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A modest idea for WSU basketball

It involves Robert Franks and shooting. A lot. Lots and lots of shooting. By Robert Franks.

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Let me start with this: I have no actual hope that Ernie Kent will change anything, but this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Besides, when a team is going bad, sometimes it’s more fun to try and think of solutions, if only for a moment, and even if they probably would produce only modest results.

Also, I’m going to talk about Ken Bone. This is purely a coincidence, given that I wrote the bulk of this last week.

Bone took a lot of crap from Washington State Cougars fans — first, from those who resented the fact that he wasn’t Tony Bennett (or a disciple thereof); then, later, from pretty much everyone for taking the program into the death spiral in which we are still mired thanks to Kent’s incompetence.

But, in between, Bone did some things that were OK, and I think Kent would do well to take a lesson from his predecessor — rather than, say, dumping on what his predecessor left him with.

The WSU offense is mired in a pretty massive slump. The Cougs are scoring just 1 point per possession since conference play started, which ranks ninth in the Pac-12.* This, after starting the year as an exceedingly fun and effective attack that put up 1.25 and 1.18 ppp against Saint Mary’s and San Diego State.

*Fun fact: Washington is scoring 0.99 ppp, and is 7-5. Defense is neat!

In reality, what happened in Fullerton was never going to be sustainable, given the high level of shooting and the low levels of turnovers. But it’s safe to say the Cougs dropped off much, much farther than any of us wanted them to.

The root of the problem, in my mind, is that Kent’s trying to run his up-tempo, share-the-ball offense with a group of players that simply aren’t talented enough to do that. For it to truly work, everyone has to be a threat, and it’s painfully obvious what happens when Kent doesn’t have that kind of talent:

  • 2009 (Oregon): 143rd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency
  • 2010 (Oregon): 131st
  • 2015 (WSU): 77th
  • 2016 (WSU): 187th
  • 2017 (WSU): 171st
  • 2018 (WSU): 139th

Remember, Kent was once thought of as an offensive guru. It probably goes without saying, but just in case it doesn’t: Gurus don’t post one top-100 offense in six seasons in a high major conference.

You know who did regularly post top-100 offenses? Ken Bone! Four times in his first four seasons, in fact. Only his final season was an offensive mess.

Now, it’s obviously a lot easier to do when you’ve got Klay Thompson for a couple of years. But it’s worth noting that Bone pieced together competent offenses even after Klay left, including his best one, which was in 2012 — the year after Klay’s departure.

I wasn’t a big fan of Bone’s offense back then, mostly because it felt like he lacked a vision for what he wanted the program to be, simply adding whatever disparate parts he could lure to Pullman. He’d then try to figure out a way to make all those weird pieces — many of whom were only borderline Pac-10/12 players — fit together. And I still believe that’s part of what doomed his tenure.

But when you look at each year individually, I’ve actually come to admire what he did with his offenses, particularly in light of the horror show that Kent’s tenure has been.

Bone actually ran a share-the-ball offense to such great success at Portland State. But rather than just do that at WSU, I think Bone recognized that he lacked the depth of talent needed to make that work. I think he made a calculated decision to put the ball in the hands of his best player as often as humanly possible, from as many dangerous spots on the floor as he could, and let that guy shoot as much as he wanted.

Thompson and Brock Motum each posted some of the highest usage and shot percentage rates in the conference from 2010-2013, and the result was a series of offenses that weren’t spectacular, but were at least respectable in adjusted efficiency: 85th, 88th, 60th and 81st.

If Kent were to be open to making a drastic change, might I suggest he simply mimic Bone’s philosophy with his lone starting-quality Pac-12 player, Robert Franks?

Franks has an offensive rating of 112 in conference play, meaning he’s good for roughly 1.12 points per possession that ends with an action from him. That’s obviously much better than the team mark of 1.00. He’s a multidimensional stretch four who can beat people both inside and from the perimeter. He’s literally the only tough matchup for an opponent on the entire WSU roster.

And yet, there are stretches of games where Franks disappears, or is put in positions by Kent where he really can’t do that much damage. He’s only using 25 percent of WSU’s possessions and taking 26 percent of the team’s shots, both just a tick ahead of Malachi Flynn — and Franks is a much, much better player than Flynn, who’s seen his offensive rating in conference play drop all the way to 104.

In Bone’s offense, Klay and Motum would use upwards of 30 percent of the possessions and take nearly a third of the team’s shots when they were on the floor. It’s not the only reason Bone’s offenses were better (they also were marginally better at taking care of the ball and offensive rebounding), but it’s a big part of it.

And we saw on Sunday what the offense looks like when Franks is removed completely — just 0.88 points per possession. That’s about the same as what happened against OSU, but guess what? Franks used only 1-in-5 possessions when he was on the floor against the Beavers. That’s less than Flynn used (25 percent) and the same as Carter Skaggs. That just can’t happen.

Putting in a game plan to get Franks, say, five more shots a game — which would push him up to that 30 percent range — is something Kent literally could do on Thursday to create a more efficient offense, even if/when Franks’ efficiency takes a small step back because of increased usage (as is the case with most players).

Why not purposefully put the offense on Franks’ back and see what happens?