Friday, December 9, 2011

Breaking Down: The Efficient Assassin, or how Marcus Denmon does his damage

Past Breaking Downs:

- What is the Michigan system?
- How Jared Cunningham defended John Jenkins
- The breakdowns in the Pitt defense

NEW YORK - I am a believer in advanced statistics. But I'm not a 'stat geek'.

There is a difference.

I don't think that numbers can tell you the whole story. Yes, using the stats generated by Ken Pomeroy or Synergy Systems can be extremely enlightening, their value is diminished incredibly when they aren't taken in context with what actually happens on the court. For example, using Kenpom's efficiency numbers, Drew Wiley from Boise State and Tyrus McGee from Iowa State are the two most effective players in the country, but you are a truly dedicated hoop head if you know who those two kids are.

Another example? Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe. He's the most efficient high-major post player in the country, sitting above the likes of Jared Sullinger, Thomas Robinson and Anthony Davis. But I don't think he would be one of the top 15 big men selected if we were to do a draft. What makes him so efficient is that he shoots a ridiculous 77.3% from the field (he's made 30 of his last 32 attempts), but if you watch Missouri play, the majority of Ratliffe's buckets are coming off of assists from his dynamic back court of Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey.

When the ball is given to any capable 6'9" big man in front of the rim, he's not going to miss many of those shots.

That brings us to Ratliffe's Missouri teammate, sharp-shooting two-guard Marcus Denmon, who is fourth in the Player of the Year race according to the guys at CBS and dubbed a first-team all-american by Luke Winn. Denmon's numbers alone are impressive -- he's averaging 21.3 ppg and 5.6 rpg while shooting 50% from three (seven attempts per game), 54.3% from the field overall and 89.3% from the line.

He's also the third-most efficient player in the country with an offensive rating of 147.3, according to Kenpom. That efficiency number becomes all the more impressive when you consider the fact that his performance against Villanova -- 28 points, 10-16 shooting from the field, 6-9 from three -- actually dropped him from being considered a "major contributor" to just a "significant contributor" to Missouri's offense. Think about that. (A major contributor has a usage rate between 24-28%, while a significant contributor is the range 20-24%.)

The most efficient major contributor with Denmon's drop is now Jarrod Jones of Ball State, whose offensive rating is 134.4.

All told, those numbers made me ask why. What is Denmon doing that makes him such a potent offensive weapon? Why is he a guy that both stat heads and more traditional hoop junkies think so highly of?

Denmon is, first and foremost, a catch-and-shoot player. According to Synergy, 50.6% of his shots -- 59 of 106 -- have been of the catch-and-shoot variety, with 79.7% (or 47) of those coming from beyond the arc. Denmon is scoring 1.468 PPP on catch-and-shoot jumpers, and that number rises to 1.548 PPP in a spot-up situation. (34.4% of his possessions-used come as a spot-up shooter. The difference between spotting and catching-and-shooting is that you can take a catch-and-shoot jumper on the move.)

Where Denmon is the most dangerous is in transition simply because he is so good at running from defense to offense. As soon as Missouri gains possession -- sometimes even earlier, if Denmon is able to anticipate who is going to get the rebound -- he's of and running. He understands how to stay wide and create space between himself and the transition defender.

Here's a perfect example. As soon as Phil Pressey grabs the rebound you can see Denmon, at the bottom right of this picture, taking off (click the picture to enlarge):

Pressey pushes the ball and recognizes that Villanova's defenders are all packed into the paint, so he kicks the ball to Denmon, who drills the three:

Mike Anderson may no longer be at Missouri, but that doesn't mean that the Tigers are afraid to get out and run in transition. In fact, they are running more and doing it better than they did last season: in 2010-2011, 17.7% of Missouri's possessions came in transition, when they scored 1.175 PPP. This season, 20.4% of their possessions have been in transition with an average of 1.18 PPP.

In fact, Missouri is so good on the run that they are able to fast break off of made baskets. In this example, you'll see Marcus Denmon challenge to Dominic Cheek three:

And then take off running. You'll notice he is the only Tiger not shown as the ball is inbounded:

He is once again able to spread the floor and find an opening, knocking down another three:

Against Villanova, Marcus Denmon hit 10 field goals. Nine of them came via assist from either Phil Pressey or Michael Dixon. Four of those were threes on the wing in transition, but the other five field goals came in the half court.

While Missouri is getting out in transition more often this season, they actually are averaging fewer possessions per game, 70.2 versus 72 a year ago. The reason for that is their execution in the half court; Frank Haith has a pair of point guards that understand how to pull the ball out and run their offensive sets. Last year, Missouri scored just 0.893 PPP in the half court. This season, that number is up to 1.072 PPP. A lot of what Missouri does in the half court involves ball-screens with their playmakers, but they do run some sets specifically designed to get Marcus Denmon a look at the rim.

In this first example, Missouri goes 1-4 high (both of the big men are on the elbows and the wings are foul-line extended):

And runs Denmon off of a double-screen across the two bigs, looking to isolate him on the opposite wing:

In this instance, Villanova defended it well, but Denmon was able to find some space when Pressey drives at his defender and kicks the ball out to him for an open look:

In this second example, Missouri uses the same set, but Matt Pressey is the guy that runs over the top of the double-screen:

Denmon circles through underneath, using a double-screen at the top of the key:

He doesn't have a shot on the catch, using one dribble to free himself for a pull-up 17-footer:

The biggest reason that Denmon has been so efficient this season because he never turns the ball over. Well, never isn't exactly correct. In eight games, he has exactly four turnovers, good for a turnover rate of 4.1%. That's ridiculous.

But the other reason that Denmon is so efficient is that his point guards get him the ball in a position where all he has to do is shoot the ball. If there was a way to determine a point-per-dribble stat, he would probably have the highest rating for any scoring guard. That's also part of the reason his turnover rate is so low -- he doesn't need to create from the time he catches the ball until the time he shoots the ball.

There is no doubt that Denmon is one of the best in the country at what he does, but what he is is a finisher. The same way that Ratliffe is thriving because he is big and gets put into positions where all he has to do is score a layup of dunk the ball, Denmon is playing so well because his point guards are putting him in a position where all he has to do is shoot the ball.

And boy, when he gets in a rhythm, he may be the best shooter in the country.

But he helps his teammates get opportunities as well. You cannot leave Denmon to help on a driver. His man has to stay hugged up on him, otherwise Pressey or Dixon will find him, and odds are good Missouri is going to be getting three points on that possession instead of a possible two. In this example, you see Pressey come off of a ball-screen (which, admittedly, Mouphtaou Yarou defends terribly) and drive down the middle of the lane:

But Denmon's man -- and the guy guarding Kim English, who is shooting over 54.9% from three as well -- can't help, so when Yarou tries to block the shot, it creates an opening for Pressey -- who Ratliffe said has "eyes not only on the back of his head, but the side of his head too" on Tuesday night -- to throw a gorgeous pass for a dunk:


Anonymous said...

Very interesting read. Denmon is truly a gifted player. Thanks for the breakdown & insights.

Anonymous said...

While I admit I'm a Mizzou fan, this was a very well done piece and I'll be back for more.

Anonymous said...

The whole country will know the name Marcus Denmon come March. Exciting to watch.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Great breakdown. I don't think that Pressy's contribution to Denmon's efficiency can be overstated. If you want to see good ball movement, transition, and defense, watch this team.

Anonymous said...

who are you? great research and reporting; highly informative and insightful; love the tigers and tough as nails marcus denomon.