Today I’m proud to offer a guest contribution from Jack Moore. Jack is well-known in the baseball blogosphere, being a frequent to contributor to FanGraphs.com and creator/author of the Milwaukee Brewers blog Disciple of Uecker, part of the ESPN SweetSpot Network. He also happen to live two blocks away from me. Check out his work on those sites and follow him on Twitter @jh_moore.
The defining aspect of the Wisconsin Badgers under head coach Bo Ryan is undeniably their swing offense. The offense, based around constant ball movement, low post play, and taking high-efficiency shots (layups, open shots, and, if necessary, 3-pointers) has consistently led the Badgers to be one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball. Along with tough defense, this style of play has resulted in nine NCAA tournament appearances, 12 NCAA tournament victories, three regular season Big Ten championships, and two Big Ten tournament championships.
Because of their slow play, people don’t typically identify with the Badgers as a juggernaut offensive team. However, the Badgers under Ryan have been in the top 15% of the 347 team NCAA in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) every season since 2004 (since KenPom.com has data). As far as the Big Ten conference goes, the Badgers have been in the top half of the conference every year since 2004 and in the top three every year except for 2006.
|Season||OffEff||NCAA Avg||NCAA Rank||Big Ten Rank|
The Badgers will, of course, use the swing offense once again as they pursue a tenth straight NCAA berth in 2011. This time, they’ll have to do it with a new primary point guard for the first time since 2008 thanks to the graduation of Trevon Hughes. Hughes provided Badger fans with a bevy of memorable moments, including a buzzer shot to beat Florida State in the 2009 NCAAs and his 15 points in the final seven minutes against Northwestern in his senior campaign. However, some have complained that Hughes takes too many shots and disrupts the Bo Ryan offense.
Sharif Chambliss, the first point guard actually recruited by Ryan (Devin Harris was coached by Bo Ryan for all four years but was recruited by Dick Bennett), was very much the distributor as one would expect out of a point guard. His 23.9% assist rate (the percentage of teammate shots made which he assisted) ranked 9th in the Big Ten among 65 qualified players (at least 40% of team’s minutes played). Chambliss was also relatively secure with the ball. His 16.3% turnover rate (turnovers per possession) ranked 15th in the conference, better than point guards like Deron Williams and Chris Hill.
Chambliss didn’t provide much with the ball in his own hands. He was a very good three-point shooter (39%) but couldn’t do anything inside the arc (29.2%) and only reached the free throw line 49 times the whole season. Still, thanks to his strengths in assisting and shooting threes along with his relatively limited number of shots taken (20.5%, fourth among Badger starters), Chambliss managed a solidly above average offensive rating of 104.5.
When Chambliss departed after the 2005 season, the door opened for junior guard Kammron Taylor to take over the offensive reins in 2006 and 2007. For every bit of pure point skills Chambliss showed in his year in Madison, Taylor showed the profile of a pure shooter. Taylor only assisted on 14% of made baskets in 2006 and a mere 12.4% in 2007, ranking near the middle of the Big Ten pack in both seasons. The 2006 team, as the table from above shows, was the worst offensive team of the Bo Ryan era for which we have data, and that’s likely due to the inability of the team to create shots for others. Only 54.1% of the team’s shots were assisted, ranking 201st in the nation and a contributing factor to the team’s 196th ranked 48.7% effective field goal percentage.
That said, the team was still good offensively, ranking in the top sixth of the nation and the top half of the Big Ten conference, and that’s because the team took good care of the ball. The Badgers only turned the ball over 17.3% of the time, or roughly one out of every six possessions, a mark which ranked 9th in the entire NCAA. Taylor was no exception, and although his 20.1% turnover rate was higher than that of Chambliss, it also came with far more production inside the arc (37.2%) and over twice as many trips to the free throw line. And, as one might expect from a player labeled as a shooter, Taylor was a rounding error away from shooting 40% from beyond the arc.
Taylor saw major improvement in the 2007 season, lowering his turnover rate to 15% and draining nearly 10% more two point shots. His style of play was quite similar, as he still primarily shot the three pointer and didn’t facilitate much of the offense, at least in terms of assists. Michael Flowers took on more of a facilitator/PG type role than Taylor that season, assisting on 19.2% of shots while only taking about one out of every seven shots for the team. With Flowers to take some of the burden of running the offense, Taylor became a tremendous offensive force for the Badgers in his combo guard role. He compiled a stupendous 111 offensive rating and a true shooting percentage of a whopping 57.2%, thanks to his vastly improved inside game.
Flowers remained on the team going into the 2008 season, but Kammron Taylor was gone. He would be replaced by yet another slasher type of guard in Trevon Hughes. Hughes and Flowers split the point guard/shooting guard role in a very similar fashion to Flowers and Taylor in 2007. Hughes wasn’t anywhere near as effective a scorer as Taylor was – mostly due to a woeful 31.4% from three and a mediocre 51.5% TS% – but he was an effective distributor, assisting on 17.3% of shots.
That distributing also came with less ball security, as Hughes put up a 19% turnover rate. Between the turnovers and (mostly) the poor shooting, Hughes posted a poor ORtg of 101. For comparison, 2008′s 10-22 Michigan squad put up a 103.3 offensive rating as a team, an unacceptable mark for a player of any import in the Badger offense.
The Badgers saw growth out of Hughes in his junior season of 2009. His three-point shooting improved, but that was offset by less success inside the arc, as his TS% improved just 0.7% to 52.2%. Most of the growth was in Hughes’s ability as a point guard. Hughes posted a 20.3% assist rate, the highest since Chambliss in 2005, and he only turned the ball over 16.3%. With Brian Butch and Michael Flowers both gone, Hughes used 24.1% of Badger possessions in 2009, fewer than only Jon Leuer, and Leuer’s numbers may be skewed by his limited minutes.
As a focal point of the offense, Hughes couldn’t afford to replicate 2008. His 104.3 offensive rating still wasn’t great – as far as first or second options, it rated in the middle of the pack in the big ten. The Badgers had far better third, fourth, and fifth options in guys like Marcus Landry (108.1 ORTG), Jason Bohannon (113.3) and Joe Krabbenoft (113.3), and that allowed them to maintain a top-3 offense in the conference despite an average PG in Hughes.
The advent of Jordan Taylor in 2010 allowed Hughes to move to more of a shooter role, similar to what he did with Flowers in 2008 and what Kammron Taylor did with Flowers in 2007. Without the full responsibility at point guard, Hughes assisted on fewer baskets, but made more shots – a 1.5% increase in TS% – and posted the lowest turnover rate of any of the guards mentioned yet at 14.8%. This is made even more impressive by the fact that Jon Leuer’s injury made him the only legitimate creator on the floor for the Badgers for much of the season. Hughes was forced to use even more possessions in 2010, with a 28% mark that was topped only by Evan Turner, Manny Harris, and Taylor Battle. Those three present a perfect measuring stick for Hughes – his 106.3 ORTG compares quite favorably to Turner’s 108.5, Harris’s 107.0, and Battle’s 106.5.
One of the most interesting dynamics of the Badgers’ season was the on-court interaction between Hughes and sophomore guard Jordan Taylor. Particularly when Jon Leuer was off the court, Ryan used both guards on the court and a relatively small lineup. With both Hughes and Taylor on the court, the 6’8” Keaton Nankivil would be the biggest player and he didn’t provide much of an inside presence. That led to Hughes as the first option much of the time, but the ball went through the hands of Taylor more and more often as the season went on.
Taylor was a poor shooter – 33% from three-point range, 44% from two, and 72% from the line – but he more than made up for it with his excellent point guard skills. As measured by assists and turnovers, Taylor’s 2010 is by far the best point guard season the Badgers have seen since Devin Harris. Taylors 25.8% assist ration bests Chambliss’s 2005 mark and ranked 8th of 63 qualified players in the Big Ten. More importantly and more impressive, though, was the way that Taylor limited turnovers, only turning the ball over on 11.8% of possessions. Again, that is by far the best mark for a post-Harris point guard and again that mark ranks very highly amongst Big Ten players, this time 6th of 63.
The future is remarkably bright for Taylor, as a player with his ability to create shots for his teammates hasn’t been seen in Madison for many years. However, with the departure of Hughes and Jason Bohannon, somebody is going to have to step up and make more shots, particularly three pointers. That will be the next step in his development. Although we can probably expect Rob Wilson to start taking more shots, and Jon Leuer will hopefully be around for the entire season this time around, there will probably still be shots left to go around. If those shots are going to come from the hands of Jordan Taylor, he will need to improve his percentages from all locations of the floor. Every single Bo Ryan point guard so far has managed to do that so far. If Taylor can continue that tradition, he could become one of the best offensive players in the Big Ten next season.