Despite a more aesthetically pleasing offense in Richard Pitino’s first season, the Minnesota Gophers’ offense was merely average during the 2013-2014 season, and slightly worse than Tubby Smith’s final season. Last season, the best shooters didn’t shoot enough.
Minnesota’s offense finished 40th in the country last season despite not being particularly good at anything specific. Finishing the season with a halfway decent offense is particularly impressive given the Gophers’ shooting difficulties. They finished the season with an effective field goal percentage (calculated like traditional field goal percentage but made three-points count as 1.5 made field goals) of 51.6%, ranking 82nd in the country. Basketball is all about putting the ball in the basket, and the Gophers didn’t do that very well. With even a little bit better shooting, the Gophers could have one of the best offenses in the country.
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Every basketball team has players that shoot a lot or shoot very little, and players that shoot very well or not very well at all. The key to a successful offense is making that the most accurate shooters are also the most frequent shooters. Last season, had a few chuckers, Andre Hollins and Malik Smith, who attempted nearly a quarter of the team’s shots while they were on the floor, and a few unchuckers, Elliott Elliason and Daquein McNeil, who were seemingly afraid to shoot. Unfortunately, the Gophers had very few players whose shooting frequency matched their shooting accuracy.
Deandre Mathieu, Austin Hollins, and Oto Osenieks were the only significant contributors that shot with the appropriate frequency. Austin Hollins shot the third most often and was the fourth most accurate shooter. Mathieu shot the fourth most often and was the third most accurate shooter. Osenieks shooting frequency rank was also within one spot of his accuracy rank.
Andre Hollins and Malik Smith, each of whom probably have the most natural shooting ability on the team, unfortunately had very poor shooting seasons, ranking 8th and 9th in shooting accuracy. Fewer shot attempts, particularly when Smith was slumping and Hollins was recovering from his ankle injury, could have led to a more efficient offense especially if those shots went to the plethora of pretty good shooters who were pretty afraid to shoot the basketball.
While compiling this data, I was shocked to learn that Joey King was Minnesota’s most accurate shooter. That accuracy came from careful, and possibly too careful, shot selection. King only shot the ball when he was very sure his shot would go in. This is great for accuracy, but not great for the offense as whole. King should have given himself more credit, and taken a few extra shots, many of which would have gone in.
Maurice Walker and Elliott Eliason, who joined King in the much-maligned front-court, should have shot more too. Walker certainly wasn’t shy, but he was also close to unstoppable when he got the ball in the post. With his size, shooting accuracy, and more importantly, his offensive rebounding ability (he grabbed 11% of Minnesota’s missed shots while on the floor), there would be little to complain about if he shot the ball nearly every time he touched it in the paint. Meanwhile Eliason was very shy. Anyone who watched even a few minutes of him play would notice that he passed up plenty of opportunities to shoot the ball. While his shots were rarely pretty, they went in more often than not. Eliason is an even better offensive rebounder than Walker, and seems especially effective at rebounding his own missed shots.
Next season, Minnesota’s shooting should improve. Andre Hollins will still shoot a lot, but with a little luck and a little more health, he’ll once again be one of the better shooters in the Big Ten. With the departure of Malik Smith, there will be more shooting opportunities for the more accurate and more shy shooters on the team. The Gophers keep five of their six most accurate shooters from last season, and if Andre Hollins bounces back, would have six of their best seven shooters available. Offense comes down to putting the ball in the basket, and the Gophers are well equipped to do so often next season.