Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Good News and The Bad News: Where We Stand

With the season 20% done, and 14 days between D-1 basketball games, it seems as good a time as any to assess where the Dragons stand.  It hasn't been a pretty trip to a 2-4 record, and neither win is against a team likely to finish ranked in the top 200 at the end of the year, but all is not lost yet.

What has to be the primary area of concern at this time is simple discipline.  After spending most of the prior season with fans debating the merit of disciplined shot selection, there is good news on the horizon.  Courtesy of, we see improvement (apologies for the formatting, rows go last two seasons and the current, with current at the bottom):

Importantly we see more shots taken at the rim and from distance, and considerably less mid range jumpers.  Since the plays that are being run seem similar, it's unknown yet if this is small sample size, or if the coaches have tried to push the shot selection agenda this year.  Regardless, it's worthy of appreciation and all fans should hope this trend continues.  

No, the problem that this team has this year is not shot selection discipline.  The problem with this years team is much more basic than that.  Without question, part of the discipline problem is going from a four year point guard to a freshman, but that isn't the only issue.  It's been like the Bad News Bears out there at times this season, exemplified in plays such as:

--Tavon Allen insisting that Rashann London takes the ball out of bounds to inbound to Tavon just for Allen to pass it back to London, all of this done in an empty backcourt against no pressure

-- Mohamed Bah and Sooren Derboghosian debating who would inbound against the press, and creating a turnover without ever attempting an inbound

--Tavon Allen falling down and losing the ball in the backcourt against no pressure only for a Drexel player to run back from the frontcourt and recover the ball.  Normally fine, except the player that ran back was Rashann London - what was the point guard doing in the frontcourt?

--Freddie Wilson time after time going into the air and not knowing what he is going to do with the ball

These are just basic lack of discipline plays, and while everyone knows that there have been injuries on this team, it's times like these that lead to people wondering if these guys have ever played together.  That's extremely disheartening in a year where the team had a preseason foreign tour - which the Athletics Department made a donor priority in the offseason - because the Dragons should have had a head start on all other schools, an additional chance to get acquainted and work out kinks before the season has started.  I'd be curious as to what the people who donated towards the trip think their return on investment was.  That's not saying that I would disagree with donating to those trips going forward, they are great experiences for young men that we want to see succeed, but if the Department will be asking for donors for it, they need to show an ROI to the school and team as well as the individual.  These types of very basic breakdowns in knowing where one should be on the basketball court have as much to do with the teams early struggles as their poor shooting, and they should have been cleaned up before this team ever saw live action.

Going deeper into the poor shooting, please allow for one more chart.  Below is a list of all current DU players that have taken 30+ shots this season.  A reminder on effective field goal percentage (if you learn one new stat this year, please make it this one) is here and next to that on the table is the O-Rating, which is a (big man friendly) metric of a players effect on the offense.  An O-Rating of 100 is a pretty good baseline for a league average guard, slightly higher (110) for a forward.  For comparisons sake, I randomly selected the individual worst seasons (by eff fg%) for five prior Dragons:

As you can see, Allen, Williams and  Wilson are having a historically bad start to the season.  London's frequent turnovers has his O-Rating right in line with the rest of the gang, which is especially disheartening as he is running the point.  The good news is, we have reason to believe that this is a small sample size and not true talent, and that these rates will improve.  Rashann London is already showing significant maturation on the floor and more confidence than he had in the first couple of outings.  Tavon Allen will get healthy.  Rodney Williams shot 51% last year which the eye test makes us believe is much closer to his talent level (as long as he avoids more elbow jumpers).

The Bad News Bears stuff will be overcome too.  No one is running around claiming this is in the top all time 10 highest basketball IQ, but the basic stuff should go away.  Bru may need to remember his old days of yanking guys off the floor quickly for reinforcement purposes, but it's not a complex offense to figure out and Division I basketball players should be able to run it without running into each other.  Add to that the real secret:  when these guys are in the half court and get into the offense, they don't look bad.  We've seen some sneaky good forward to forward passes, Damion Lee getting open and even Tavon Allen setting his feet behind the three point stripe at times.  A little more penetration, and a little less calamity, and there's still a chance this team gets it figured out.  The rest of the out of conference season is preseason.

Keep your eye on turnover percentage, that will be the signal as to whether or not these guys are figuring it out.  If they do, the CAA season can still be a discussion worth having.

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