Six additional questions answered about Tennessee and mid-range jumpers

4. Has Tennessee been better/worse efficiency-wise in games where they’ve taken a lot/very few mid-range jumpers?

This one will require some adjusting for opponents/schedule. Thankfully, Bart Torvik already does a masterful job of this. Now that Tennessee has played 23 games, I figure we can take the outlier-ish games on both sides of the mid-range spectrum and compare/contrast Tennessee’s offensive success in them. I ran this search through Synergy again, just like I have for most of this article. All PPPs are opponent-adjusted and come from Bart Torvik’s site.

Tennessee’s most mid-range heavy games:

  1. 9-for-26 (34.6%) against Kansas; 1.352 adjusted PPP (8-13 on threes, 11-14 on rim/other non-rim twos)
  2. 12-for-25 (48%) against Missouri on the road; 1.136 adjusted PPP
  3. (tie) 7-for-22 (31.8%) against Cincinnati (0.909 adjusted PPP); 10-for-22 (45.5%) against Kentucky on the road (1.153 adjusted PPP)

So: one fantastic game (largely due to efficiency on all other shots), two good games with high mid-range efficiency, and one turd. How about the least mid-range heavy games?

Tennessee’s least mid-range heavy games:

  1. (tie) 2-for-6 against Tennessee Tech (1.234 adjusted PPP); 4-for-6 against Texas A&M (1.255 adjusted PPP)
  2. 2-for-7 against Vanderbilt at home; 1.125 adjusted PPP

Two really good performances, one good one.

Does this conclude anything of extreme importance? Not really. Tennessee’s best performance of the season came in a game where they made just 9 of their 26 mid-range jumpers; Tennessee’s worst performance (Florida) was a game where they attempted just ten. (Perhaps this is why Simon Gerszberg’s Shot Quality thought Kansas got much better shots than Tennessee in the first game while simultaneously thinking Tennessee got slightly better shots than Florida in the second.) But it’s interesting that Tennessee does have the capacity to just not take these shots and has shown it a few times this season, mostly to great results.

5. Can we see shooting splits over first 11 games versus the last 12?

Simple enough. Tennessee started 10-1 and is 6-6 since. Efficiency-wise, Bart Torvik had them as the third-best team in America through 11 games, with the 30th-best offense and the second-best defense. In the last 12: 56th overall, 132nd-best offense, 27th-best defense. The defense hasn’t been elite like it was in the first half of the season, but it’s been good enough most nights to get Tennessee home with wins. Across Tennessee’s season, they still have only let three opponents crack 1.1 PPP, and Torvik only pinpoints three defensive performances as being truly bad: home Missouri (1.11 PPP allowed), home Kentucky (1.052), and road Auburn (1.113). It’s not the same defense we saw in December, but it’s still very good.

So we’ve got to talk offense, because that’s had the far, far more dramatic drop-off. Tennessee’s turnover rate has ballooned from 14.6% to 20.6%, which is both a function of playing tougher defenses and of some pretty obvious lapses in focus we’ve seen at times. Offensive rebounding and free throw rate have both taken small steps back, but the clear reversal is in 2PT%. Tennessee wasn’t elite at it at any point – 100th across the first 11 games – but a 52% hit rate was at least fine. Now, with a 46.7% conversion rate (266th) over the last 12, it’s pretty clear: Tennessee’s inefficiencies in turning it over and getting good shots has driven the overall downturn.

Let’s chart it.

First 11 games (630 field goal attempts charted by Synergy):

  • Layups/dunks/tips: 139-for-214 (65%); 34% of all shots; 19.5 per game
  • Floaters/runners/hook shots: 23-for-64 (35.9%); 10.2% of all shots; 5.8 per game
  • Two-point jumpers: 66-for-159 (41.5%); 25.2% of all shots; 14.4 per game
  • Three-point jumpers: 67-for-193 (34.7%); 30.6% of all shots; 17.5 per game

Last 12 games (663 field goal attempts charted by Synergy):

  • Layups/dunks/tips: 111-for-186 (59.7%); 28.1% of all shots; 15.5 per game
  • Floaters/runners/hook shots: 15-for-34 (44.1%); 5.1% of all shots; 2.8 per game
  • Two-point jumpers: 67-for-197 (34%); 29.7% of all shots; 16.4 per game
  • Three-point jumpers: 86-for-246 (35%); 37.1% of all shots; 20.5 per game

Here’s two instant takeaways which should be very obvious:

  1. Tennessee isn’t getting to the rim frequently at all. Across a full season, that 28.1% rim rate would be the 13th-lowest in all of college basketball, alongside such offensive luminaries as Georgetown (27.6% of all shots) and Washington (27.4% of all shots, is 5-20). I’m not really sure even the sunniest Tennessee fan has a good excuse for this. The strangest thing is that Tennessee is actually getting slightly fewer non-rim twos per game, but significantly more two-point jumpers.
  2. Tennessee is shooting better on threes than mid-range jumpers. Considering they’ve pretty consistently hovered right at 35% all season long, that number appears stable. Tennessee’s true talent from mid-range is probably closer to the 41.5% figure than 34%, but, also, literally no other high-major team is taking this many mid-range jumpers per game, as explored above.

6. Is it just Tennessee’s stars that do this, or is it the entire team?

I was asked this as a bit of an NBA comparison. Think of a team like the Brooklyn Nets. (I’m just throwing this out as an example, don’t hurt me.) You’ll never be mad when Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, or even James Harden (who doesn’t take many) takes a mid-range jumper. However, you would be pretty upset as a fan if it were Jeff Green or Landry Shamet pulling up a guarded 14-footer that hits the back iron. Ideally, you want it to just be the truly excellent shooters on your team taking these shots, while everyone else is threes and/or layups depending on size.

The same logic would theoretically apply to Tennessee. The average fan is probably fine with most Keon Johnson or Jaden Springer mid-range jumpers and accepts that Yves Pons can shoot his pretty well on most nights. However, the most texts I get surrounding a bad Tennessee mid-range jumper almost always come from a Victor Bailey or Josiah-Jordan James pull-up 14-footer.

I ran Tennessee’s numbers to find out the answer to this question, but only ended up coming out of it with several additional questions. Below is the full data from Synergy for every Tennessee mid-range jumper in the 2020-21 season.

  • All two-point jump shots: 133-356 (37.4%)
    • Yves Pons: 32-71 (45.1%); 43% of all shots
    • Keon Johnson: 27-67 (40.3%); 35.3% of all shots
    • Jaden Springer: 21-66 (31.8%); 37.5% of all shots
    • Victor Bailey: 19-44 (43.2%); 21.7% of all shots
    • John Fulkerson: 13-40 (32.5%); 26% of all shots
    • Josiah-Jordan James: 13-32 (40.6%); 21.8% of all shots
    • Santiago Vescovi: 7-16 (43.8%); 10.9% of all shots
    • Olivier Nkamhoua: 1-11 (9.1%); 24.4% of all shots
    • E.J. Anosike, Davonte Gaines, Drew Pember: combined 0-9; 16.1% of all shots
  • 0-7 foot jump shots: 32-73 (43.8%)
    • Yves Pons: 14-25 (56%)
    • Jaden Springer: 8-17 (47.1%)
    • Keon Johnson: 4-13 (30.8%)
    • John Fulkerson: 5-12 (41.7%)
    • Josiah-Jordan James: 1-2 (50%)
    • Olivier Nkamhoua: 0-2 (0%)
    • E.J. Anosike: 0-2 (0%)
  • 8-14 foot jump shots: 64-193 (33.2%)
    • Jaden Springer: 10-43 (23.3%)
    • Yves Pons: 16-40 (40%)
    • Keon Johnson: 15-33 (45.5%)
    • John Fulkerson: 6-22 (27.3%)
    • Victor Bailey: 5-17 (29.4%)
    • Josiah-Jordan James: 7-15 (46.7%)
    • Santiago Vescovi: 4-9 (44.4%)
    • Olivier Nkamhoua: 1-8 (12.5%)
    • E.J. Anosike: 0-4 (0%)
    • Davonte Gaines and Drew Pember: combined 0-2
  • 15+ foot two-point jump shots: 37-90 (41.1%)
    • Victor Bailey: 14-27 (51.9%)
    • Keon Johnson: 8-21 (38.1%)
    • Josiah-Jordan James: 5-15 (33.3%)
    • Santiago Vescovi: 3-7 (42.9%)
    • John Fulkerson: 2-6 (33.3%)
    • Yves Pons: 2-6 (33.3%)
    • Jaden Springer: 3-6 (50%)
    • Olivier Nkamhoua and E.J. Anosike: combined 0-2

Here’s the horrible news: it’s everyone. Well, maybe not Santiago Vescovi as much, as mid-range jumpers barely crack 10.9% of his total shot attempts. But what you’re looking at here is pretty gross. Of Tennessee’s main seven-man rotation, six players get 20% of more of their total shots from the least efficient shot in basketball, and the seventh (Vescovi) barely attempts anything inside the arc in the first place.

At first glance, I thought “I don’t know if anyone else can match this team-wide commitment,” and a quick Synergy search proved this true. Of the other three high-major teams that get 25% of more of their shots from the mid-range jumper (Mississippi, UCLA, and West Virginia), no other team matched Tennessee in having five players take 40+ mid-range jumpers this season. In fact, the only team that even came close was UCLA, who had four; both Mississippi and West Virginia get the majority of their mid-range attempts from just two players. If Tennessee did it this way – the way it was done in 2018-19 – then I could at least attempt to understand.

But all this exercise did was give me more questions. Why is the least efficient shot in basketball this important for this many players? Why isn’t this a shot that only three or so players have the green light for? Where’s the layups and threes? (Credit to Victor Bailey, who came out better in this exercise to me than anyone. I knew Vescovi took very few of these, but I’d thought Bailey had more attempts.) I don’t know that Tennessee necessarily needs to run the same system that Alabama, Furman, or Belmont runs, necessarily. They just need to come up with clear, statistical rationale as to why they’re still holding onto this shot at a time when it’s slowly being minimized in the sport they want to win championships in.

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