After thirteen games of play on the young season, Kentucky’s extraordinarily inexperienced team finds themselves with ten victories and three losses. Depending on who you ask, three losses entering conference play is probably a bit disappointing given the high praise that was bestowed upon this squad in the preseason. Of course, there’s bound to be some criticism any time a team stumbles out of the gate while starting the season ranked #1. Regardless of where the team started and how the season has gone thus far, Kentucky now must shift their attention to winning the program’s 48th SEC regular season championship – a feat that will not come easy. Given that the out-of-conference slate has come to a close, I thought a statistical update for the team and individual players was in order.
There are hundreds of different statistics out there that measure any variety of things, but for the team update I chose to use basketball statistician Dean Oliver’s Four Factors, and a handful of other basic numbers. For the unfamiliar, the “Four Factors” as Oliver refers to them, are the statistical summary of what matters the most in winning and losing basketball games. They are; Effective Field Goal Percentage – field goal percentage where 3-pointers are given 50% more credit, Turnover Percentage – a measure of ball security that factors in possessions, Offensive/Defensive Rebound Percentage – the percentage of available offensive/defensive rebounds obtained by a team, and Free Throw Rate – a measure of how often a team gets to the charity stripe. Because Free Throw Rate is difficult to understand, I replaced it with Percent of Possessions with A Free Throw Attempt – a very similar metric to Free Throw Rate, but it’s easier to digest. The remainder of offensive and defensive stats should be self explanatory. Steals and Blocks aren’t in percentage form as the tables indicate, but rather per game form.
The Cats currently rank 74th nationally in Effective Field Goal Percentage, due in large part to poor perimeter shooting. However, we’re ranked 278th nationally in three point attempts, so the harm is minimized. The perimeter has been a struggle this year, but Kentucky’s Effective Field Goal Percentage is boosted by the elite interior shooting abilities of Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Turnovers have also been a problem for the Cats this year. As it currently stands, Kentucky ranks 178th nationally in Turnover Percentage, losing the ball on 18.6% of possessions. Turnover percentage around D-1 has tumbled due to the new rules, but the Cats are still losing possession far too frequently. If the season ended today, 178th would be the lowest national ranking in Turnover Percentage for a John Calipari coached squad.
While Kentucky’s main offensive struggles are well documented, the Cats excel in grabbing offensive boards and getting to the free throw line. Currently, Kentucky’s ranked 1st nationally in Offensive Rebound Percentage and Percent of Possessions with a Free Throw Attempt. As is often the case, when a team struggles to shoot and keep possession of the ball, people tend to think an offense is inefficient. But given the number of second chance opportunities and free throw attempts, Kentucky has scratched and clawed their way to having the 6th most efficient offense in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. If they could just manage to connect more often at the free throw line we would be looking at a scary good offense.
In terms of Defensive Field Goal Percentage, Kentucky is excelling. Much like our offense, the defense is greatly benefited by interior length, but mainly the shot-swatting presence of Willie Cauley-Stein. Defensive Rebounding Percentage may seem like a red flag with the 156th national ranking, but this is typical of a Calipari coached team. Most of his teams pull down around 69% of available defensive boards, leading me to believe it’s a philosophical belief on his part.
While the defensive rebounding is typical, the low turnover percentage is not – even for a coach who doesn’t preach turnovers like Calipari. For the culprit, look no further than the low post. In recent years, Calipari coached teams have been led in steals by players in the post. Last year, Nerlens Noel led the charge with 50 despite missing half of the season. In 2012, Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones led the team with 54 and 49 respectively. In 2011, Terrence Jones tallied 43 steals, a very close second to DeAndre Liggins in that category. This year, there simply isn’t as much activity in the low post. While Cauley-Stein is carrying the load, he’s getting no help in the department as Poythress and Randle have combined for four steals on the year. Kentucky certainly has issues on the defensive end like defending ball screens, but the activity down low is where some real improvement can be made.
As for the individual stats, there isn’t much to complain about other than turnovers and free throw shooting. While free throws are still a work in progress, turnovers have been cut during the past two games which is a positive sign. Most of the other stats here are self explanatory, but the final three are somewhat foreign to the general basketball public.
Offensive Rating is a complicated formula developed by Dean Oliver to determine individual points produced per 100 possessions. Percent of Possessions used is the percentage of possessions that end because of an individual player while he’s on the floor. Offensive Rating and Percent of Possessions need to be used in conjunction for the best evaluation. For instance, Julius Randle’s Offensive Rating of 115.5 at 29.8% of possessions is considered more impressive than Willie Cauley-Stein’s 125.3 at 15.4% of possessions. A rating of 100.0 at 20% is considered average. Percentage of shots taken is what the name implies, but in relation to time on the floor.
While the results haven’t been what most had hoped for thus far, there’s certainly time and room for improvement. If the Cats can cut the turnovers and connect on more free throws, we’ll see this team morph from the 6th ranked offense to the most efficient in the nation. Also, continuing to learn proper ball screen defense while gaining a bit more activity down low would go a long way in building a championship caliber team. It’s been a wild ride so far, but I have a feeling the best is yet to come with this group if a few tweaks can be made.