Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
What ShotQuality.com says about Arkansas' shot selection
Arkansas guard Moses Moody (5) shoots over Georgia guard P.J. Horne (24) during a game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Shot selection has been a hot topic for Arkansas coach Eric Musselman throughout the 2020-21 season.
On Jan. 4, just days after a disappointing home loss to Missouri, Musselman said he was digging deep into each of his players’ field goal attempts for the first time in his college coaching career. Plenty of film was distributed to players by the staff, and face-to-face meetings took place in the weeks that followed.
Prior to Tuesday's 61-45 victory over Mississippi State, the Razorbacks’ second-year coach noted that his group’s shot quality had improved following its 1-4 stretch early in the conference schedule. Since, Arkansas has won four consecutive games in the SEC and four of five overall.
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But across college basketball, and in the SEC, where do the Razorbacks stack up in terms of shot selection for the season? Is Arkansas getting the quality looks Musselman is pushing for in hopes of generating more efficient offense?
Many can provide a surface-level answer to those questions. For Simon Gerszberg, a junior at Colgate University, it is his mission to quantify the quality of shots teams take to optimize decision-making for basketball coaches. His extensive work can be found at ShotQuality.com, which is utilized by more than 40 Division I basketball programs and eight NBA teams.
Arkansas’ staff has also reached out, he said.
“It’s a little hard for fans and coaches sometimes to even conceptualize (shot quality)," Gerszberg told WholeHogSports, "because it’s such a miss-and-make world we live in, honestly."
Offensively, Shot Quality data shows the Razorbacks are “very middle tier” in terms of efficiency on drives to the basket and catch-and-shoot attempts — the two best shots in college basketball. Arkansas takes a healthy amount of both shots, but returns have been average to this point.
Among the Razorbacks’ highest-quality shots are catch-and-shoot 3-pointers by freshman guard Moses Moody and cut-dropoff passes for Desi Sills and graduate transfer forward Justin Smith.
Moody’s in-between game stands out as well. And his overall shot selection is among the best when looking into the top 2021 NBA draft prospects.
“I think he’s a legit, like, top eight pick in the draft,” Gerszberg said. “And in terms of helping Arkansas, he needs to touch the ball as much as he can, because besides Justin Smith and Desi Sills maybe, he’s the most efficient player. He needs to get as many touches as he can.
“His short midrange is actually extremely proficient. His short midrange, it’s a 1.1 SQ PPP, which is essentially a 60-65th percentile shot. For a midrange shot, that’s exceptional. That’s a guy that I don’t mind taking that shot at all.”
Shot Quality, though, does not like Jalen Tate midrange jumpshots. In fact, Gerszberg said Tate’s short midrange shots are half as efficient as Moody’s.
Tate is efficient — top 70th percentile — on drives to the basket and shots at the rim, but his jumpshots are below average looks, according to the numbers. JD Notae pick-and-roll off-the-dribble 3-pointers (25 attempts) are the Razorbacks’ worst shot, but Tate midrange shots would sit atop the team’s lowest-quality looks if there were a larger sample size.
“Honestly, Coach Musselman should just have him drive every single time if he can,” Gerszberg said of Tate. “He has the ability. This is the type of player that could actually be optimized with the Shot Quality site because he has the ability to be efficient if he took his shots that were his best shots.
“Short midrange, it’s actually worse than long midrange for him, which is kind of crazy. And then his catch-and-shoot numbers on 40 attempts are very, very bad.”
Freshman guard Davonte Davis, who has scored in double figures in four of the last five games, is another interesting Shot Quality case. The data indicates he gets to the rim on 76% of his shots, but he has been inefficient there.
On his 62 drives to the basket, Davis’ shot quality is around the 45th percentile.
“He actually doesn’t have many areas from the samples so far this year that you could be like, ‘Hey, take more of these,’” Gerszberg said. “The only shots he’s really efficient in are putback layups or cuts to the basket. Besides that, he really hasn’t been too efficient this year.”
Gerszberg added that 7-3 forward Connor Vanover takes high-quality catch-and-shoot 3s, and a lot of open ones. His catch-and-shoot efficiency from 3 is similar to Moody’s.
Shot Quality data shows Vanover has a bad possession rate of 16% – tied for the lowest on the team. He also has an offensive rating, according to KenPom, of 117.1, which is second only to Moody.
“He doesn’t drive very often, but when he does it’s been layup, layup, easy layup, easy layup,” Gerszberg said. “He honestly is one of their most efficient guys, for sure.”
Gerszberg is high on Arkansas as a team. He believes the Razorbacks are “definitely” good enough to be an NCAA Tournament team, and one of the top three teams in the SEC alongside Alabama and Tennessee.
And, according to his site’s data, Arkansas should have more wins to its credit based on shots it has taken. The Razorbacks lost at home to Missouri by 13, but the numbers indicate they were expected to win by 19.
The loss at LSU was a similar story. Arkansas lost by 16, but it had a 58% chance of winning when diving into each team’s field goal attempts.
“If you just think about the quality you’re getting, in the long run you have to be happy with the shots you’re getting, which is obviously a good thing,” he said.
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