Last season, Kentucky’s opponents made a mere 27 percent of their three-point attempts, the lowest figure in the country. It’s probably not a coincidence that the longest team in college basketball history also had the country’s best defensive 3P% figure since VCU’s 26.9 percent in 2008. So is there such a thing as three-point defense?
Most questions like this don’t have a one-word answer, or at least the one-word answer isn’t very enlightening. The simple response is that yes, defenses have control over opponents’ three-point percentage. But they also have control over how many of their opponents’ shots get blocked and their opponents’ free throw percentage. It’s the degree of control that we’re interested in.
With that in mind, it’s worthwhile to attempt to quantify the amount of control that the defense has over not just three-point percentage, but all box score stats. The results can help us understand the game a lot better. For instance, armed with this information we can infer what actually qualifies as good basketball.
For regular readers of this space, it won’t spoil much to reveal that in general, defenses have little control over opponents’ three-point shooting. Thus, a great three-point shooting night should be credited to good offense much more than it is blamed on bad defense. That would be the baseline, of course. The details of each game and each shot within a game are subject to their own unique factors.
But the purpose of this exercise is to establish a baseline. Generally speaking, defenses don’t have much control over three-point percentage. There may be good reasons to deviate from the baseline for a particular situation, like a team starting a 6-10 guy at small forward. However, in the absence of any other information, the baseline should be the starting point for the analysis.
This information can help us with other issues as well, such as whether this season’s bundle of rules changes have a chance to ratchet up scoring. The gradual, yet persistent, decrease in points per game has occurred despite a subtle rise in offensive efficiency. Who is in control of efficiency? Who is in control of pace? The answers to those questions are probably not very surprising, but this exercise will cover all of the tempo-free stats. Whether an offense has more control over its free throw rate or its assist percentage is something that might be less obvious to you.
This investigation may be less interesting than guessing a player’s weight based on his stats, but that is the point of writing this during the summer. Consider it more of a reference piece than entertainment. Now, more than ever, I’m not here to entertain you.
I’ll work my way through each stat based on how much control the offense has. It doesn’t take an investigation of the numbers to realize that offense has the most control over free throw percentage, but I’ll start with that in the next post because it will provide a good opportunity to explain the methodology.
There will probably be a lot of words on the topic because there are a lot of stats to get through. However, you can also skip all the words until November when I plan to do a summary piece that is more focused. But this time of year, focus is for dorks. So expect a few detours on this journey.