Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Ugliest Game, Singler's Nightmare, and Kid Shimmy

Wow. Nasty, nasty, nasty stuff. Let's get right to the stats, but here's a spoiler alert: by almost any measure, this was Duke's worst offensive performance of the year.

I included a mish-mash of stats here because some of them are real, real interesting. First, look at our field goal %. Fifty percent! Really? I mean...really?


Sorry, I got carried away there. I hate when I get the images from my sports blog and tea party blog mixed up.

But seriously, how could we possibly shoot 50% from the field, a very decent number, and only score 56 points, our lowest total of the season? Three answers:

1) Pace. We played their game. UVA averages 62 possessions per game in their slower-than-usual style. Duke averages 72. Last night, both teams had 63. Fewer possessions equals fewer points. You could feel from the game how slow and ponderous everything was. It was almost like once Duke a lead, Coach K said, "fine, we'll play your war of attrition style, and we'll take an ugly win." My stepfather picked this up right away. He called me and said, "we don't need to play fast to win this game, but if we do, we'll run this team off the floor." Personally, I don't think Duke should ever have to play another team's style, and I don't like the decision. Sure, it's fine against UVA, a team ranked out of the top 100 in Division 1, but what if the NCAAs roll around and we give in to the style of say, Wisconsin? With teams like that, you're hard pressed to beat them at their own game.

2) Turnovers. As you see above, Duke's turnover rate was 28%, meaning they gave it away more than one in every four possessions. The season average is 17.3. Last night, it was 63 possessions, 18 turnovers. You're not going to score many points with that kind of performance. Singler himself had 5 turnovers, though I feel like at least 4 of those were pretty decent passes that Mason Plumlee couldn't wrangle. More on the Sing later.

3) Offensive Rebounds. Against a team with only one big man, (Assane Sene, who played only 23 minutes due to a lot of foul trouble), we came down with exactly 5 offensive rebounds. No second chances, no points. Some of that is down to the fewer possessions, but our offensive rebound rate was 20%, compared to our usual 34%. On this one, your guess is as good as mine. The overall rebounding rate was about the same (49.6% to 51.6%), but we just couldn't get anything on the offensive end. Some that has to be the luck of the bounces, though I'm loathe to let anyone off the hook.

So despite the 50% field goal rate, these three factors show pretty clearly why Duke had a supremely lousy night on offense. Our previous worst offensive efficiency rating (points scored per 100 possessions) for one game came against Florida State, when we tallied an abysmal 89.7. As you'd expect, the field goal percentage in that game was really poor: 31.1%. Last night, on 50% shooting, the efficiency rate was marginally decreased: 88.9.

The bar has been lowered.

Let's take a quick look at some of the other game charts to see what we can see.

We've already talked about the boards, the turnovers. Here you see another big reason for the lack of offense that I failed to pick up: free throw rate. Ours was half (19.6) of the season average (38.0).

So if weren't shooting free throws, what were we shooting? More 3s? More 2s? Let's take a look at the distribution.

Season average:

3-pointers: 31.1% of all shots
2-pointers: 48.5% of all shots
Free throws: 20.4% of all shots

Last night:

3-pointers: 26.8%
2-pointers: 64.3%!!!!!
Free throws: 8.9%

Yikes! Looks like we just found something, right? Why the hell was Duke shooting so many two-pointers? I think the obvious guess is that UVA has almost no big men, and we thought that by going inside to Mason and Miles, and driving with our guards, we could bully them into submission. I think we're looking at a possible original cause here, a planning strategy that brought about the poor offensive efficiency; you rely on your worst players for points, and you'll get a slower, more plodding performance.

Which is not to say that it didn't work. Mason Plumlee actually had a very nice game. Ryan Kelly did well on the inside. Nolan had some success driving, and only Singler came up empty most of the game. But we can see by the high percentage of 2-pointers that it was drilled into our minds to drive and feed the post. That's not Duke's regular style, and it's no surprise that we suffered in overall quality.

However, on the flip side of everything I said above, this was our absolute best defensive performance of the year. Look at Virginia's efficiency: 65.1. Look at their effective field goal percentage: 31.2%. In both cases, that's a season best for Duke, just topping their effort against Miami (OH) in the second game of the year. I mean, UVA needed a dunk with 25 seconds left just to reach 40.

I know UVA isn't very strong, but for an ACC road game, that's one hell of a defensive effort. I don't care who we're playing. It came about more or less like we thought; Duke smothered the hell out of them past the three-point line, gave up the drive to a certain extent, and dared them to score inside. For the most part, they couldn't.

Again, the weirdest stats here are those offensive boards. We out-rebounded them by a significant margin overall, but we couldn't get any second chances? Strange stuff. Aside from that, nothing sticks out too much, though the 5 threes from Duke is a pretty low total.

After a decent start and a few big threes, UVA lost the lead about 10 minutes in. From then on, the grind was on. I know the boxing metaphor is overused, but this really was like a slow victory by decision. Once we won the first couple rounds, we hunkered down, made sure the other guy couldn't land a huge blow, and just picked away with the jab as the lead slowly grew. This thing was over almost from the beginning, but there was no effort to go for the knock-out or even throw flashy punches.

I love this chart. A triumph of visual graphics! Let's get to the grades.

Plumdog Billionaire A-. Yet again, Mason has a very, very nice night. So good, in fact, that for the first time all year he's my Player of the Game. Now, you all know me. You know I'm a little anti-Plumlee. It's in my blood. So don't crucify me if I'm not 100% effusive here. The fact is, he was playing against a very small team, and those situations seem to be where Mason thrives. I honestly don't know if this going to carry over, or what. But I guess we should just enjoy the moment.

The best sequence for Mason came with 15 minutes left in the second half. With UVA showing the slightest bit of life and running on the break, he took a timely charge on Joe Harris, ran the floor on the next possession, and got a great dunk on an assist by Curry. That extended Duke's lead to 11, and UVA would never get back within single digits. Earlier, the Mase had a beautiful-and I mean beautiful- wrap-around pass to Ryan Kelly for a dunk. I honestly couldn't believe he threw that pass. It was so un-Plumlee-like that I almost threw a giant clay pot through my balcony door. Why? BECAUSE THE WORLD HAS GONE MAD AND YOU EITHER JOIN OR YOU DIE!

If I have a complaint, and I usually do, it's that he only grabbed 6 boards (1 fewer than Nolan Smith). And he committed his usual stupid cheapie fouls. And he turned it over 3 times. But for the most part, he played within himself; he was 4-5 from the field, and he really kept UVA from doing any damage in the lane. With that said, enough Mason Plumlee praising. I think I'm going to be sick.

Boom Radley: D. People were upset at me after the Carolina game for giving him a D, and rightly so; I ignored his good defense. But this time, I really think the D is justified. This game was an absolute nightmare for the Sing. It's the worst game of his career, and it represents a true low point for the guy many experts tabbed as a National Player of the Year candidate.

I don't know what to think. This has been a long time coming; the gradual decrease in performance was leading inexorably to a game like this. 2 points, 4 fouls, 5 turnovers, 1-5 from the field. The Cavs absolutely shut him down on defense, and the faults that have become apparent as the season goes along were magnified today.

First, he's out of the flow of the offense. An anonymous commenter yesterday suggested that he's not comfortable playing second fiddle this season, and I'm starting to believe it. I'm also starting to believe that he's not quick enough to be a serious NBA player, and I don't see him as someone who can create his own shot. Last night, he was just a guy who forced up some shots once in a while and then disappeared. When you play that way, you must hit a high percentage of your shots.

When it rains, it pours, and last night it poured. I'm not going to go overboard criticizing him, because I realize that bad luck played its part in his awful performance. And I do still realize that Singler plays excellent defense, and never stops working. You could see his aggravation last night after another missed shot, when the camera caught him swearing at himself. But man, we need his shot back.

I can't fault Coach K; he's bending over backward to get Singler into the swing of things, but recently it just isn't working. And I know he's the consummate teammate, but can it help to see Nolan thriving so much? Is his plummeting draft stock in the back of his mind, and does create even more pressure and hinder his performance even further?

It's sad to see the season developing this way. I really, really want a huge game from Kyle soon. He needs it for his confidence. My big hope is that in the ebb and flow of the season, we're at the ebb, and that he's about to peak at just the right time.

Kid Shimmy: A-. Did you see that little dance he did after he converted the lay-up and got fouled??? UN-BELIEVABLE. Nolan continues to be my favorite player. Unfortunately there's no ESPN video of the dance. Hopefully DBP captures it in their Top 5 plays (I'll update you tomorrow), or maybe someone has the tape and can make a .gif. In any case, I thought it was great. The usual crowd of stiff Duke fans will take issue with some of Nolan's recent antics (he's also been saluting after made baskets of late), but I think this team and this program badly need what he brings to the table. Personally, I can't get enough.

Last night, ESPN tracked Nolan with an isocam. I watched it a bit, and it was kinda cool, but as I suspected it was hard not to see the rest of the action when he didn't have the ball. It was a fun experiment, albeit probably a failed one. But they picked a decent game; Nolan was 9-17 for 22 points, with 7 boards and 4 assists. His turnovers were a little high at 4, a product of the overall sloppiness of both teams. But for the bazillionth straight game, it seemed like nobody could contain him. He gets the other team's best perimeter defender every time, and nobody keeps the man in check. Kid Shimmy just gon' groove on by.

The Koala Apostle: B. Decent game for Seth, though he struggled from the floor at 2-8. With his 3-steal effort, though, Seth is now among the top 100 players in steal percentage in Division 1. I love the shooting, I love the confidence, and I love the way he can fit in unobtrusively with the offense, but most of all I love the intelligence. This, as I've said before, is the Curry family trademark; maximizing talent with hard work and brain power. Curry is always in the right place, he's got quick hands, and he continues to learn. Last night, the announcers told a story about how Stephen called him up a few weeks ago and told him that he's standing around too much on the perimeter. Seth listened, and now he's a different player. Truly a deserving apostle to Kid Shimmy.

Young Threezy: F. I'm sick of watching him. I'm sick of his bad attitude, I'm sick of the way he's already back-pedaled to halfcourt by the time his three-pointers hit the rim, and I'm sick of watching him stand around on the perimeter when he doesn't have the ball. The only time Dawk is effective is when he's wide open, either on a fast break or a defensive breakdown, and in those situations he can hit the 3. Other than that, he's useless. He's even become a pretty big liability on defense. The sad part is, it doesn't have to be that way. This season had so much potential, but at some point he just gave up.

I don't know if anyone else caught this, but on the last possession yesterday, Hairston had the ball on the wing. Dawkins yelled for the ball, and when Hairston wouldn't pass, he clapped for it in a really aggravated way. But Virginia had conceded, and as the clock wound down, Hairston just held on. Dawkins reacted by sulking over to the bench, head down, clearly peeved. What's the deal there? I just don't get this guy. I think something's going on that we don't know about, but I wish he'd suck it up and start working hard. He's too good to be this bad.

The White Raven: A-. A really nice game for Kelly, with 11 points on 5-7 shooting, 5 boards, and 4 blocks. Like Mason, he really seems to thrive against smaller teams, so I'm not making too much of this. One funny note, though; I was talking to a bunch of Carolina fans in class the other day, and apparently Ryan Kelly is the Duke player who annoys them beyond measure. They mentioned him as part of a lineage that includes Wojo and Lee Melchionni, guys who just get under your skin because they're passionate without being exceptionally talented. Which makes it awesome that he was the guy to hit the dagger 3 against the Heels in Cameron.

Team Defense: A+. Best of the year.


That'll do for today. We held serve, and we're a still up a game on Carolina in conference. That's really all that matters. Tomorrow we crown the latest Pick 6 champ, and I have some fun 'fan mail' to share with everyone.


  1. have you seen this feature of kenpom's website?

    if you click on the final score of the game's on the website, it gives you the liklihood which team is going to win at any given moment (and not starting at 50-50, but rather at the percentage liklihood that the favored team was going to win in the first place). You may have already shown this sort of thing, but I only rememebr seeing it as a game flow starting at equal liklihood at the beginning.

    Here it is for the UNC game

    we actually became favored to win again when we closed it in to within 6 at the start of the second half (before dropping off a bit) ... but I think this is pretty cool.

    ~Sean (of the anonymous Singler comment, thanks for the press!)

  2. Sean, that's great, thanks for the link. KenPom is always upping the ante. The UNC game is a fascinating one to use as an example.


  3. Sneak preview: there's a dude out in the world who doesn't like my penchant for swearing.

    Well, isn't that just too fucking bad.

    - Manhattan Man

  4. I think the offensive rebounding total was down in this game due to the high FG% (fewer misses to get) and taking fewer 3s (we get a lot of offensive boards off missed 3s) rather than some overall poor effort on the offensive boards. Virginia's shooting stank so bad they could've knocked a buzzard off a shit wagon, therefore they had move offensive boards.

  5. Since you're getting into numbers and statistics, thought you might this link that's been sitting in my firefox places for a few years now (in case you don't already know of it)...seems to be hanging in there and updating pretty could start contributing to it pretty easily if you want:

  6. Good call on the boards, anon, and I definitely never thought it was a poor effort by us. Just bad luck. But you're right, the lack of long boards from 3s and the high % are probably more important factors.

    Daniel, YOU ARE THE ABSOLUTE MAN! This will absolutely go up tomorrow. Thanks.

    John, that's pretty cool. I'm going to give that a look and see if I know nearly enough about teams outside the ACC. Good stuff. Are you on it at all?

    Manhattan, that's about my reaction. More tomorrow.


  7. Nah, It's interesting, but I just don't follow non-ACC nearly well's always my demise in office pools...or an excuse anyways. I do on occasion pull the bracket data into excel to delve into the numbers a bit (simple example, currently Duke at 1.8 avg seed (top 4: 1.02, 1.02, 1.12, 1.18; 6th is ND at 2.13) so clearly in 5th. UNC 4.35.

  8. Sorry, man, I didn't mean it to sound like I was calling you out on rebounding effort or anything. This has been my favorite website since I found it last week before the Carolina game. I think I may have phrased it that way because, with the exception of last season, it seems like Duke got outrebounded every game for something like six or seven years, and I thought a lot of that was due to effort. Maybe I was projecting.

    I am slightly worried about this anti-swearing dude, as I have a lingering suspicion it may be my Dad (a UNC fan), trying to get his own back after I posted the Nolan flowchart to my Facebook page.


  9. Haha Candice, it's all good, I didn't think you were calling me out. And if you were, I wouldn't be upset. Call-outs are where it's at. Are your dad's initials JC? Is he from Roxboro? If it's actually your dad who e-mailed me, I won't out him publicly tomorrow. Or I'll at least be nice enough to not use his name.


  10. No, thank God, that's not him. And even if it had been, well as you said, call outs are where it's at.


  11. I don't need advanced statistical analysis to confirm that Kyle Singler's draft stock is being eviscerated faster than Tibetan culture (but hey, they make a delicious fish curry!).

    Regardless of the tempo of the game, if you can shoot 50% from the field and play smothering defense, the odds are you are going to win.

    I thought the "burn the clock" playing style went the way of the dodo in 1956 (except in Wisconsin, where people apparently enjoy watching quasi-athletic white dudes set picks for 30 seconds before firing up set shots in the corner). however, this style seems to have made a resurgence this year. I dont recall ever seeing so many 50-point games. Granted, its an effective way for less talented teams to minimize the opponent's possessions, but its borderline painful to watch.

    -Craig J.

  12. Borderline nothing, for me. Wisconsin is torture to watch. They average 59 possessions per game, even lower than that nonsense yesterday. I wouldn't hate a 24-second shot clock, to be honest. Or even 30 as a compromise.


  13. From watching the game I think there was a gas leak somewhere in the building.

    The turnovers were awkward, to say the least, but aside from the gas I think it's due primarily to the fact that it is hard to get the ball down low to Plumlee because a posted up Plumblee=turnover. Secondly, UVA is really good at stopping penetration into the lanes (read: holds jerseys).

    I swear I saw Singler running away from the ball at times. He is having confidence issues. Part of it I think started because he was forcing his shots and taking what I would consider bad shots (commentators never call him out on it because he usually made a high percentage of em). He is now having issues hitting shots that are wide open. He is having a Laettneresque slump (minus the really horrible attitude) but will snap out of it.


  14. I think you're right on Singler, GB. He's too good not to start playing well in the tourney, right? But I get nervous the closer March comes...I want him to be out of it now.

    And you're right, the shots he was taking got to be semi-ridiculous, but he gets a pass. Rightly so, maybe, but now we're seeing the ill effects.