|Related pages||I remember when I was a little boy and really into comic books. I couldnít wait until a new edition of Archie would come out. I can still remember Archie, and Veronica, Reggie and Betty, Jughead and Moose and all the rest. Another joy of youth was bazooka bubble gum. Remember the cool little things you could get by saving up bubble gum wrappers? Iíll never forget the time I ordered a Dick Tracy decoder ring. I saved and saved and finally had enough bubble gum wrappers. I sent them in and ran to the mailbox every day until it finally arrived. I was so excited. I grabbed it out of the mailbox, forsaking all the other mail, which had become my chore to retrieve. By the time I got inside I had left a trail of paper wrapping from the mailbox to the front door. Somehow the Dick Tracy decoder ring wasnít what they had advertised. It wasnít at all like they made it sound. In fact it was just a cheap little plastic ring that really didnít work at all. I was crushed and heartbroken. All that anticipation seemed for naught. It was false advertising and my disappointment was surely justified.
In reality, the ring was exactly what they advertised and, to be honest, precisely what my mother had tried so sweetly to prepare me for. Of course my mother was clueless and didnít understand about things like Dick Tracy decoder rings. I would show her caution to temper my anticipation was silly. Looking back, of course, my mother was right. You see the problem was not that the decoder ring was not a fake. The problem was I had built it up in my head to be something it wasnít. I had set myself up for the disappointment by letting my hopes and dreams replace reality.
I think you see where I am going with this. We can look at the 3 and 3 Jayhawks and cry foul for false advertising. The reality is as of December 7, 2002 the 2002-2003 Jayhawks are not yet, nor have they ever been battle proven as a team. We bestowed the mantel of greatness on them for several reasons. Firstly they are the University of Kansas Jayhawks where the margin for error is small. Secondly, they are a returning a solid core of a Final Four team. Thirdly, they have been lauded by many pundits of the basketball world as ďthe best starting five in America.Ē As Jayhawk fans we all too easily get caught up in the glory of such praise and lose objectivity. We buy the hype simply because we want to. We enjoy the bubble until the bubble bursts. Now we have to face a harsh reality without the proper preparation. We were prepared for greatness but instead we have found goodness. Much like the Dick Tracy decoder ring, the disappointment stems not from the fact these guys arenít performing up to the level they should. Rather they are not living up to the level of the hype we bought into. Letís back up and shed ourselves of the unfair expectations and take a fresh look at where our beloved Jayhawks really stand so we can hopefully gain some insight into where they might be headed.
Before we start, let me clearly state I am not making a blanket exoneration of all deeds Jayhawk. I am as critical of certain aspects of their performance as anyone. Yet rather than deride and look for blame I choose to look for understanding so my expectations from this point will be rooted in calm reason. With that letís take a look at who these guys really are and what we can, and should, expect and look for.
TEAM EVALUATION Think about this question a minute. What is it that allows five guys to become better as a team than five individuals on the court? Answering this question and putting it into practice is what separates the Roy Williams, Dean Smiths, John Woodens and the like from the guy on the street. I might be able to persuade five ultra talented players to play for me but I could not come close to teaching them to play effectively as a team as Roy Williams could. Recognizing the specific aspect of creating an effective team and finding ways to implement those things within the framework of the personnel and other constraints is the key to a successful coach. The list of attributes that make a team more effective versus 5 individuals is legion, but for this article I will focus on three. 1) Passing, 2) Coordinated movement, and 3) Motivation. Letís start with number 3.
Motivation: We are all familiar with the ďWin one for the GipperĒ speech by Knute Rockne which motivated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to go out and beat a superior Army team in 1928. This is likely the most famous motivational speech in sports history. This type of speech is awfully fun and we all would love to be a fly on the wall at halftime in the Jayhawk locker room at times to see how Roy is going to get the troops rallied for the second half charge. This is all very high profile and very flashy. What we forget is these speeches are completely and utterly meaningless unless the guys believe in and trust the coach and themselves. This trust has to be earned. I can think of few coaches who have earned trust form their players to the degree Roy Williams has. There may be other coaches who are wizards at spinning a good halftime yarn to pep up their players but Roy is as good as any.
We all have good days and bad days. We all have days when our timing is off just enough to create the difference between success and failure. Let us not forget these young men are just that, young men. They will have bad days. But wait a minute. All that training and practice is supposed to normalize their ability to perform against the throes of up and down days. This is true to a degree. Yet many things affect our performance on any given day. So on game day how do the Jayhawks overcome nagging injuries, emotional setbacks, loss of confidence, homework stress, family issues, worries about disappointing friends, family or fans, etc., etc. etc? First of all preparation is a key. Secondly the support and camaraderie of teammates to focus on the task at hand is critical. For those who have been in combat, you know the importance of camaraderie. In combat everything else sort of diminishes in comparison to your buddy on your left and on your right. College basketball isnít quite as dire or demanding as combat but the principle applies. When you step on the court, if you donít feel a level of obligation and commitment to your teammates you are flirting with failure. So how does this crop of Jayhawks stack up? I will say this, I saw something in the Oregon game I have not seen up to this point this season and really not much last season from these players. I saw emotion get to the point with Kirk Hinrich that he had to show a little. I donít know the minds of these players, so I will not suppose they are not positively emotional players. Yet I will say they appear very composed on the court. On one hand this gives us Jayhawk fans a sense of pride given the apparent mature decorum and comportment our guys consistently demonstrate on the court. At the same time the fire in the belly that drives their competitive juices cannot long suffer less than 100% effort or effectiveness without a demonstrative display of some sort. Drew Gooden brought this dimension to the team last year. Again I am not saying demonstrative emotions on the court are necessary or even better. I AM saying that the court leadership that speaks to college basketball players more often than not begins with talent and effort and adds in a little positive emotion for effect. Kirk showed this more than I have ever seen from him in the Oregon game and the results were very positive. Kirk and Nick are our seniors and our two best players. They are composed, intelligent, experienced and hard working. Can they be the leaders to get the job done this year? I believe they can. Have they done it up to now? Yes to some degree, but they need to grow in the role. I believe they will. We saw signs in the Oregon game from Kirk.
So in summary on the leadership issue, I believe we have a coaching staff that is up to the task. I believe we have on-court leadership that is up to the task. This group of guys is unique and finding the hot-buttons will take some time. Certainly it will take more time than last year. Both the coaching staff and our senior leadership will have to work out the bugs and learn the ropes with this team. Can they do it? YES. Will they do it? I believe they will. How long will it take? It might take a good part of the season.
Coordinated Movement: Coordinated movement covers a legion of items such as spacing, screening and set plays. I want to address spacing and screening here. Spacing on the court is the science of having players in positions to make and receive passes, position certain defensive players where they will be least effective, set up the lanes for teammates to dribble and drive, and optimize opportunities to get offensive rebounds. Spacing is a critical part of any offensive game plan. By definition spacing is a coordinated effort of all 5 guys on the court. If one player is not where he is supposed to be when he is supposed to be there, it can throw off the whole team. An example is Nick and Wayne working down low so one can seal off his man opening the possibility for an entry pass into the post. Suppose Langford is supposed to draw his man out on the weak side rendering him unable to clog a potential passing lane. Likewise Kirk is rotating strong side to weak side to open up a possible driving lane for Aaron as he dribbles across the top of the key. If Aaron chooses to dribble on to the strong side where Nick has sealed off his man he should arrive coincidently with Nickís seal so he will be in a position to make the entry pass at the proper angle. If he is a second late, Nickís defender will be able to recover. If he is a second early Nick will not yet have sealed his man and a pass attempt could easily result in a TO. This is an example where effective coordinated movement can increase an individuals ability to get an open shot.
Screening is another classic example. Jeff Boschee was not at all effective at creating his own shot. Jeff became very good at utilizing screens to get open looks. Even a screen will not work well if your teammates arenít spaced well. It does little good to come off a screen only to be met by another defender. All movement on the court can serve to enhance your teammates ability to get an open shot or it can serve to detract from it. If you watch the Jayhawks through the first seven games this year, you will notice their spacing and coordinated movement has not been nearly as effective this year. Two of the by-products of effectively coordinating the movement of all players as a team are increased shooting percentage and more assists. KU has led the nation in assists over the last two seasons. Last season we led the nation in shooting percentage. We have consistently been near the top in both categories throughout Roy Williamís tenure. This is no accident. These results are part of the game plan Roy implements. A critical way of measuring this is Assist/FGM ratio (assists divided by made field goals). Look at this stat for the past 4 seasons compared to this year.
We are down by almost 20%, which may not sound too bad but let me assure you it is. This means many of our shots are coming off freelance individual offense or offensive rebounds and stick backs. Neither are necessarily bad if that is your style and game plan. It is not ours. If a team can take us out of that game plan they radically increase their chances of beating us. An even worse scenario is when we take ourselves out of that game plan by poor execution. I believe this season has seen a combination of the two factors. Opposing coaches have disrupted Aaron and Keith on offense and forced them (or allowed them) to be more freelance in their play. Keith has gotten away with it a little more because of his style of play and because he is not expected to be a playmaker to the degree Aaron has. Some have pointed to poor interior play. I am not prepared to take all blame for poor execution off Wayne and Nick, but I will say much of their woes are a direct result of bad execution on the part of the perimeter players. How does last season compare to this season? Many have posited the loss of Drew is the big factor which is affecting Nickís performance. First of all, Nickís performance isnít anything to be alarmed about. Secondly, I purport the loss of Jeff Boschee is a bigger factor in this teams lack of execution. Not only did we lose his 2.41 APG and replace it with Keithís 2.0 APG, but we lost a ball handler to add depth and share the ball-handling duties with Aaron and Kirk, who maintained an A/TO ratio of 2.41 versus 1.20 for Keith. It is a subtle thing to notice, but Aaron has had the ball in his hands much more this season than he did last season. Defenses have the luxury of focusing on Kirk and allowing Aaron to handle the ball more.
In conclusion, the effective coordinated movement of the players as a team permeates through many statistical categories. Our shooting percentage has lost about 4% points this season over last. This is partly because we have shot poorly but that is part and parcel to the problem I am discussing. Poor shooting is largely a by-product of poor shots. Poor shots are a by-product of poor coordinated movement. (i.e. poor screening, poor timing, out of position to feed and dish, etc.) Can these problems be overcome? YES. Will these problems be overcome? I donít know. I can assure you Roy recognizes the problem far better than I or anyone reading this article. The key will be in getting the players to execute. This execution will come from practice and understanding. They will get plenty of both from the coaching side. I am optimistic and confident these guys will respond and learn. They are younger than last years team and this is not all that surprising. They are loaded with talent and have a great coaching staff to teach them. I am of the opinion they will respond. I thought we did a better job in the Oregon game with a few exceptions.
Passing: This is the most important topic I want to discuss. It is my candid opinion this is the singularly largest reason for our poor start this season. Perhaps many of you have adorned your Christmas tree with stringed popcorn in years past. I can remember when my wife and I were first married and before we had accumulated the vast array of ornaments we now possess. We were young and on a tighter budget and stringed popcorn was not only cheap but something we could have fun making. We popped the corn and with needle and thread, we created a wonderful string of popcorn which adorned our very first Christmas tree as newlyweds. What do you think would have happened had we taken all that popcorn and just thrown it on the tree? Much of it would have stuck in the tree and some would have fallen to the floor. We might have taken the time to pick up the corn on the floor and place it back on the tree until all the popcorn was somewhere on the tree. Somehow that just doesnít seem like much fun or like a very attractive decoration. You see the thing that converted the popcorn from trash to decoration was the thread and the time to connect it. The pass on a basketball court is the thread in my analogy. You can have talent, motivation and great coordinated movement, but if you canít or donít pass the ball well it is all for naught. Think back to the great Magic Johnson Lakers and Larry Bird Celtic teams of the 80s. They were stocked with talent but what set them apart was the teamwork. John Stockton has made a bazillion dollars largely because the boy can flat out pass the basketball. Michael Jordan moved to the next level when he learned to get the most out of his teammates largely through becoming a great passer. Passing the basketball with accuracy and timing is a key ingredient of championship teams. How have the Jayhawks done so far this year? In a word, lousy. Effective passing can be statistically measured in several ways. The main one is the A/TO ratio as well as the individual stats of assists and TOs. Letís look at how we stack up this year.
If this doesnít tell the story, I donít know what does. Our passing this year has been pathetic. Now all these issues we have discussed work integrally so it is impossible to isolate any one as the source of the problem. Poor passing is connected to poor coordinated movement as well as vice versa. Believe it or not, Kirkís TOs are down very slightly this year from 3.46 per 40 minutes last season to 3.41 per 40 minutes this season. Thatís the good news. The bad news is his assists are also down but to a much greater degree. Last season Kirk averaged 6.51 assists per 40 minutes compared to 3.41 this season. Determining the cause for this calls for a little conjecture. Certainly his injury has contributed to his diminished assists. I propose the main reason for Kirks fewer assists is twofold. First, Aaron is taking on a larger roll of ball handling, and secondly and more importantly Kirk simply hasnít had the opportunities since the ball has been turned over or a shot attempt has been made before Kirk has had a chance to make a play. You can assume once a player has the ball he can pass it for an assist, turn it over, shoot it, shoot it and get fouled, or pass it to continue the play. Four of the five of these are recorded statistics. Here is a look at these data for this years starters compared to last year. ďTouchĒ is the total of the FGA+FTA/2+A+TO. The ď% of Total TouchesĒ is the percent each player has of the teamís total touches.
Several things jump out immediately. First of all Wayne and Keithís increased minutes are clearly reflected in their doubling of % of Total Touches. Note that Kirkís touches are off 10% while Aaronís are up 20%. This bears out to some degree the premise that Aaron is handling the ball more than last year. By far the most significant stat is Aaron turning the ball over almost 30% more than last year. Aaronís numbers last year were not good but he was, after all, a freshman. He should be at or below 20% on TO/Touch this year.
In conclusion, effective passing is the tie that binds an effective team offense. Ball movement is not just a matter of accuracy but of timing and decision-making. We have a PG who has taken a larger role in running the offense but his results have been far below what is needed.
These analyses are somewhat cursory. Hopefully it spurs you to think a little about the complexities of effective teamwork. These type of practices are what separate talented teams from winning teams. Where do I think these Jayhawks are headed? I do not think these deficiencies will be solve quickly. These types of skills require practice, practice, practice. I like the fact we are playing an extremely tough schedule. When we play weak teams our weaknesses can be masked until itís too late. Our weaknesses are being exposed early and often this year. I hate losing as much as anyone but when I apply calm reason; I am encouraged we are getting these wake up calls now. Itís important to remember these guys are work-in-progress. That has a very important aspect to it. They can learn and get better and overcome their lack of skills by gaining those skills. You can bet your sweet bippee (Laugh-In fame) Coach Roy is all over this in practice. There is more work to do than many of us hoped but that does not mean we are sunk. Talent does matter and we have it in the lineup and on the coaching staff.
Oregon versus Kansas
Player of the Game: Hands down this goes to Michael Lee. Kirk had a gutsy game and led the team to the amazing comeback but Michael came off the bench with the best (by far) performance of a bench player this year. Here are the NEP data.
Michael has a team high n-NEP of 33.4. Michael had 8 rebounds in 20 minutes. Amazingly, this is the best rebound per minute performance of any Jayhawk player this year (playing significant minutes). He also had 2 assists in his 20 minutes compared to 4 for Miles in 36 minutes. Minute for minute, Lee was the best player on the court for the Jayhawks on this day. That is a breath of fresh air since bench strength has been our biggest question mark.
Significant Stats of the Game: I will limit this discussion to Aaronís line. Aaron shot 1 for 11 from the field and 1 for 5 from three point land. He had 4 assists against 7 TOs and only 2 rebounds. As shown above his n-NEP was 1.2. That is something beyond pathetic. This will not get it done. I expect to see significant changes in the game plan against Tulsa. Not only would I not be surprised to see Michael Lee get more minutes, I would not be surprised to see him on the court with Kirk and Keith at the same time with Kirk playing the point. I would also expect Kirk to see more touches.
This was quite a long edition of ITN and was less numbers intensive than past editions. I wanted to adequately lay the foundation of my continued optimism about this team. I think they have work to do and I will be expecting to see steady progress. I have seen nothing that has removed my faith they can still make a championship run. They will not do it without making some positive changes and improvements. I have no reason to believe they cannot or will not make those changes. The proof is in the pudding. Tulsa is the next flavor of the day. Letís see how they handle it. Watch for, 1) ball movement, 2) Kirk being more active in the offense, and 3) fewer TOs. I still owe you a review of the bench players. I will try to do that after the Tulsa game. I also want to review the defense. It is a definite concern. This edition focused on the offense.
Stats all for now, folks.
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