Offensive Efficiency and Tendencies for Dartmouth Basketball

With only three games left in the Ivy League season, the defining story lines that brought either success or failure have all but calcified for each team. Stratification best characterizes the conference this year, as the top three schools have separated themselves from the rest of the pack early, and maintained such distance to the point of nearly securing a top three finish three weeks out from the end of the season.

Yale (13.92 net rating; simple rating system of 8.51), Princeton (12.46; 8.34), and Columbia (5.05; 2.35) comprise this standout trio, and have positioned themselves several games ahead in the win-loss column. For a sense of comparison and the disparity between the upper tier and bottom five, the latter group has a net rating that ranges from -1.77 to -11.95 and a SRS from -2.01 to -9.23–further illustrating this gulf in conference power. Even at the top, Yale and Princeton have separated themselves from Columbia, a trend that materialized in the net rating and SRS measurements for several weeks now (owing in large part to a consistently lower margin of victory). Accordingly, the Bulldogs and Tigers seem destined for a top two finish with the Lions on the outside looking in.

One of the teams below this Ivy upper echelon, Dartmouth, has shown flashes of potential during the season but have endured various struggles as well. Most notably, the Big Green have often disintegrated late in games, surrendering leads in contests in which they appeared to have established tight control. At one point after having completed eight Ivy League games, Dartmouth had led for 49 percent of total the game clock–and trailed for 44 percent of it–but somehow managed to come away from these contests with a dismal 2-6 record. These recurrent failures to close out games have meant that instead of a potential, respectable fourth-place Ivy finish that should have been within reach, the Big Green remain ensnared in the bottom rung of the conference.

Despite losing two of its top talents from last year due to graduation and transfer, the team still has employed several interesting pieces. Standout freshman Evan Boudreaux has risen to new heights in conference play, leading in several conference-wide statistical categories in just his first year in Hanover. Sophomore Miles Wright and senior Connor Boehm flank him on offense, and offer a nice inside and outside game, respectively–or at least as long as when Wright receives a reasonable amount of opportunities, which at some points he did not early on in conference play. Strong guard play and outside shooting emerged during some games, but has proved inconsistent, thus speaking to the broader team weakness of backcourt–and especially point guard–play. A few charts on the efficiency and tendencies of the team’s offense below shed some light on its 2015-16 trajectory and what it could be doing better.

true shooting usage differential 2-27

Source: Sports-Reference College Basketball.

The above graph shows the true shooting percentage–which takes into account three-point field goals and free throws in creating a more accurate measure of shooting efficiency–and usage percentage–an estimate of the percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor–for the 11 Dartmouth players that have regular time in the rotation (>200 total minutes played). In red is the differential between these two metrics–the higher it is, the more efficient in shooting and less possession-consuming a player is. What’s not included here is a sample of playing time, such as minutes, which mediates how efficient a player can be. In other words, the smaller sample of playing time for Mike Fleming, for example, might produce a more spurious positive differential; if he plays more time, then that differential is bound to shrink.

At the same time, Taylor Johnson seems to contain plenty of untapped potential. He’s played the fifth most minutes on the team and has excelled in Ivy League play in particular–during which he posted a career-high in scoring–and has the highest differential outside of Fleming’s, making for a more accurate indicator. Considering the three-point sharpshooter that he is–and somehow possesses the highest true shooting percentage while being a guard–it would certainly behoove Dartmouth to grant the sophomore more offensive freedom and chances.

The next chart below displays another key aspect of the sport in shot selection:

shot selection 2-27

Source: Hoop-Math.

In more recent years, the NBA and basketball more generally has increasingly prized three-point shooting, primarily for its efficiency, but also for many of its beneficial outgrowths such as spacing the floor (see Goldsberry for snippets of this three-point revolution here and here). Moreover, this has consequences for all three of the (general) types of shots. The best shot will always be the open one (and if you look at advanced data it will surely bear this out), but aside from this, the most efficient ways of scoring are with the three-point shot, and then with drives to the rim (high-percentage looks closer to the basket) and free throw generation. That leaves the midrange shot as the least efficient in the sport.

While Dartmouth as a whole has been more reluctant than accepting about this mathematically better way of playing basketball–specifically with respect to three’s–it’s worth seeing which players have proven more efficient by these precepts of basketball analytics. Namely, the more an individual devotes his shots to three’s and shots at the rim and less to midrangers, the better.

In terms of shot distribution, Malik Gill, Johnson, and Wright have the most efficient shot selection on the team, in that order, as the three focus a lot more of their shots on three’s and drives to the rim. If more of the offense runs through these players, it should only improve. Of course, this is just in terms of how shots are taken–excluding their outcomes. If we check the player efficiency ratings of these three players, Johnson comes out with the highest, followed by Wright and then Gill. In the context of the two presented graphs and what they indicate, Johnson should definitely receive more offensive opportunities than he does now.

The three least efficient shot-takers by this measure are Brandon McDonnell, Fleming, and Boudreaux, as all three take too many midrange jumpers. In a positive sign, however, Boudreaux has gradually displayed much greater willingness to shoot the three as the Ivy League slate has worn on, and has shot well from deep to the point where he’s become one of the team’s strongest players in this area. This only adds to his superb driving and rebounding strengths, and could only reap more benefits for his and his team’s offensive play if he continues to trade midrangers in favor of more three’s.