Tennessee has a problem. Well, they have several problems, but you have to take them one at a time.
Tennessee’s offense is broken. It has been for most of conference play, minus a couple spare performances. Tennessee sits at an on-the-dot 1 PPP against SEC opponents, which ranks 11th out of 14 teams. They’ve posted an eFG% of 48.4%, which is 10th-best. They rank 10th in both 3PT% (32.5%) and 2PT% (48.2%). Things are not good. So why aren’t they good when they have the most talented, deep team of Rick Barnes’ tenure?
There are many different factors that go into the goodness or badness of an offense, and I’m not going to pretend to know all of them. But the first and foremost thing to me is a very obvious thing that stands out every time I check Simon Gerszberg’s top 20 teams on Shot Quality:
And something else that stands out when I sort by who gets the lowest amount of their shots directly at the rim or from deep:
It’s time for the mid-range debate in Knoxville again. The Worst Shot in Basketball, as deemed by nerds like me, has long been a staple of every Rick Barnes offense. When it works, as it did in 2018-19, you hear very few complaints about it. When it doesn’t, as it hasn’t in…well, every year but 2018-19, it becomes more and more of a criticism and less of a thing you’re willing to let a more traditional coach have.
For this specific article, I’ve broken down the mid-range debate into nine key questions. There’s three per page on the pages that follow. For this article, I reached out to several coaches I know, multiple analytics pals, and, yes, Jimmy Dykes. It’s very long, but I’ve tried to dive into each corner of the Tennessee Mid-Range Issue that I can possibly find. I hope it’s worth your time and mine.
The nine questions are linked below, or you can just click on page 2 after the bullet points end.
- Why does Tennessee take so many mid-range shots?
- Has Rick Barnes focused on three-level scoring for his full career? Has this worked for Tennessee (or Texas) before?
- Has Tennessee’s offense stopped working because of five-star freshman? John Fulkerson? Personnel shortcomings?
- Does Tennessee need more ball screens or modern sets?
- Should John Fulkerson (or Olivier Nkamhoua, or E.J. Anosike) have worked on becoming at least an okay three-point shooter?
- Does Tennessee hurt itself by putting bad combinations (double-big lineups, two or more non-shooters) on the floor?
- Can you still score if you have a big man that can’t shoot?
- Is the mid-range jumper a thing of the past for great offenses?
- Can you temporarily fix this with a lineup change?