).
Better opponents = Worse at sharing the basketball. This could lead you to two potential conclusions:
- This team actually can't assist more against better teams.
- This team just won't assist more against better teams.
The first conclusion could be supported by all of last season and the difficulties they had with better defenses. It also would be depressing as crap, because it would mean we're screwed.
The second conclusion, though, is the most intriguing theory to me. In most instances, it takes work to get an assist -- the right cut, the right pass, patience to do both, etc. Do they assist on fewer baskets in those games because they can't get open for an assisted bucket? Or do they assist on fewer baskets in those games because they just won't do what it takes to get an assist, leading to poor shot selection?
I'd tend to lean toward the latter explanation. As we've discussed ad nauseam around here, this team seems to go through extreme bouts of dumbassery when it comes to shot selection. One guy is more to blame than the others in that department, but most of the players have been guilty of it at one time or another. Ken Bone can talk until he's blue in the face about sharing the basketball -- as he did on Cougar Calls with Bill Moos on Monday -- but it's clear the players aren't getting the message. Or, at the very least, are giving up on the message at the first sign of trouble.
I think this is why this team is driving us so batty. There's clearly talent there -- beyond Klay Thompson. And after years of watching teams maximize their talent by buying into the team concept on both ends of the floor, it's maddening to watch a team seemingly choose to subvert its own potential by being selfish by not working as hard as it needs to.
This is one area, by the way, where you simply cannot find fault with Thompson. Nobody works harder on every offensive possession than that guy. Watch him. He doesn't take a possession off, and any possession in which he does not score or does not facilitate a score is not for lack of trying. But many of the rest of his teammates don't follow his lead. As I've said before, I don't think this team lacks a leader -- it clearly has one. What it lacks are followers who are willing to work as hard as their leader.
All hope is not lost on this front. This past weekend was a major step in the right direction, as WSU posted two of its five highest assist rates of the season. In fact, the ASU game was the team's most efficient offensive performance since Baylor, a fact I initially dismissed because ASU just isn't very good, but hey -- efficient is efficient, and it was reported that it was their best game sharing the ball in a long time. You will note that a certain player did not dress for that game; I'll let you draw your own conclusion about whether correlation equals causation in that instance.
The numbers indicate the team shared the ball against Arizona, too, although I only watched the last eight minutes of the game. Make a few more open shots, the game is a comfortable win. My fear, however, is that the team will regress back to where it was a couple of weeks ago because of the negative outcome of that game.
Let's hope not. Because for the rest of this season to have any hope of beating Washington and subsequently ending with a trip the NCAA Tournament, these guys have to be smart and determined -- two qualities they haven't always demonstrated this year.