Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Vanderbilt (#1)

Vanderbilt offense

Not good, but also pretty fun, with a true star-in-the-making

Unsurprisingly, an already-bad team that has a player picked in the top 20 of the NBA Draft is going to, well, still be very bad. Vanderbilt’s now won just three of their last 40 games against SEC competition, which is the worst multi-year streak I can find since…possibly ever? (The closest thing to it in modern basketball history is Florida going 5-27 across two years of SEC play in the late 1970s.) Until proven otherwise, Vanderbilt and Jerry Stackhouse represent the doormat of the SEC. Memorial Gym largely serves as a place for other teams to live out a road homecoming at this point.

And yet: Vanderbilt plays the kind of bad basketball I can get behind, because it is fun and all caution is largely thrown to the wind. The Commodores take 47.6% of all shots from three, more than any SEC team except for Auburn. Five players have hit at least 10 threes, and all five are shooting 34.5% or better from downtown. Stackhouse has implemented what’s mostly a true 5-out offense that, contrary to a lot of three-heavy teams, doesn’t really look to push the pace. The Commodores rank a tad below the national average in terms of average possession length, meaning they’re happy to settle into their half-court offense and find the right shot. They’re generally good at finding solid looks from downtown, as you’d expect:

A large amount of these looks, whether he has the ball or doesn’t, comes from the massive amount of attention Scotty Pippen, Jr. draws. Michael Jordan’s teammate’s son has grown massively in his sophomore season to become a legitimate phenom. Pippen’s posting 21.6 points per game on a wide and wonderful array of attempts: threes (19-for-52);

Wild drives to the basket (33-for-57);

Pull-ups from mid-range (29 attempts);

And, of course, a lot of free throws (almost seven per game).

What Pippen does is very unique, in that he’s pretty much the only player on the Vanderbilt roster that can reliably create his and others’ shots. When Pippen is off the floor, Vanderbilt’s eFG% falls nearly 7% and their conversion rate at the rim falls from 59.7% to 46.4%, per Hoop-Explorer. Understandably, this means Stackhouse is keeping Pippen on the floor as long as he possibly can. Pippen hasn’t played less than 32 minutes in a game since December 13, and he’s touched at least 34 minutes in all three SEC games despite picking up 4+ fouls in each fixture. Without Vanderbilt, this roster is…well, it gets a lot less fun. I don’t want to be mean.

The underrated factor of Pippen’s game, beyond his own shot creation, is his ability to find open looks for others:

Pippen has been excellent in finding good looks out of Vandy’s pick-and-roll sets, whether it’s inside the perimeter or outside. When Pippen passes out of a ball screen as the ball-handler, Vandy has posted an amazing 1.163 PPP, per Synergy – good enough for the 80th percentile nationally. It’s enough to cover up for some of the mistakes Pippen does make, because when you’re able to create shots like these:

People do kind of forget about the bad things you can do. The best way to contain Pippen, as much as there is one, is to force him to score on you at the rim. Pippen only ranks in the 41st-percentile nationally at finishing at the rim, per Synergy, and he does also attempt a lot of shorter mid-range jumpers. If Tennessee can drive him off the three-point line without overplaying their hand, they should be able to at least limit his impact somewhat. (Florida did this exceptionally in a 91-72 win.)

Dylan Disu also an interesting piece

Beyond Pippen, there are other important pieces on the Vanderbilt roster; they just aren’t nearly as important as Pippen or as fun to watch and talk about. Dylan Disu, the center, has started taking and making more threes this year and it’s quite an exciting development:

I like Disu’s potential quite a bit as a quasi small-ball center. As I’ll explore, he’s got a long way to go to be any good defensively, but I find his inside-out ability pretty attractive. Low is the number of true centers with a turnover rate as low as Disu’s 13.7%, for example. Stackhouse has done a good job of getting Disu the ball in a variety of ways, whether it’s in the spot-up situation above or as part of an off-ball screen:

While Vanderbilt isn’t a huge user of the roll/pop man in ball-screen sets, Disu does set the majority of the screens when he’s on the court, and he’s quite happy to do any and all of popping, rolling, and slipping. (When I write this out, it sounds more like I’m describing a leg injury than a basketball play.) Beyond Pippen and Disu, it’s a land of Just a Shooters and Just a Guys, but I really do think there’s something to at least playing the aesthetically enjoyable style of basketball Vanderbilt plays.

Here’s a quick scout of the Vanderbilt rotation. Positions in parentheses are from Bart Torvik’s algorithm. The top five players are the projected starting lineup.

  • #2 Scotty Pippen (pure PG). The main driver, shot creator, scorer, and really, the only true exceptional player on this roster. Pippen will shoot it from anywhere and has shown some serious passing skills, along with an ability to draw lots of fouls. Struggling with fouls as of late…which could be a problem, as Stackhouse doesn’t like playing guys until they pick up a third foul.
  • #3 Maxwell Evans (wing G). Statistically has been Vandy’s worst rotation player this year. 4-21 on threes and 5-25 on all shots that aren’t a layup or dunk attempt. Highest turnover rate of anyone in the rotation, too.
  • #5 DJ Harvey (wing F). Transferred from Notre Dame. 10-29 on threes, but an ugly 6-25 on all shots in these first three SEC games. Gets a ton of off-ball screens run for him to shoot off of, so Tennessee has to fight through/around those.
  • #1 Dylan Disu (PF/C). Second-best player on the team. Disu is 15-39 from three and an exceptional 13-27 on non-rim twos, but strangely isn’t finishing at the rim very well. Posts up sometimes, but largely look for him to stay 15+ feet out.
  • #42 Quentin Millora-Brown (center). I’m kind of surprised he starts, given Stackhouse’s preference for three-point shooters, but he’s been one of the five best players. Millora-Brown is 15-16 at the rim with seven dunks, and he doesn’t really do anything other than stay at the rim. Awful free throw shooter and fantastic offensive rebounder.
  • #12 Trey Thomas (combo G). Freshman that’s second on the team in made threes (16-38). Just A Shooter and doesn’t create his own shot; all 16 threes are assisted by other players.
  • #10 Myles Stute (wing G). Freshman shooting 13-26 on threes. I don’t get why he’s not starting, especially as he did start the first two SEC games. Only five two-point attempts.
  • #4 Jordan Wright (wing G). Again, another player that should be starting. Does most of his damage at the rim, very good rebounder for his size. Best defender on the team.
  • #0 Tyrin Lawrence (wing G). Hasn’t made a three yet and rarely shoots. Sometimes the ball-handler, but not often.

NEXT PAGE: Please play the game

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