If the pro-analytics movement has taught us one thing in basketball, it’s that two types of shots are much more valuable than others: Layups or dunks at the rim, and three-pointers. Teams score very efficiently on layups and dunks because they’re shorter shots, and therefore usually easier; they score efficiently on three-pointers because, well, three is more than two. With rare exceptions, long or midrange two-pointers are much less valuable — exactly the shots a defense wants to force.
When seen through that lens, it’s hard for any team to play better on offense than Boston University did in its 91-65 victory over UMass-Lowell last night:
BU’s results were terrific — 1.2 points per possession even with a lazy second half — but as that chart shows, its process was even better. Forty of the hosts’ 69 shots were layups or dunks, and most of the rest were three-pointers; had they connected on treys at last season’s rate of 37%, they would’ve scored 100 points. By shooting almost exclusively from the paint and beyond the arc, BU did exactly what good teams should do — use their talent advantage to earn high-percentage shots.
Yes, the River Hawks are perhaps BU’s weakest opponent — Wednesday marked only their second game since moving to Division I — and it’s unlikely the Terriers can repeat that feat, say, at UConn this weekend. But lest you think the BU’s high-percentage shots came about solely because of UMass-Lowell’s greenness, check out the performance of the River Hawks’ first opponent, Michigan:
“Rim” includes layups and dunks combined; “2PJ” denotes two-point jumpers. BU and Michigan stats from games against UMass-Lowell; D-I average from Hoop-Math.com.
That would be the same Michigan that reached the Final Four last year and entered 2013-14 ranked seventh in the nation — and nearly half its shots against UMass-Lowell were two-point jumpers. Getting high-percentage shots isn’t always about talent — it’s about having the right gameplan and executing it well. (And it’s no coincidence that BU had a much easier time with UMass-Lowell than did the Wolverines, which were tied at halftime.)
The Terriers’ offensive gameplan begins with point guard Maurice Watson, Jr., who has looked borderline unguardable at times in the first two games. Whether in transition or in a half-court setting, Watson excels at getting into the lane and making good decisions from there — he scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting while assisting seven other baskets Wednesday night.
“He’s as good a guard as I’ve seen in a long time,” UMass-Lowell head coach Pat Duquette said. “You’ve got to guard him with an entire team — you can’t do it with one guy.” But bringing an entire team of help defense has its price — Watson assisted four three-pointers in the first 10 minutes.
BU also got high-quality shots by leveraging its frontcourt advantage against the River Hawks, one of the shortest Division I teams. Dom Morris took full advantage, getting deep post position at the rim and scoring six layups in the first six minutes.
Wednesday night’s performance was extreme, but it wasn’t completely out of character for the Terriers, who have had a relatively progressive offense under Joe Jones. According to Hoop-Math.com, only 24 percent of the Terriers’ shots last season were two-point jumpers — nearly 10 percentage points below the national average — and that dropped to 21 percent in Sunday’s opener against Northeastern. The mix of other shots has changed this year, though; layups are up and three-pointers are down, which Jones said he was pleased about.
“The fact that we could turn them over really helped us get some layups in transition,” he said after Wednesday’s game. “I thought last year we probably settled for too many threes at times, and I think we’ve done a better job of balancing it — Dom being able to score at the rim, getting some layups in transition — and then making some three-point shots.”
BU will have faster guards than most teams it plays this year, which means the best way for the Terriers to keep getting high-percentage shots is to beat opponents down the floor for layups or kick-out threes — a style of play that suits their point guard just fine.
“I love these kinds of games,” Watson said. “I hate games where there are a lot of free throws, a lot of stops, a lot of timeouts. Being able to run in transition, get some dunks and some threes, brings some excitement to the game. You get the crowd into it, you get the bench into it — everyone gets into it.”