One of the most lamentable aspects of WSU's basketball season -- beyond the losing streak that sits at 17 and counting -- is the abyss into which the offense has fallen.
The Cougars possess far and away the worst offense in the Pac-12. According to kenpom.com, they scored an anemic 0.95 points per possession in conference play; none of the other 11 teams is below 1.01, and the median offense in the Pac-12 scored 1.055 points per possession. Visually, that looks like this:
The interesting thing about this, if you haven't been paying very close attention, is that the Cougars actually aren't a terrible shooting team -- they're not a great shooting team, but certainly not bad enough to suggest such an awful performance on a possession-by-possession basis, if we're buying into the idea that shooting is really, really important:
When you stack these two stats on top of each other in an effort to see how closely offensive efficiency and shooting correlate for each team, it looks like this (ordered by offensive efficiency):
It's a well-accepted principle in basketball that making shots is the most important thing for any team to do on offense, since, yanno, the ball has to go into the basket for a team to score points. And this bears out for 11 of the 12 teams ...
Except WSU, where there's a huge discrepancy between shooting and efficiency.
Of course, we know basketball isn't as simple as just shooting, as there are multiple factors that can influence an offense's ability to score -- specifically, Four Factors, as identified by basketball analytics pioneer Dean Oliver: Shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws. In a post titled "How to succeed on offense without really making shots," ESPN writer (and Friend of CougCenter) John Gasaway riffs off this idea to come up with a simple metric to show how a team's offensive efficiency can outperform its shooting:
Years ago I referred to (the) combination of voluminous offensive rebounding and scarce turnovers as a team’s barrage factor. Today I’ve decided that’s a dumb name. Now I much prefer "shot volume," and to measure it I’ve come up with what I call the Easy Shot Volume Solver. (What a great idea!) ESVS is simply a team’s offensive rebound percentage added to its percentage of effective (turnover-less) possessions in conference play.
For instance North Carolina’s pulling down 38.9 percent of its misses in ACC play, and holding onto the ball 84.3 percent of the time. The sum of those two numbers is 123.2.
He then ranked all 75 major conference teams via the ESVS, and broke them into three categories -- gluttonous, normal and starving, with the former and the latter demarcated at one standard deviation. Guess where WSU finished?
Those bottom 11 teams are a who's who of awful major conference teams, and the thing they all have in common is they're terrible at getting first chances (high turnover percentage) and -- in the event they don't give the ball away -- terrible at getting second chances (low offensive rebounding percentage).
Or, put another way, it's the WSU corollary to Gasaway's post: "How to have a bad offense while actually making a reasonable amount of shots."
If you're wondering how a coach with a reputation for high-powered offense put together such an inept offensive squad ... this is how. WSU has careless point guards initiating the offense, is filled with subpar passers at every position, and is completely outmatched athletically on the front line.
Everyone would obviously hope that next year's offense couldn't possibly be this bad again. And it probably won't be. But with a roster that will return largely intact ... well, you can decide for yourself how reasonable it is to expect dramatic improvement in those two areas so that WSU's efficiency can match up with its shooting.
(Oh, and just for a little bit of cosmic fun: WSU plays Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament tomorrow. As you can see in the third graph above, Colorado shoots worse than WSU, yet has a significantly better offensive efficiency. The Buffs' ESVS rank? No. 21!)