Monday, December 7, 2009

An Apology and the Will Graves Theory

Once upon a time, I promised to do recaps of every Carolina basketball game for both the men and women. Clearly, and unfortunately, this hasn't happened. I've really dropped the ball on the women, who are playing really great, and I promise to blog about them and the NBA soon. As for the men, there have been six games since then and nary a recap in sight.

Well, my friends, this is my apology and with a full week of no games, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on what's happened and talk about how things can get better. In the six games the men have played, there have been two great wins, two wins that while not meaningless, were expected, and two losses. What's the key to understanding this? Well, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to The Will Graves Theory.

The Will Graves Theory
Will Graves is the current starting small forward for UNC. Though he starts, he splits his minutes with a lot of other people and is currently averaging only about 19 minutes a game. Will Graves is a great player, a tough rebounder, a hustler, and from time to time, a lights out three point shooter. In more than a few of these games, he's made some really savvy, heads-up plays that have really helped the team.

There is a problem. Despite all the good things he does, Will Graves is not shooting terribly well this season and he's taking a lot of shots, shots that should probably be going to other players. Let's take a look at some numbers,

First, let me back up my assertion that he's not shooting well. Let's look at true shooting percentage, a measure that weights and accounts for the value of three pointers and free-throws.

True shooting percentage
Deon Thompson 59.3%
Ed Davis 69.2%
Ginyard, Marcus 61.6%
Tyler Zeller 60.0%
Larry Drew II 63.2%
Will Graves 50.5%

Very clearly, you can see that of the players who get major minutes, Graves is shooting the poorest. He is still shooting pretty well, but is really way below the other guys getting major minutes in terms of how well he's scoring. If you just saw this chart, and you were planning your offense, it becomes clear that Graves should be taking the fewest shots. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Let's look at usage percentage, "an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor."

Usage percentage
Deon Thompson 28.0%
Ed Davis 20.0%
Ginyard, Marcus 15.6%
Tyler Zeller 25.5%
Larry Drew II 17.6%
Will Graves 20.5%

Aside from the number one scoring option, and understanding that Tyler Zeller is the second-unit's main scoring option, Will Graves is getting the most touches. He is getting more touches than Ed Davis, who is shooting the ball at nearly a 70% true shooting rate! Davis has played 237 minutes so far this season while Graves has played 167. In 70 extra minutes of playing time, Davis has attempted a field goal only three more times than Graves. Now obviously, this is a little unfair. Davis is shooting phenomenally and is not getting nearly enough touches for how well he is scoring. However, my point could be made with any of the other players. Will Graves is an inefficient scoring option and is using possessions at a disproportionate rate.

Is it costing UNC games? It seems like it. In the loss to Kentucky, Graves had ten attempted field goals, good for second most attempts on the team (behind Deon) and tied with Kentucky's superstar phenom John Wall. Should the worst shooting starter on UNC be taking the same number of shots as probable number one NBA draft pick John Wall? Probably not. In the game against Syracuse, Graves led UNC in field goal attempts with twelve. He made two.

It's really hard to win games where your least efficient scoring option is taking the most shots. Carolina's offense is at it's best when the ball is moving freely and patiently. We have time in our half-court set, and we should be trying to get Deon the ball on the block or to Ed by the hoop, or turn a Larry Drew drive into a Marcus Ginyard open three. When other teams stop the ball movement and force Will to be a major component of our offense, we lose. I'm not saying that Will should stop shooting-- I still think he should keep trying to create and definitely do his best to knock down those open threes that we know he can get. I just want him to stop trying to put the team on his back. I want him to consider the extra pass, think about all the ways he can contribute without taking bad shots.

In the game against Michigan State, Will led the team in offensive rebounding. He took two shots, and made them both. It's been our best game of the year so far, and that's no accident.

Will Graves is the key to Carolina's offense: when he lets go and embraces his role with that zen-like shooter's detachment and plays within the flow (Wayne Ellington was the master of this), our offense hums smoothly. When he tries to force things and dominates the ball, our offense grinds to a standstill. The Will Graves Theory. Tell your friends.

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