Inside the Stats, Pt. II: Nothing Stands Out

Daniel Novinson explains his theory as to why Stanford basketball has struggled to find a consistent offensive identity in the Johnny Dawkins era. This is Part II in his three-part "Inside the Stats" special.

Again, this series leans heavily on, whose college basketball statistics are unrivaled. The $20 subscription fee is well worth it for serious, statistically-driven college basketball fans. All stats are heading into the Oregon game. See here for Part I.

In Part I, we discussed bad luck, a lost starter, perception bias, sneakily strong opponents and unrealistic expectations as five reasons the Cardinal have disappointed their fans through 20 games [Ed: Though through 21 (post-Oregon), Stanford fans are a little happier -- though consistency has yet to be attained]. We soldier on with two big picture reasons, and then a solution…

Problem 1: Everyone's a B
By everyone's a B (or, in the lexicon of our parent company, everyone is playing like a three star), I mean that while each of Stanford's starting five are legitimate Pac-12 starters, none are sure-thing future All-NBA guys, let alone All Pac-12 guys.

That there are no solid-A players on the roster represents a ceiling on how far this team can expect to go. Just about every modern national champion cuts down the nets on the backs of current stars and future NBA guys, and not too many teams go past the Sweet 16 without some talent that stands out at the college level.

The roster parity, however, is also a source of frustration for coaches (and fans), because there are no quick fixes. In years past with teams no better than this one, fans held out hope because if only we benched/minimized the role of Player X (often the point guard, if I'm remembering my Stanford basketball correctly) and put the game on the back of Childress/Lopez, we'd have a shot against just about anyone.

This year, who do you bench? Each of the starting five does different things well; there's no obvious weak link. Heck, a more pressing question: Who, exactly, is the go-to guy on this team? I think that contributes to an identity crisis…

Aside: Incidentally, this is the best argument for keeping Johnny Dawkins. Had the five-star Lopez twins not fallen into his lap, Trent Johnson would have found himself in the same bind. Had Mike Montgomery not signed Josh Childress et al, the same mediocrity could have resulted. (Obviously part of the job is to recruit. But in basketball, which signs only three kids a year, at Stanford a lot of the top guys will not be non-starters owing to admissions realities.)

Let's see what happens when the Allen twins, including top-100 shooting guard Marcus, show up on campus next fall. Johnny Dawkins has not yet worked with elite talent. (Admittedly, Landry Fields is a partial exception; I would argue he mostly blew up after he left the Farm.) 

Problem 2: Inconsistent Identity
This team's an awful three-point shooting team, right? That was the refrain throughout non-conference play: If only the outside shots started falling, watch out world!

Well, the most surprising stat is that the No. 1 three-point shooting team in conference is none other than your Stanford Cardinal, at 41 percent in the Pac-12. On the season, Stanford's under 32 percent deep, among the bottom 100 teams in all Division I. But maybe the lid has been lifted and the offense has turned a corner? Not so fast, as the Cardinal are 39 percent in conference on twos. That's right: Stanford is making threes at a higher percentage than twos in Pac-12 play!

Okay, well it's a bipolar offense, but at least the defense has been solidly good, right? Again, not so fast. Opponents are shooting 39 percent deep on the Cardinal, second-worst for a Pac-12 defense, and overall, Stanford's defense is sixth in conference play. On the season, meanwhile, the Cardinal are 33rd defensively of over ten times as many Division I teams, so it appears the defense has taken a step back in recent games.

(In fairness, the defense is at least a B-plus. Pac-12 opponents are attempting threes for less than 20 percent of shots, and have assists on only 42 percent of makes, both tops in the league. The three-point percentage is therefore not hurting Stanford that much and should come back to Earth as Pac-12 play continues. Some bad luck in a seven-game sample.)

You can see the relation between these two big-picture points. In a nutshell, because no single player is dominant, no single aspect of Stanford's play is dominant. If the Cardinal had Jimmer Freddette, they'd probably be a pretty good three-point shooting team. It follows that they would take a ton of threes, and run the offense to maximize our looks at open three-pointers. If Stanford had Robin Lopez, then they'd clog up the paint, hit the boards hard at both ends, try to slow down pace to eliminate any easy looks, and live or die on D.

With a team full of B-level performers, though, who is Stanford? What do the Cardinal run? Part of the identity crisis is on the coach, as Stanford fans rightfully diagnose, but a lot of it is owing to the realities of the roster. Have no fear though, because there is one way in which our roster stands in stark relief. In Part III, we'll present an ideal solution to Stanford basketball's offensive woes that leverages the most notable strength of the team.

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