Let’s face it, people LOVE three pointers.
In the grand scheme of basketball history adoration of the three-point shot is a fairly recent development but it’s one that has unquestionably changed the way fans look at the game. In all the discussion about the role of the deep ball in modern basketball something that has been lost is the importance of scoring the ball on the interior. Whether it’s the growingly archaic post-up or the loveably fundamental layup the importance of getting high-value 2-point buckets has been lost as of late and I’m here to remind you of it’s role in the game.
For example, the best offensive team in the country (whether it’s by raw points per possession or in an adjusted offensive efficiency metric like KenPom) is Gonzaga, and while their ability to shoot the three-ball has been discussed at length by national media (37.3%, good for 52nd in the country), their central ability to score has been largely ignored. They are first in the country at 2-point percentage at 62.0%, and 38.8% of their shots come at the rim which is one of the highest rates in the country. They also post up on 10.5% of possessions, another number that is much higher than the national average and ensures more close shots at the rim. Those high value shots are the engine behind their potent offense but it has largely been forgotten due to people looking at their ability to shoot from range.
For another example, last year’s Villanova team was the most efficient offensive team in recorded college basketball history and while their 3-point shooting was the skill that was most lauded it was mostly ignored that they were the 5th most efficient team at scoring at the basket and the 45th most efficient team on post-ups.
Why do you I bring all this up? Scoring on the interior has been a problem for the Gators the last few years and though they’ve improved their points in the paint the last few weeks there is still some places to grow. Three-point shooting has only become more and more of a reliance as Mike White’s tenure goes on and I’m not totally sure it’s the best direction to go.
Here are some numbers from the last three seasons about Florida’s reliance on and execution of the three-point shot. The 3PA% number is three-point attempts divided by field goal attempts, so it’s what percentage of Florida’s shots are from three. In brackets is where they rank nationally. I also added their KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency rank so you can see how they were scoring on a whole.
3PA%: 43.9% (48th)
3P%: 33.8% (199th)
3PA%: 40.3% (98th)
3P%: 37.0 % (78th)
3PA%: 36.6% (170th)
3P%: 35.8% (131st)
As you can see, the percentage of threes attempted has gone up steadily in only the last few years from 36.6% to 40.3% and now all the way up to 43.9%. As you can see as well, every year as the number of threes has gone up Florida’s offensive efficiency has dropped. Is the reliance on the long ball part of the reason the Gators have been dropping in offensive efficiency? Let’s take a look at their interior scoring over the same three-year period. I’ve included both the “around basket” numbers that don’t include post-ups as well as the post-up data to hopefully catch all the interior scoring possibilities. The attempts stat shows the percentage of total shots taken that were at the rim or on post ups.
There are some interesting things to get from this data in my opinion. First of all, the 2017 team that the best offense of the last three seasons had the most combined shots in the paint with 41.1% of shots coming in close when you add the shots around the basket with the post-ups. They also had a much better offense than this year’s team regardless of the fact the current squad shoots a higher percentage on both shots at the rim and post-ups. What that tells me is that it’s not necessarily a matter of shooting a slightly higher percentage on these shots, it’s generating more of these highly efficient shots on the inside that’s important.
Why have the Gators struggled to generate shots at the rim? Well, it’s not really a primary skill for any of the players in the starting perimeter group. Here are the number of shots each player has gotten at the rim, the percentage of their attempts that shots at the rim account for, and the percentage they’ve hit them at. When looking at the attempts, remember that ideally it would be somewhere in the 33%-35% range which would be on the higher end of the national average, and also remember the national average for shots at the rim is around 53.5%.
Shots At Rim: 41
Shots At Rim: 54
Shots At Rim: 8
A lot to unpack there, even with just a few numbers there. First, let’s look at the total number of attempts generated. As you can see, a very low percentage of Allen’s shots come at the rim, and Noah Locke is basically allergic to it unless he gets a wide-open look. I was actually surprised to see how of Andrew Nembhard’s shots come at the rim, but let’s remember he doesn’t attempt many field goals and that total number of shots is not a lot, around 2 per game. Now, let’s look at the percentages. Locke’s is obviously high, but he’s hardly taken any layups so he’s a bit of an outlier. Unfortunately, both Nembhard and Allen are below-average finishers on the inside. Put all that together and you’ve got a group of three of Florida’s most important offensive players that aren’t great at getting it inside and aren’t great finishing when they get there. Nembhard has definitely gotten better as of late and has improved on the 29% he was finish at near the start of conference play and that’s encouraging and the team will need that moving forward.
Part of the reason these players’ struggles to score insight was spotlighted was the 4-out motion offense the Gators were running at the start of the season the required players to make one-on-one moves that got them going towards the hoop. The fact that driving the ball isn’t a primary skill for any of them made the offense stagnant, and it resulted in what I think is a positive change to the current Princeton-type offense. Using “chin cuts” (screens that get a player running towards the rim) within the Princeton offense has generated some layups especially for Andrew Nembhard and it’s something that I think will get some more easy buckets moving forward.
Even though the guards have struggled at getting drives to the hoop and finishing there have been some bright spots at the forward spots with Jalen Hudson and Keyontae Johnson.
Shots At Rim: 44
Shots At Rim: 83
Shots At Rim: 21
Now those are some better numbers. Let’s look at Keyontae Johnson first. As you can see, even though he’s only been playing big minutes for about half the season he has gotten a ton of shots at the rim and he’s been scoring at an above-average clip. Those are great numbers and I hope those stay about the same moving forward.
And how about Jalen Hudson! I have (unfortunately) had to write a lot this year about his struggles with the jump shot and even though that skill has evaporated his finishing inside has been better than it has at any other point in his career. That field goal percentage at the rim is great and I would love to see him continue to hunt for those efficient shots instead of him hunting for his struggling jump shot and get that percentage of field goal attempts at the rim higher.
Deaundrae Ballard is another player whose jumper has been crooked, and it’s crazy because when you see what he’s shooting at the rim you wonder why he doesn’t try to get there more. He didn’t play at all in the last game against Missouri and is at risk of totally falling out of the rotation and if I would love to remind him that he is more efficient as a slasher than a jump shooter and if he can get to the rim he will provide a lot of value to the team.
Don’t you worry, I’m not going to forget about the big boys doing work down low. The big men have been blamed for a lot of Florida’s problems to score on the inside, so let’s see how the numbers look for the interior players. I’m going to include both their shots at the rim and their post-up numbers though it’s important to note that their shots at the rim are often created differently than all the players I’ve referenced up until this point. Whereas the shots at the rim for the perimeter players are usually off drives or cuts, for these bigs it’s usually drop-off passes inside. Just something to note as you look through these stats.
Shots At Rim: 80
FG% At Rim: 62.5%
FG% On Post-Ups: 63.2%
Shots At Rim: 17
FG% At Rim: 52.9%
FG% On Post-Ups: 37.5%
Shots At Rim: 25
FG% At Rim: 56.0%
FG% On Post-Ups: 42.9%
Shots At Rim: 27
FG% At Rim: 37.0%
FG% On Post-Ups: 14.3%
The more numbers you look at, the more interesting things you find.
First of all, everyone needs to look at Kevarrius Hayes’ numbers. He is a player that has gotten raked through the coals for his offensive game but when you look at his numbers they’re really good. Yes, he doesn’t take a lot of shots and by only taking the good ones his efficiency goes up. To me, there’s a lot of value to that efficiency and the fact that he knows him limitations and doesn’t force things.
I also bet there are a lot of people that are going to look at Isaiah Stokes’ numbers and be surprised. There are lots of fans of his offensive game and though he definitely has some potential there it hasn’t totally been realized yet. He definitely could be a threat down low sometime in the future but that is a reality that hasn’t yet been realized.
Keith Stone was having a rough season until his devastating injury but his career numbers finishing inside have never been great. Obviously rehabbing his injury is going to be the #1 focus from him over the next stretch of months but once he gets back to basketball activities working on his finishing ability should be a focus.
Now, take a deep breathe.
I know I’ve thrown a lot of numbers out already in this article but it’s time to put it all together. The central theme of everything I’ve pulled up is that scoring on the inside is important. We’ve seen that great offensive teams are great on the inside and we’ve even seen that in Gainesville the last three seasons where the more you scored inside, the better the offense was as a whole. The thing about scoring inside is that when you get the ball into the paint you don’t just get layups, you get kick-out opportunities for threes and those are often the most efficient threes. Only shooting the long ball at 33.8% this year the Gators haven’t been great from the outside despite the fact they’re shooting a ton of those shots and making a priority out of getting the ball inside first could help get better percentage threes.
Looking at the individual finishing stats of players also has some value to me because it shows who is scoring on the high-value interior shots the Gators need to get. The fact that Jalen Hudson and Keyontae Johnson have been the best Florida players at driving at finishing tells me that first, they should continue to hunt for those shots (I’m looking at you, Jalen) and that the offensive structure should put them in a position to get driving lanes to the hoop.
In terms of the big men, maybe they actually command a few more post-up opportunities, even for the much maligned Kevarrius Hayes whose numbers show that he’s actually not bad offensively when he picks his time to shine.
Whatever it is, getting more shots at the rim is going to make for a more efficient Florida offense and it’s also going to make them a less streaky team by relying on the highly variant three-point shot. Believe me, I love the deep ball but generating drives inside can draw help and make for higher percentage threes and that’s something this team could really use alongside the extra points they’d get at the rim.
The offense is still evolving under Mike White and there have been improvements the last few weeks and it’s almost all been due to getting baskets inside. If the paint stays a priority for the Gators we’re going to see the offense can continue to develop and it’s something that could win them a game or two in March.