While Arizona’s defense next year should be special, it will be the offense that will likely get the most attention.
The Wildcats have been a top 15 offensive team 7 of the past 10 years, and last year was no exception. Arizona did everything well on offense, if nothing to perfection. The biggest issue was the turnovers and an over-reliance on the 3 ball. But overall, Arizona had a well balanced scoring team; at least on paper.
But before I jump into my investigation of Arizona’s offense, I want to dispel a myth that has been growing about this team. Many people believe that Miller does not run a fast paced offense and that Arizona is not scoring among the elite teams. While it’s true that Arizona only averaged the 143rd quickest pace last year, it was due almost entirely to the nature of Arizona defense, not its offense.
Arizona held opponents to the 53rd longest length of possession in the nation. What that means is Arizona’s defense absolutely stopped opponents in their tracks, and forced them into shot clock violations, contested drives, and hail mary 3’s.
Meanwhile, even with the nature of Arizona’s defense, Arizona still ranked top 50 in the nation in terms of scoring and offensive pace. It’s still not the fastest, and certainly nothing like the scorching teams that Lute Olson deployed, but a lot of that comes as baggage to an elite defense.
So now we can focus our attention on the offense that Arizona will be looking to run this year. I’ll be investigating just a few of the reasons that the Wildcats will be lighting up the scoreboard.
Arizona will easily have one of the most efficient offenses in the country next year. A huge reason that this can be predicted with a high level of certainty is because of the guaranteed increase in ball distribution. While Arizona will lose 55% of the minutes from last year’s team, there is only a loss of 50% of its assists. In addition, the team will add TJ McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon, who are all known for their passing ability.
The reason that passing ability and efficiency can be talked about as hand-in-hand is because of the tight correlation they share in a motion offense like the one that Sean Miller uses for 60%+ of the time. The graph below shows the correlation from last year’s team between assists and efficiency field goal percentage (eFG%).
In addition to this, the roster is stacked full of guys who define themselves by their efficiency. Arizona finished last year ranked 37th in eFG%. Expect that number to rise with the ability to play inside and the increase in ability to find open teammates.
A huge factor that will help Arizona create a more efficient offense will be the development of the post game. Last year saw an influx of incredibly talented bigs. However, to a large extent this talent was not fully utilized. In fact, Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley, and Grant Jerrett only saw about 23% of the team’s possessions even though they were playing 30% of the available minutes. Next year we should expect an increase in both of these.
I’m not going to break down how an inside-out game is wildly efficient because it’s a topic that is already proven and well understood in the game of basketball. Do a Google search. What I will say is that this style of play will be a huge benefit to Arizona next year.
The talent in the post is unreal. They will be able to create for themselves, their fellow post players, and kick it out to our guards for a high percentage 3 point attempt. On paper, this should be something that Arizona excels at. Watching the inside-out game develop will be priority one for me next year as far as breaking down the team. It’ll be exciting to see it all come together.
All of that said, the number one most important improvement over last year will unquestionably be an increase in ball security. And more importantly, an increase in assist to TO ratio by the primary ball handlers. Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons did many things well during their last years at Arizona. However, A:TO ratio was never a wildly bright spot on their resumes.
TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson will take over the reigns as the two primary ball handlers on offense. Closely following Kevin Parrom, Johnson was the 2nd leading A:TO guy for Arizona last year. In fact, he finished 7th in the PAC-12 in the category.
McConnell was top 100 in the nation both his freshman and sophomore years in A:TO ratio at Duquesne. Arizona fans can expect that trend to continue.
If both of Arizona’s ball handlers can work better at controlling the ball and passing to the bigs in less vulnerable situations, it is easy to see why ball security should be a major improvement for Arizona. Last year, Arizona was 147th in TO%. While that number isn’t terrible, it often kept Arizona’s offense from being elite. In fact, it is statistically the only reason Arizona did not have a top 5 offense in the nation.
ESPN recently predicted Arizona to have a top 5 offense in 2013-14. I agree with this sentiment. Arizona should be incredibly efficient, excellent at moving the ball, and should quickly clean up some of the weaker points from last year’s squad.
So expect a truly top-tier level offense for Arizona next year as the team develops. I can’t wait.