Monday, December 21, 2009

At what point do we say: They just can't shoot

Despite Michigan actually holding serve with the #1 Jayhawks on Saturday, they once again had an atrocious shooting day (5-27 from 3-points; 24-67 overall). And had Michigan hit a few of those wide-open shots Kansas was affording all game, Michigan might've come away with a win. As it stands, they lost by just 11 points. What's worse, the defense looked acceptable and Kansas had one of their worst games of the season, opening the door for Michigan to steal one. But they didn't.

The real thing I'm interested in after this game is wondering whether or not this team can shoot. At what point in the season do we say to ourselves, "They're just bad at shooting". Much like the football team, when we had to painfully accept that they weren't very good and had the worst defense in the Big Ten, I think there has to come a time when we just accept that the players on this team aren't that good at shooting. Of course, I don't want to condemn all of them, but there comes a time when you have to just accept the facts: Michigan, through 10 games of the season, is shooting only 28% from outside despite taking about 40% of their shots from three.

Tim at MGoBlog wrote a piece last week about what happened to the Michigan outside game, but completely ignored the fact that Michigan might not be very good at shooting. He gives this chart to illustrate the problems:

Michigan 3-Point Percentages
2008-09 %
2009-10 %
Eric Puls
CJ Lee
Kelvin Grady
David Merritt
Zack Novak
Laval Lucas-Perry
Stu Douglass
Anthony Wright
Manny Harris
DeShawn Sims
Zack Gibson
Jevohn Shepherd
Matt Vogrich
Darius Morris

He then comes to this somewhat hopefully optimistic conclusion (emphasis mine):

So what does it mean? On the face, it would appear that Michigan lost most of its best shooters, but that isn't actually the case. Puls, Lee, Grady, and Merritt all had few attempts (Manny and the two Indiana guys were the only people to shoot over 100 3-balls, and LLP would have gotten there if he'd played the whole season), so there is something to be said for sample size. The better takeaway is that Only Laval Lucas-Perry and DeShawn Sims are shooting better right now than they did last year, and most guys have seen a precipitous dropoff...

Unless guys are exclusively taking horrible shots this year (and John Beilein said Wednesday that poor shoot selection may play some role in the shooting struggles), the bad shooting is an anomaly.

I wish he was right. He's not, at least not according to the numbers. To call this shooting performance an anomaly is to assume a) that players will shoot the same percentage year-to-year (or get better as they get older--this is a huge fallacy, FTR), b) that these struggles are somehow independent from the players' skill, and, most importantly, c) that Michigan's shooters are good and last year was a prediction of how they will play, regardless of the fact that they didn't shoot particularly well last year.

The thing that really struck me about the numbers from last year is that, of the "shooters" proper (Eric Puls being obviously left out of this category), the best shooting percentage was CJ Lee's 36.5%. Would anyone really like CJ Lee to be the best outside shooter on a team defined as a three-point shooting team? No one? Really? That's what I thought. Frankly, there's nothing about last year's shooting percentages that indicate that these guys are objectively good three-point shooters. Sure, last year we could blame it on youth and getting to know a system and getting acclimated to the college game. But as we're 10 games into many of their sophomore seasons, and they're not shooting well, sooner or later, you have to look at the team and say, "Nope, they can't shoot."

One argument against all of this is high school performance as an indicator of college performance, and if Beilein keeps drafting great high school shooters, there have to be a few good college ones. But as we all know, high school success does not necessarily translate to college success. These guys can be guru-approved and weighed down by state championship rings, but all that matters anymore is on-court production. And frankly, we haven't seen anything to believe that these guys are truly great shooters.

This year in the NCAA, there are over 100 players shooting better than 46.3% from three point range (and that's all ESPN will show me). And at least 30 of them have taken a substantial amount of three points shots. Michigan's best three point shooter is Matt Vogrich, who is shooting 46.2% from three point, while only having taken 13 shots. Other than Vogrich, the best three-point shooter on the team right now is DeShawn Sims at 35.3%. This is not indicative of a team that's good at shooting.

Like I said, I don't want to condemn all of these guys. Who knows, maybe they'll turn it on and become the best group of shooters in the country. But last year's less-than-flattering stats, combined with the awful performances this year are leading me to believe that this team might not be very good at shooting. I hope I'm wrong. The numbers, right now, say I'm not.


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