"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, April 26, 2019

Turnovers of the Non-Transfer Kind

I've given a lot of thought recently to Marquette & turnovers. I believe turnovers are a key to Marquette's 2019-20 success, not just on offense but also on defense. I'll acknowledge immediately that using Synergy, Paint Touches could probably do an even deeper dive, but I'm writing this to at least start the conversation. If anyone else wants to run with the idea, please do.

In 5 years under Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette's offense has been woeful in both offensive turnover rate & opponent steal percentage. The result of these turnovers is empty possessions at best & easy run-outs for the opponents at worst. Considering this has been an issue for 5 years, this seems like a system problem more than just a player problem.

Year Off TO% Nat. Rank BE Rank Off Stl% Nat. Rank BE Rank
2015 19.3 189 10 9.6 206 7
2016 20 292 9 9.5 277 7
2017 17.3 86 4 9.2 245 5
2018 17.3 99 7 8.3 121 5
2019 19.3 239 7 9.7 278 7

Looking at last year, a big part of the problem was Joey Hauser. Replacing his 22.3% TO rate with Brenden Bailey's 6.3% is a big step in the right direction. With 2.1 more minutes per game, Bailey would've ranked in the top-10 nationally. On the other end, if Sam Hauser's 11.9% rate is replaced primarily by Koby McEwen's 19.2% (at Utah State) it will largely offset this, especially as McEwen's expected higher usage rate will amplify his raw turnover numbers.

To illustrate that last point, consider that Markus Howard was hounded by Marquette fans for his turnovers last year with an 18.4% TO rate. Then think back to Derrick Wilson, who was was lauded for not turning the ball over. In 4 years, Wilson NEVER had a TO rate below 20%. His best was 20.1% as a junior.

Again, Derrick Wilson NEVER had as good a TO rate as Markus Howard did last year. The only reason we consider Howard's turnovers to be a deficit while Wilson's lack thereof were a strength were because of usage. In 4 years, Wilson (127) had less than half the turnovers Howard (282) has had in 3 years, but it seemed like less of a problem because Wilson rarely had the ball in his hands at the end of a possession, unlike Howard.

Wojo's offenses have with few exceptions been in the bottom half of both the nation & the league in both overall turnovers & live-ball turnovers. Even in their best seasons, 2017 & 2018, the chart above illustrates that top-150 nationally is at best pretty pedestrian when you are talking about a high-major league like the Big East.

The hope would be that moving to a three-guard offense would help, but of Marquette's returning guards that are expected to take on primary ballhandler roles, Markus Howard's 18.4% TO rate last year is better than any individual season posted by either Koby McEwen or Greg Elliott. If the ball is going to be in the hands of ball-handlers like Howard or worse, why would this be expected to improve? Frankly, I don't have an answer to this, but I do believe it needs to improve next year.

One way to change this is on the defensive end. As bad as Marquette has been on the offensive end, the defensive end is even worse. The reason isn't because the numbers have never been good, but because they have trended consistently down.

Year Def TO% Nat. Rank BE Rank Def Stl% Nat. Rank BE Rank
2015 21 59 1 11.6 29 2
2016 19.1 108 5 10.6 35 1
2017 18.3 186 7 10.1 59 6
2018 18.1 197 7 8.6 180 7
2019 16.6 297 7 6.9 325 10

Let's start with the system. In Wojo's first year, playing zone instead of man created more turnovers. In general, systems that play high pressure & defend space rather than individuals are going to create more turnovers. That's why teams like Washington, VCU, Auburn, & Syracuse will routinely have great defensive turnover rates. Wojo obviously favors man-to-man. Players are asked to stick to their assignment & challenge every shot. If a team defends well & boxes out, that should limit scoring, but it won't create turnovers & won't create the easy run-outs at the other end.

Ultimately, that's what this article is about. Losing the Hausers will almost certainly reduce Marquette's eFG% next year. The loss of their three-point shooting means the easiest way for Marquette to replace that scoring is by getting high percentage looks at the rim. The easiest way to do that is by creating turnovers that lead to run-outs, dunks, & layups. Further, those quick possessions are less likely to result in a turnover. Creating more turnovers on defense will lead to easier scoring opportunities & a lower turnover rate on offense. It's all connected.

I digress. Back to the system. The other thing Wojo had in his first season was long, quick athletes like Jajuan Johnson, Juan Anderson, & Duane Wilson. In addition, the grad transfer Matt Carlino was a good ballhawk going back to his BYU days. Playing a zone with players that excelled in creating turnovers led to the best defensive turnover rate of Wojo's career by far.

In the following years, Wojo moved back to man-to-man & we began to see roster turnover. Guys like Carlino & Wilson who had more length were replaced by Andrew Rowsey & Markus Howard, who lacked the length to get into passing lanes. In the frontcourt, guys like Johnson & Anderson were replaced by Sam Hauser & Matt Heldt, who lacked the quickness to create steals & transition offense. In 2017, when Wojo made the NCAA Tournament for the first time, Johnson & Wilson played just 20% of the total available minutes but accounted for 38% of the team's steals. They were 1 & 2 on the team in total steals. With their departure, we see that Wojo's system & recruiting has not prioritized live ball turnovers.

What really started me thinking about this was watching Joseph Chartouny. At Fordham, Chartouny played for a coach whose teams have ranked in the top-50 of DTO% in 9 of 14 years & top-10 5 times. Chartouny thrived in a high-pressure defense in which he was the tip of a spear specifically designed to create live ball turnovers. This led to him being ranked in the top-2 in the country in steal percentage as both a sophomore & junior & created the on-paper appearance that he was the perfect fix for a team that struggled to create turnovers.

However in Wojo's defense, he was asked to stay home. He looked hesitant, he didn't gamble, & being forced to focus on his defensive assignment muted his best attribute. Despite that, he still led the team in steal percentage. I fully acknowledge Chartouny didn't meet expectations. That said, had he played at Marquette in 2015, MU fans would remember him far more fondly.

While Wojo hasn't prioritized steals in his system, the distribution of minutes is also telling. Over the years we have seen a marked decline in defensive turnover numbers. A big part of that is who is on the court. The best players in terms of steal percentage are not getting the most minutes. In 2019, Chartouny (2.8%) & Jamal Cain (2.5) led the way but ranked 6th & 9th in minutes played. In 2018, it was Cain (2.7%) & Greg Elliott (2.7) but ranked 6th & 7th in minutes. In 2017, Johnson (4.1) & Wilson (3.3) led the way while ranking 3rd & 7th in minutes. In 2016, it was Johnson (3.7), Traci Carter (3.5), & Wilson (2.5) who ranked 5th, 7th, & 3rd in minutes.

This is not to suggest that Wojo shouldn't get his best players on the court. In this most recent season, I understand why Markus Howard & Joey Hauser got more minutes than Joseph Chartouny & Jamal Cain. But I definitely think Joey Hauser, who turned it over too often & created turnovers too seldom while hitting an obvious freshman wall in February, could've used more time on the bench.

Going into next year, it will be interesting to see the minutes given to players like Jamal Cain & Greg Elliott. It will also be interesting to see if the team is allowed to gamble a little bit more to create turnovers. With more long, quick athletes than Wojo has ever had at his disposal, allowing the players more flexibility to create turnovers & score in transition could help offset the loss of the Hausers while simultaneously playing into the strengths of the roster as constructed.

No comments: