Math 9314: Volunteering An Explanation

Note: If you need a refresher about what all this advanced metric mumbo jumbo really means, see yesterday’s post to turn yourself into an all-knowing wizard of basketball statistics.

Let’s take a look at yesterday’s 77-67 victory over Tennessee, shall we? On the motion chart below, you currently see GameScores on the x-axis, the eFG% on the y-axis, and the size of each player’s bubble is determined by his Usage% from last night’s game. Press the ‘play’ button or scroll to the right to observe metrics from last night’s win. With this motion chart you can see all four metrics charted against one another in whatever manner you’d like for every game Duke has played this season. You can also isolate each individual player to track his performance. The first thing that jumps out at you upon examination of the metrics from the Tennessee game is where the bubbles are positioned on the chart. Unlike a much more statistically efficient game against Davidson, Duke only registered three players with GameScores above 10 last night. Only Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly were able to break double digits. However, you will also notice that despite the low GameScores, six out of the nine Blue Devils that played last night had above a 40% eFG%. This indicates that despite the fact that Duke shot well (48.1% from the field and 38.9% from 3-point range), the Blue Devils were extremely inefficient thanks to sloppy offensive execution, 13 turnovers, and 18 team fouls.

Upon examining individual performances from last night, some interesting trends arise.

Austin Rivers nails a floater against Tennessee (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Look Past The Scoring
Austin Rivers sticks out like a sore thumb. Although he was able to turn around a rough start to finish with a team-high 18 points, Rivers only registered the third highest GameScore on the team with 10 (the definition of average in terms of GameScore). Meanwhile, his 39% Usage% was a team-high as well, besting his next closest competitor, Quinn Cook, by 14%. This means that while Austin was on the floor, he accounted for 39% of his team’s shots. Although a Usage % this high would not be uncommon for an elite player, Rivers has yet to play like one. 14.2 points per game along with 40.4% shooting from the floor and 68.0% free throw shooting are not perfect numbers, and don’t warrant 39% of the possession. Rivers has shown flashes of brilliance this season, especially in the second half of last night’s game, but needs to become more efficient in his play. If he wants to take his game to the next level, he’ll need to slow down his thought process and break out of his tunnel vision. Sometimes splitting double teams and taking on big men is not his best option. Duke will take his scoring production, but not at the cost of 6/15 shooting. For more on Rivers, check out Sebastian Pruiti’s most recent article for Grantland for some excellent analysis.

No Surprise
After showing what he can do during the stretch run of ACC play last season, Seth Curry has been the Blue Devils’ greatest scoring threat, and is doing so in an efficient manner. His 12.9 GameScore was second on the team against Tennessee, and he was able to do so with a 55% eFG% and only a 22% Usage%. Over the team’s five games, Curry has registered a low GameScore of 10.2 with a high of 20.6 against Michigan State, all the while shooting with an eFG% above 54% in each contest. Meanwhile, his Usage% has been considerably lower than Rivers’, and has been less than 23% in four of Duke’s five contests. Though last night was not Curry’s best statistical performance of the season, the Blue Devils will take 17 points and four assists on 5/10 shooting from Seth any day. They’ll just consider his 1 of 4 shooting from beyond the arc an anomaly.

Ryan Kelly pulls up for three in the Blue Devils' victory over Tennessee (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet)

Duke’s Unsung Hero
Curry and Rivers have received much of the credit for Duke’s early season success, but arguably Duke’s most consistent player this season has been junior Ryan Kelly. In five games this year Kelly has posted GameScores between 9.4 and 15 each time, while registering above a 58% eFG% and below a 24% Usage% in four of his five games this year. Kelly has been a consistent scoring threat, and his promotion into the starting lineup in place of Miles Plumlee, whose play has been lackluster this season, was well deserved. Ryan’s 17 points and six rebounds on 5/9 shooting in just 27 minutes last night earned him a GameScore of 14 to go along with his 67% eFG%. This earned him the title of Duke’s most efficient player and second most efficient shooter in their victory over the Volunteers.

A Blast From The Past?
All advanced metrics aside, this year’s Duke team appears to be a significantly more talented version of the 2007-08 Blue Devils, who fell in the second round of the NCAA tournament to West Virginia. Much like the current Duke team, the ‘07-08 team had only one senior and a crop of juniors to lead a relatively inexperienced squad. The team also struggled with an identity crisis throughout the year, failing to recognize who their star was and scoring by committee. Both the ’07 team and today’s Blue Devils had five players averaging double figures in scoring, and it was unclear who would lead the team on a given night. However the main difference we see between these teams is that the 2007 team’s roster didn’t have players that could single-handedly take over games. DeMarcus Nelson, Greg Paulus, and Gerald Henderson along with Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Jon Scheyer in their early years were never going to put the team on their back and carry them to victory. However, Curry, Rivers, and Andre Dawkins have proven this year that they can score in bunches and Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee have provided some much needed consistency inside that Duke teams have not had since Shelden Williams roamed the paint in Cameron.

We hope this look behind the box score has been an enlightening one, and look forward to bringing you more data as the season presses onwards. Be on the lookout for our live blog of the Maui Invitational semifinals against 15th ranked Michigan later this evening along with game and statistical recaps tomorrow. Stay Crazie, my friends.

Section 17: Duke Trumps Volunteers, Set Up Rematch with Michigan

Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com

Austin Rivers d's up. He had 18 points in the game. (Photo via BluePlanetShots.com)

Through four games, Duke looked like a talented team without a fixed identity. We escaped against Belmont by one point at home, and many fans in Cameron gaped in bewilderment. We looked ready to roll against Michigan State before the Spartans cut a double digit lead to 5 by the buzzer. Davidson had a fantastic first half before the Plumlee connection overcame the Wildcats in the second half. Blue Devil fans, including the Crazie-Talk cadre, were never sure of victory despite the high level of talent on this team.

And so we went to Maui, where we faced off against upstart coach Cuonzo Martin’s Tennessee Volunteers in the quarterfinals. The Vols have had their fair share of scandal in the past year, with formerly lauded coach Bruce Pearl dismissed at the end of last season. The new look Tennessee squad never truly backed down; their lack of organization and a tendency to take bad shots doomed them against Duke, but they were athletic and feisty through Monday’s 40 minutes. Duke finally got it together in the final eight minutes of action, pulling away to a 77-67 victory in the Lahaina Civic Center, where we have never lost in four previous Maui Invitationals.

Here are some of my observations from the night.

  • Our three point defense against the Vols was fantastic. Tennessee took eight shots from beyond the arc and connected on none of them. I attribute this to our ball-hawking perimeter defense. This facet of our defensive strategy is both a gift and a curse: we often pressure shooters at the expense of dribble penetration. The Vols were more keen on taking shots closer to the bucket anyway–they shot 50 times from within the arc and collected 10 offensive rebounds. However, Tennessee is not a bad outside shooting team. Even after tonight, the team shoots threes at a 49.1% clip. If Coach K is comfortable funneling shooters to the paint and protecting the three point arc, let’s hope our big men can handle it against better teams in the future.
  • Ryan Kelly is our most consistent offensive player. The White Raven has proven his mettle this year, quietly of course. The Raleigh native doesn’t burn up in a blaze of glory, he simmers like a tender pot roast (Thanksgiving metaphors!). Against Tennessee, he had 17 points and six rebounds–a ho hum night for a star player, but a testament to Kelly’s skill at taking what comes to him. Yesterday, we wrote about Kelly’s incredible effective field goal percentage, and he continued that trend against the Vols. Kelly shot 5-9 from the field, made five of six free throws and two threes. His buckets came at important times in the game, too. With about four minutes to go, Kelly was on the finishing end of a Seth Curry alley oop that permanently shifted momentum in the game to the Devils. As Curry recovered the loose ball, Kelly saw the play developing and made the smartest possible play: a cut to the basket and a call for the ball. It’s no secret that Kelly is one of the smartest players on the Duke team–he had extremely high SAT scores and studies in the demanding Sanford School of Public Policy. As a junior captain, he has shown his ability to lead Duke to wins in competitive games. I’m glad the White Raven is flying with Duke.
  • Mason Plumlee and Austin Rivers showed flashes of offensive brilliance, but just flashes. Mason and Austin are the most hyped players on the team this year, mostly because of their NBA potential (never mind that Curry and Kelly are the most productive, of course). Monday night was up and down for each of these studs. Rivers took several boneheaded shots in the first half, killing Duke momentum and allowing Tennessee easy transition opportunities. Plum2 was 3-5 from the field, but showed a tendency to dribble himself into trouble with his back to the basket. In the second half, each player had fantastic finishes: Mason’s left handed finish and one and Rivers’ many floaters come to mind. Both Mason and Austin have oodles of ability, and since K is the master of November, he will find ways to help each player grow as the season progresses, even when making mistakes. Certainly both will have to be more efficient if we plan to go deep in March. Luckily, March is months away.
  • Free throw shooting needs work. 18-27 will not cut it when we start conference play. Oh wait, the ACC still sucks. Still, though.
  • The backup PG duo of Thornton and Cook were up and down, but I believe in them. Thornton, our requisite defensive stopper, bodied up against Tennessee’s best player, Trae Golden. He fouled out. Cook posted a eclectic line of two points, two boards, a steal, a block and an assist. He did seem a little bit out of control, though, and only was on the floor for eight minutes. Many have made the observation that “Duke plays better” with Thornton on the floor, and that is usually true of the sophomore. Cook is still recovering from a knee injury and will surely grow as a guard as the season goes on. So, let’s just wait to see what happens for these two guys.
  • Rebounding can be better. Chalk some of it up to Tennessee’s wildly inconsistent shot selection, but they had 10 offensive boards to our eight, and outrebounded us 34-33 overall. This should not happen when we have three upperclassmen 6’10” or taller.

Tonight, we face off with a surging Michigan Wolverines squad who handily beat favored Memphis yesterday. Duke-Michigan carries heavy historical connotations, which were reignited last season by Jalen Rose’s foolish “Uncle Tom” comments about Duke legend Grant Hill. Then we barely escaped from Michigan in the NCAA second round, saved only by Kyrie Irving’s late game floater. Michigan has already beaten Duke once this year by securing the commitment of coveted high school senior Mitch McGary. The Wolverines, true to their mascot, will be out for blood against Duke for all these reasons. There shall be fireworks.

We’ll be back with another liveblog of tomorrow’s action; tipoff should be around  7 PM on ESPN. Thanks to all of those who participated in last night’s liveblog, by the way.

See you at 7PM. Go Duke.

Bonus footage: Highlights from Duke’s most recent Maui championship from DBP in 2008. Whoa, remember Greg Paulus?!? Whoa, remember Taylor “2 packs a day” King? Well, we are now 13-0 in the event.

Correction appended 11/23/11: Tyler Thornton is a sophomore, not a junior. Whoops.