How Florida Utilized Their Big Men Last Season

When it comes to Florida’s recruitment of Kerry Blackshear a lot has been made about their utilization, or lack of utilization, of big men. The Gators haven’t had a dominant offensive threat at the center position during Mike White’s tenure which has made for a large discussion point among Florida detractors in the race for Blackshear.

How did Florida use their frontcourt last year and do they really utilize big men less than the average team? I dove into the film to see what the case is.

Usage Rates

Let’s start with a simple look at the usage rate of the frontcourt. Usage rate is a calculation that makes an estimate at what percentage of a team’s plays involve a player while they’re on the floor.

Now, if I were to just give you the numbers for Florida’s frontcourt they wouldn’t mean much so I added in the numbers from Virginia Tech, Tennessee, and Kentucky for a reference. I’m not trying to be subtle here, I wanted to see how Florida stacked up against teams that are not only vying for Blackshear’s services but are teams known for playing a lot through their frontcourt. Kentucky and Tennessee’s frontcourt usage rates should be higher than most teams in the country and seeing Virginia Tech’s usage rates from last year should show what Blackshear might be used to.

Florida

Kevarrius Hayes: 16.3%
Keyontae Johnson: 19.8%
Combined: 36.1%

Tennessee

Kyle Alexander: 14.6%
Grant Williams: 26.4%
Combined: 41.0%

Kentucky

Reid Travis: 19.5%
PJ Washington: 25.8%
Combined: 45.3%

Virginia Tech

Kerry Blackshear: 26.6%
Ty Outlaw: 13.5%
Combined: 40.1%

As you can see Florida uses their frontcourt less than any of these teams but the difference isn’t all that drastic. The Gators’ usage rate with their frontcourt definitely went up with the implementation of the Princeton offense that put Hayes in a dribble handoff role at the top of the key which made him a pivot in the offense and an important decision maker.

Even though this kept Florida’s frontcourt involved in the creation of the play in a setup role when it comes to finishing plays the Gators are below the other teams in big man usage. Here is the percentage of plays for each team that ended in a post up shot.

Florida: 5%

Tennessee: 11.9%

Kentucky: 10.2%

Virginia Tech: 8%

I expect this low number from Florida isn’t surprising you. However, I do think it’s interesting that they’re not majorly lower than Virginia Tech. Yes, they are doubled by Tennessee and Kentucky but let’s remember those are two teams that post up as much as any team in the country.

Let’s look another stat that measures plays finished with a shot from a big man. This number represents the percentage of the team’s shots taken by the roll man (the screen setter) in the pick and roll.

Florida: 4.4%

Tennessee: 2.9%

Kentucky: 3.3%

Virginia Tech: 4.9%

While Florida’s number doesn’t dwarf the usage rates of Tennessee and Kentucky it is interesting that it’s noticeably higher given those teams’ focus on using frontcourt players. This number shows an area Florida utilized their centers much more than the average team and shows there was a focus at trying to get the ball inside to their bigs. Another interesting note? Virginia Tech was the highest usage, and obviously that means Blackshear likes getting the ball off the roll. That means if he’s looking to continue to showcase himself in the pick and roll game, the style most prevalent in the NBA, Florida could be one of his best locations.

How Did Florida Use Post Ups?

I grinded a lot of film to prepare myself to write about this and I really think Coach White drew up some creative stuff to get one-on-one matchups on the block for his post players. I quickly took some clips of it and tweeted it out so you could see them.

Here are some things you saw in the video.

First, there were a few sets off baseline out of bounds plays that got the ball inside and cleared out the floor for a post up. When teams guard a BLOB they are often frantically trying to stick with their man and Coach White banked on that principle and ran a lot of false action behind the 3-point line which spaced the floor for bigs to go to work. One set we saw a lot was the ball being inbounded to the high post followed by a quick interior entry to a flashing big (we saw this a ton when Isaiah Stokes was in the game). Keyontae Johnson who is an underrated passer was often the one to deliver the ball from the high post and they had some success there.

We also saw some ball screens where the ball was swung once before a post entry pass from the wing. The initial ball screen would be to get movement from the help defense and then the swing pass to the wing before the post entry allowed for an easier passing angle. A ball screen, quick swing, then post entry also made for enough movement that defenses couldn’t stack up against the post up and sometimes even made for some confusion regarding who was in a help side position.

What Florida did the most to get post ups was a simple but effective play out of their Princeton formation. It involved the center being in the high post or beyond the 3-point line with the ball. They would pass it to the wing then get a back screen (usually from Andrew Nembhard, you’ll see it a few times in that video) to get going towards the hoop where they could get an entry pass. The two players on the opposite side of the floor would often exchange positions just to occupy the help defenders and that would create a one-on-one opportunity down low.

Could Florida Have Posted Up More?

As you can see in the video I shared there were actually a lot of plays designed to get their post players involved but truthfully the Gators just didn’t have the personnel to really finish off these sets. Statistically Kevarrius Hayes was actually extremely effective on post ups at 1.039 points per possession (90th percentile nationally) but that number is a bit misleading as he would often finish easier opportunities but when faced with a good defender he’d often just pass the ball out. Isaiah Stokes (0.628 PPP) and Dontay Bassett (0.7 PPP) are still developing their ability to score on the block and simply weren’t efficient enough to command those touches. While Florida’s post up numbers are low I don’t actually think they’re a totally accurate representation. The ball went inside more than that number would indicate, it just didn’t end with many shots as Florida’s bigs met resistance they didn’t think they could score over.

How Would Kerry Blackshear Be Used?

Watch that video again and see how often Florida was able to get one-on-one opportunities down low with good spacing. Even though they weren’t always able to capitalize on those opportunities the way they were able to create space for their bigs was encouraging and demonstrated good offense. If Kerry Blackshear were to come to Gainesville I’m sure he’d get similar plays ran for him that would allow for one-on-one opportunities and when given those chances he’d convert at a high rate. He saw a lot of double teams when posted up at Virginia Tech and that’s why seeing the way the Gators were able to get single coverage down low would be encouraging.

I also think he’d be able to get easy buckets rolling towards the rim. As we saw earlier the Gators hit the roll man a good amount and with a precise passer like Nembhard I think Blackshear would get a whole lot of easy layups. A whopping 13.6% of Blackshear’s shots last season came as the roll man in pick and roll and Florida would give him a better chance to keep up those numbers than any other team.

How Has Mike White (And Staff) Developed Big Men?

In White’s still short time at Florida the sample size of bigs is pretty low to see how they have developed. A crowning jewel may have been a senior season of John Egbunu who, of course, had the rug ripped out from due to a devastating knee injury but we can still see a bit of how big men have developed recently. Here is Kevarrius Hayes’ points per possession on post ups throughout his career:

2016: 0.8
2017: 0.865
2018: 1.333
2019: 1.039

Hayes’ robust number in 2018 was on a small sample size of shots but you can see that he made an obvious step after struggling as an underclassman.

How about Dontay Bassett. Two seasons ago, he was 0-7 on post up attempts. He hardly took them and when he did he wasn’t able to see a single one go through the hoop. This past season he took a step forward and got a few buckets shooting 37.5% on the block. Not great, but a sign of some development.

Have any big men flourished offensively yet under Coach White? Not yet, but the sample size is small and there are big men on campus right now that we’ll be watching closely. Of course, assistant coach Al Pinkins is the primary developer of post players on the roster and he’ll play a big role in what happens next. Could Kerry Blackshear be the best offensive Gator big man in years? We’ll have to wait to find out.

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Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.