Thursday, October 29, 2009

Season Preview: Jason Clark

By some metrics, Jason Clark was the Hoyas’ best offensive player in conference play last year.

He led the team in eFG% [= (FGM + .5*3PM)/FGA] in conference play and was second only to Greg Monroe in TS% [= Pts/(2*[FGA + (.44*FTA)])]. He was the team’s best 3-point shooter. He was the team’s best rebounder from the guard spot, and again only Monroe was truly a better rebounder.

Of course, Clark wasn’t the Hoyas’ best offensive player. Actually, he really wasn't all that close to the top, probably sliding in at #5 spot in a short rotation. The reason was simple: turnovers.

As noted above, Clark was great at putting the ball in the hoop when he actually got a shot off.

The problem is that nearly 30% of the time Clark ended a Hoya possession, he never took a shot - he was turning the ball over. Every time Clark shoots the ball, the Hoyas score an average of 1.4 points, which is fantastic. But once you factor in the turnovers, Clark was a sub-par offensive player.

Clark is an extreme, but he’s no more an extreme on the Hoyas than the Hoyas are in college basketball. Since Thompson has been at Georgetown, the team has generally been very efficient at scoring when they actually shoot, and fairly poor at taking care of the ball:

Conference Play       
Year TO Rate Rank TO/game TS% Rank Off. Eff.
2004-05 22 11 13.8 56 2 105
2005-06 19 9 11.5 56 3 110
2006-07 22 14 13.4 60 1 115
2007-08 21 14 13.5 58 3 110
2008-09 23 14 15.0 54 7 101

This is not a surprise, of course.

The Hoyas work the shot clock, looking for a high percentage opportunity. Those extra passes and dribbles mean extra chances for turnovers. There are a significant number of attempts at backdoors and other cuts; those types of plays often result in either an extraordinarily high percentage shot - a layup or dunk - or a turnover. Additionally, the offense requires that all players handle and pass; there’s no doubt that some players are more turnover-prone than others (we're also looking at you, Mr. Vaughn). In other offenses the coaches may find a way to shield those players from having the ball too often.

The benefit to Georgetown’s approach, of course, is better shot selection than most teams. When working effectively, it generates a tremendous amount of easy shots and uncontested lay-ups. There are few ill-advised or forced shots.

In general, the Hoyas’ excellent True Shooting % has overcome the team’s difficulty with turnovers. But last year, two things happened on this front. The team did not make as many shots (and from my observation, did not get nearly as many easy shots). And the turnover rate increased as well as pace, leading to an increase of almost 1.5 turnovers per game.

This may not seem like much. But given the Hoyas’ efficiency at scoring, the benefit gained from reducing turnovers is more significant than most. Lowering the team turnover rate to 20% from 23% would yield an extra two offensive shot attempts per game, not including any put-backs. Provided that the team would take those extra shots at their normal accuracy, that yields an extra 2.5-3.0 ppg. Given the number of careless and stupid turnovers observed (painfully), there is no reason to think that a reduction of turnovers by one to two a game could only come at the expense of the team taking worse shots.

Georgetown was outscored in conference play 66 to 67 - 1 point! Would their record have been 7-11 if the average score was 69-67 instead? Looking at it another way, the Hoyas lost three games by three points or less: Cincinnati, at Syracuse and at St. John’s. With those extra points, that’s a 10-8 record and an NCAA bid without improving upon any other aspect of their game.

With Jessie Sapp graduated and Vee Sanford a freshman, more ball handling opportunities will fall to Clark this year. He was on the floor for just 44% of conference minutes last year and used only 18% of possessions once there. Both of those are likely to increase.

That means even more focus upon Clark’s ball-handling and decision-making than last year.

Another year of struggling to hold onto the ball, and much of the Hoyas’ season could replay like the Duke game, when Clark’s otherwise fine play was marred by a disastrous turnover when filling in at point for Chris Wright. But if Clark can solve his turnover problem, he may be one of the most efficient guards in the Big East. If the Hoyas as a whole can solve their turnover problem, they will return to being one of the best offenses in the country.

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