Welcome to limbo!
The 18-19 Cal MBB season is over. There may or may not be a new head coach next season, but there has been exactly zero relevant information in the media indicating whether or not Jim Knowlton is leaning towards staying the course or bringing in a new regime. News could break today or three weeks from now. Nobody knows.
As a way of killing time until we know the future direction of the program, I’m going to spend some time sharing some shot type splits that all of you may or may not find interesting. These numbers will provide a more concrete description of what Cal attempted to do on offense and defense from a style perspective, as well as describe what Cal was or wasn’t able to do successfully.
A few caveats about this data before I attempt some rudimentary breakdowns:
- This data isn’t strength of schedule adjusted, which means that the national rankings shouldn’t be treated as gospel. While the Pac-12 was quite down this year, Cal still played a schedule somewhere between 60 and 75 toughest in the nation depending on your preferred metric.
- All of the data can be found here if you want to play around with the tables. It’s based on play-by-play data, which isn’t always 100% reliable.
- The national rankings range from 1 (best) to 353 (worst) but sorts differently depending on the split. The website ranks these stats such that attempting a high percentage of dunks, shots at the rim, and threes are good, whereas attempting a high percentage of ‘other 2s’ is bad. So when you see that Cal ranks 313th in frequency of ‘other 2s’ attempted, that means that they take lots of those types of shots, and that’s a bad thing.
All of these numbers are pulled from barttorvik.com, an advanced stats compendium I recently discovered and have spent too much time clicking through. Enjoy?
- Cal isn’t super efficient at any shot type, but to the extent that Cal has a strength, it’s 3 point shooting. While Cal’s distance shooting came sharply back down to earth in conference play, Cal has at least three solid or better 3 point shooters.
- Last year, it didn’t make any sense for Cal to take 3 pointers, so the Bears attempted them at a rock bottom rate. So while Cal’s rate of attempted 3 pointers did rise a lot this year, it’s still at a rate solidly below the national average. And based on what Cal was successful at, it’s hard to argue that Cal should be taking them much more often.
- Cal’s finishing skills are iffy, but considering Cal’s inexperience and lack of elite size and/or athleticism, that’s not the worst rate of success at the rim. Still, that’s an area that will need to improve next year as freshmen become sophomores and sophomores become juniors.
- Cal’s rate of ‘other 2s’ is still unreasonably high, but I’m honestly not sure how much of that is by design (these are the shots we want!) vs. necessity (these are the shots we have to take for lack of option). It’s a rough combo because Cal was particularly inefficient at these shots, actually shooting worse on 2s away from the rim than they did from behind the 3 point line. That’s the kind of combo you need to have a bad offense despite excellent turnover avoidance and solid foul drawing/foul shooting numbers.
- The truly tough analytical question: What, if anything, do these numbers say about Cal’s talent level vs. coaching strategy. Does Cal struggle to finish at the rim because they generally lack size, or is this a reflection of an offensive scheme that struggles to earn clean looks inside? The answer is probably both, but meting out credit/blame is a difficult task.
- It’s hardly some sort of cosmic revelation, but Cal’s defensive collapse from bad to awful from 2018 to 2019 is probably most explained by the loss of Marcus Lee and Kingsley Okoroh’s rim protection. The percentage of dunks/shots at the rim allowed were nearly identical, but not having Marcus and King around turned blocks into shots that made it to the hole, or turned tougher layups into dunks.
- You can also see the impact of Cal’s decision to play a tighter zone that allows more space on the perimeter - an increase in the rate of 3 pointers allowed, and a better job of contesting other 2s. These numbers do look ugly, though to be fair they don’t reflect the other advantage of that scheme - increased turnover creation.
- Cal’s ability to make major strides on defense might very well hinge on either the development of Connor Vanover as a rim protector, or the ability of the coaching staff to attract a big man transfer. Playing a tight-to-the-interior zone was the right choice for the short term, but long term Cal desperately needs to be able to extend their guards out to contest shooters with a big behind them that can be trusted.
I might have another post later on if I manage to pull more nuggets of interest, but this is a first step to go beyond the basic numbers already available as we try to look at what went wrong this year and whether or not there are real reasons for optimism next year.
Or AD Knowlton will make a decision and we can talk about that instead. Either way.