Monday, March 4, 2013

Acceleration and Michigan's personnel

One of the major trends that's taken over NBA basketball is SportVU, a series of cameras placed in the rafters of NBA stadiums that captures location and movement data. The early adopters of the system are the powerhouses of the NBA, most famously the San Antonio Spurs who first utilized the data to restructure its offense around the corner-3. The rise of people like Kirk Goldsberry is grounded in similar spatial analytics. At the recent Sloan Sports Conference, Goldsberry, among others, gave presentations relating to spatial analytics in the NBA as well as a host of other topics on various sports. The following is a Grantland production of Philip Maymin's presentation regarding acceleration in the NBA.

I bring this up because it helps define some of my issues with this Michigan team. After the Ohio State loss, I wrote about Michigan's lack of athleticism, which was met with criticism. And probably rightly so, because shortly after that game, Glenn Robinson III did this:

So sheer athleticism is probably not the problem for this Michigan team. Rather, it's their first step/acceleration that I've seen that I find problematic. Barring Trey Burke, whose hesitation is devastating and changes speeds relentlessly, Michigan's other guards and wing players struggle to keep up with opponents and generate shots for themselves because this acceleration is lacking.

Tim Hardaway Jr struggles mightily with this, in addition to his lack of dribbling skills. He has long strides, which creates high top-end speed and open-court athleticism, but struggles in the half court when you need the ability to quickly get by your defender. Glenn Robinson III also has trouble with a first step, which is one of the reasons why you don't see him making moves to the rim off the dribble much. While posting Robinson in the corner is part of the offense, he's playing out of position (he's naturally a SF, not a PF) and should be able to gain a step or two on larger, hypothetically slower defenders. The same applies to their defensive struggles, where staying in front of opponents is something both players struggle with.

On the other side of the coin is Caris LeVert, who, aside from Trey Burke, has the quickest step on the team. He's quickly becoming the back-up goalie of Michigan basketball: the guy that the fanbase loves because of his occasional flashes of potential. You can see the difference between LeVert and Hardaway when they get into the lane: whereas Hardaway tries to rely on his top-end speed to get to the bucket and often ends up out of control, LeVert uses a stutter and hop steps to generate open looks. This is not to say that LeVert is a better player than Hardaway; he's not--at least not yet--but Hardaway needs to realize his destiny as a set shooter*.

I'm preferable to players who are truly explosive if not the best basketball players--it's the FreeDarko model, which I've discussed here before. But Beilein's system requires the latter and becomes deadly when he recruits the players who who can do both (Burke, possibly GR3 in a year or two, hopefully Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton).

*One of the things I've noticed this season from Hardaway is how much better his balance is on set shots, both compared to the same shots from last year as well as when he shoots of the dribble. I can't remember a player who has such a discrepancy between his set shot success and his success off the dribble. When Hardaway can catch and shoot, you know it's going in, but when he lifts off the dribble, it seems like the ball never drops. If you watch his core while he's shooting, you can see the difference.


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