One of the standard lines in season previews of this year’s Michigan State basketball team is that, in the wake of Drew Neitzel’s graduation, Raymar Morgan has to step up as MSU’s go-to scorer. And that’s a reasonable statement. Morgan is an extremely talented player who (1) goes into just about every college basketball game with a mismatch to take advantage of and (2) now has two years of experience as a starter under his belt.
I decided to go back and look at Morgan’s field goal shooting performance from last season. We’ve already looked at his standard shooting stats, concluding that this overall stats were very good but didn’t reflect weaker performances against good teams away from home.
The next step is breaking down Morgan’s shooting numbers by the type of shots he took. As background, we should review Basketball Prospectus’s enlightening work on this topic. Based on a very large sample of data on field goal shooting percentages by distance from the basket, they concluded that mid-/long-range 2-point field goal attempts are converted at much lower rates than one might guess. My previous summary of their work:
Remarkably, the data indicate shooting percentages are actually higher for shots just beyond the 3-point line than for shots between 5 and 19 feet–roughly 37% vs. 33-36% for the shots inside the arc. For shots from less than 5 feet, the shooting % jumps to 62%.
Data of this sort aren’t generally available, but I did notice that CBS Sportsline has started posting shot charts for individual players. Here’s an example: the MSU-Ohio State game that closed out the regular season. Using those shot charts, I went back and compiled data on Morgan’s shooting stats for MSU’s 18 regular season conference games in the following categories of shots:
- Layups/dunks: These include attempted tip-ins off offensive rebounds.
- Short 2-pointers: These are shots taken inside the lane and below the jumpball arc–roughly 6 feet or closer to the basket. I’d think these would tend to be shots taken off of drives to the basket.
- Longer 2-pointers: Any 2-point attempt not classified as “short.”
- 3-pointers: Official 3-point attempts.
As a technical note, I should say that the shot chart data didn’t always mesh exactly with the official box score information. In some cases, I could clear things up by looking at play-by-play data. In other cases, I just had to make an educated guess. Regardless, the number of shots in question was fairly small.
To start, I’ll note that Morgan was 5-18 on 3-pointers (27.9%) during the 18 conference games. Here are the data on 2-point attempts:
Not surprisingly, Morgan converted a very high percentage of layups/dunks. Many of the misses in that categories were attempted tip-ins. For whatever reason, he didn’t have much success with attempts right around the basket that weren’t considered layups–hence my guess that those were drives to the basket that came up a little short. If you put those two categories together, you still get a FG percentage of 72.6%, well above the average of 62% that BP found for shots within 5 feet of the basket.
On long 2-point attempts, Morgan was (not surprisingly) less successful. But a FG percentage of 43.3% looks pretty healthy relative to the BP findings. What may be hidden by that number is open perimeter shots Morgan passed up because he lost confidence in his jumpshot in some games late in the season.
Assuming the percentages above aren’t going to shift dramatically this season, the key for Morgan’s scoring output is the number of shots he gets close to the basket vs. those shots he takes from the perimeter. Below is a graphical look at Morgan’s 2-point FG attempts by category on a game-by-game basis during conference play. I’ve merged the “short” 2-point attempts in with layups/dunks, since they would indicate at least some ability to get near the basket (I’ll call that whole category “short” from here on out).
- Morgan attempted more long 2-point shots than short ones in 12 of 18 games.
- That statement was true for 7 of 9 road games.
- While that was generally a bad thing, it wasn’t in the final regular season game vs. Ohio State. He made 5 of 7 long 2-point attempts in that game, while also taking and converting 4 layups/dunks.
- There were five games in which Morgan didn’t convert a long 2-point attempts. He averaged 9.2 points/game in those games. He attempted two or fewer long 2-point attempts in 4 of those 5 games.
- Morgan attempted no more than 4 short 2-point attempts in the final 7 conference games.
- As further evidence his ability to create scoring opportunities going to the basket faded down the stretch, he took more than 3 free throws in just 2 of those 7 games.
That fourth and fifth bullets would seem to confirm my intuitive judgment that there were quite a few games in conference play last season where Morgan would miss a couple outside shots and one or both of two things would happen:
- He’s stop shooting from the outside when he was open.
- Defenses would play off him, preventing him from being able to drive to the basket.
In an ideal scenario, Morgan’s outside shot will become more consistent, forcing the defense to guard him more closely to he can drive the basket more frequently. Absent that development, Morgan has to find more ways to get to the basket for layups/dunks. Two possibilities include (1) more posting up (as suggested by Izzo recently) and (2) more passes off drives by Kalin Lucas.
I don’t know that I’ve uncovered any earth-shattering findings here–partly because the only context we have to compare these numbers to are extremely broad data across all of college basketball. But hopefully this will at least give us some context from which to look at Morgan’s shooting production as the new season progresses.
More statistical stuff: The Big Ten Geeks did a post I meant to do this offseason, but never got around to. (See, procrastination pays!) They looked at MSU’s possessions per game over the last 12 seasons, finding that last year’s team was fairly comparable to the Final Four teams in terms of pace. The Geeks are, therefore, a little skeptical about Izzo’s statements about picking up the pace on offense by playing more players. While I generally agree with the Geeks that coaches can overstate the ability their teams have to force a faster pace on offense, I would note the following:
- The pace numbers for the early Final Four teams may be somewhat understated due to the rock solid brand of man-to-man defense those teams played, which would have forced opponents to use more time to create good shots. (We need a time-of-possession stat to control for this.)
- There’s a pretty clear correlation between Izzo’s ability to play more guys regularly and MSU’s conference and postseason success.
- Playing a deeper rotation may have more benefits on defense and the boards than it does on offense. Players are always going to go all-out when a fast break opportunity presents itself. They may not exert maximum effort on every loose ball or rebounding opportunity if they’re playing 35 minutes/game rather than 25 minutes/game.
- A 10-man playing rotation is feasible for MSU without sacrificing the amount talent on the floor if the freshmen are all ready to contribute at least 10 minutes per game, which initial indications would say they are: (1) Lucas, (2) Allen, (3) Summers, (4) Morgan, (5) Suton, (6) Walton, (7) Lucious, (8) Green, (9) Roe, (10) Gray–and maybe Dahlman.
There you go: A real-live divergence of opinion among tempo-free basketball bloggers. Although maybe it’s not that large a divergence. I’d agree with the Geeks that the pace statistic probably isn’t a huge key to MSU’s success–but I’d maintain that using a deep playing rotation almost certainly is.