Transition Offense Could Offer Gators More Opportunities To Score

When Florida’s offense has sputtered this season one of the common sentiments has been that the Gators should increase in their pace of play and try to get more shots in transition. In the off-season it was assumed this would be a strategy the Gators would try to employ, an up-tempo attack that coach Mike White has been trying to bring to Gainesville since he played a similar style at Louisiana Tech.

It makes sense why looking to score in transition would be a goal of the team. Scoring on the break is always easier than scoring in the half court when the game slows down because in transition the defense isn’t set and getting open looks against a defense that’s backpedaling and scrambling to get into position is easier than going against a group of five that’s dug in.

Evidence of this comes in the numbers. Nationally, the average half court offense is at 0.865 points per possession on the season. In transition, the national average is 1.01 points per possession. That’s a big gap and it shows just how valuable transition opportunities are in basketball.

Another national average to keep in mind is 15.4%, the average percentage of shots a D-I team takes in transition. For a Florida team that has been spotty offensively over the years and with a coach that has wanted to accelerate pace, you’d think they’d be out running more often and looking for higher-percentage attempts.

The Gators are currently taking 12% of their attempts in transition, down from 14.5% last year with a team that didn’t get out in the break often either. Many questions have been directed the way of the team of coaching staff when it comes to not playing more in transition and the sentiment has always been similar—that they think the team is better suited to playing more in the half court.

Florida has been an improved team in the half court since last year. The 2018-19 team was 215th nationally in half court offense at 0.869 points per possession and the current team has brought that number up to 0.897 points per possession, good for 105th. Even though that number is drastically improved from last season’s and is a better than average mark, it’s still well below the national average for transition offense.

But, if Florida is a below-average transition team than maybe the numbers balance out and they should continue to keep their offense to the half court. However, the Gators aren’t actually a bad transition team like perception has suggested, they’ve actually been quite good.

Currently the Gators are at 1.093 points per possession in transition, good for 59th in the country. That number will shock some people who think this team really struggles on the break but at this point of the season with a large sample size the Gators have proven that they are actually an efficient team in transition, putting up a points per possession number considering higher than what they have accomplished in the half court. This data would suggest that the Gators should absolutely be taking more attempts in transition than in the half court, and doing so could drastically increase their offensive efficiency.

For a reference point, 1.093 points per possession is equivalent to the expected shot value of a wide-open, unguarded Kerry Blackshear Jr. 3-point shot.

So, for a bit of a thought experiment, imagine the Gators are running their half court offense looking for a good look. If they ran a set and it generated a wide-open Blackshear three you’d say that’s an extremely successful possession, right? Everyone would, and they’d be right.

The expected shot value of that wide-open shot, one of the best outcomes the Gators could look for in the half court, is equal to one of their average attempts in transition. That should demonstrate just how valuable transition shots are why the Gators should look to get more of them.

One of the reasons the coaching staff has cited as a reason that they haven’t wanted to push the ball in transition more often is because they are concerned with turnovers. This has been a team that has struggled with turnovers at times and playing fast usually lends itself to more errors than the structured basketball in the half court. The thing is, turnovers in transition haven’t been anywhere near the problem for the Gators that they have been presented as.

Florida has turned the ball over on 15% of their transition possessions.

Maybe that number means something to you and perhaps it doesn’t if you don’t have a reference point to put this number in context, but this should help.

They are turning the ball over on 13.8% of their half court possessions.

So, while they are turning the ball over more in transition than in the half court, which is what would be expected, it’s only 1.2% more. If fear of turning over the rock has been one of the key motivating factors in playing slower and not pushing it in transition more often, it simply shouldn’t be. The difference in turnover percentage between half court and transition are almost negligible, but the difference in points per possession is quite drastic.

The data would suggest that playing faster would be a wise choice for this team. An average shot in transition is so much more valuable than an average shot in the half court and the penalty of playing faster would only be a 1.2% increase in turnover percentage. Florida has had some difficulties scoring over their last few games, something that’s to be expected later in SEC play when every team has film on everybody’s offense. Teams like Ole Miss have been prepared for the Gators’ offensive sets and have been neutralizing a half court offense that started league play really well. A counter to that would be to get out and play in transition, attempting to score before the defense is set and in an improvised manor before settling in to offensive plays that their opponent has probably scouted and prepared for in practice.

It’s getting to a point of the season where games are tight and you’ve got to win on the margins and increasing scoring efficiency by taking higher-percentage transition attempts could go a long way in the Gators winning key basketball games down the stretch.

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.