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You've heard the phrase "As (fill-in-the-blank) goes, so goes the offense." How does that apply to the Cats this year? Who is the leading indicator for offensive success?
Kentucky has struggled to score this year. Actually, that's mostly relative. They still boast the 33rd best offensive efficiency in the country (109.6) as measured by Ken Pomeroy but that would be the worst ranking for a John Calipari coached team since his 2005 Memphis squad and it's only slightly better than what the 2009 Billy Gillispie NIT team accomplished (109.0).
There are any number of causes for this but what I was most interested at investigating was if there were any Kentucky players whose game-by-game offensive impact (as measured by their offensive rating) matched the team efficiency. By definition, all players impact the team line to some extent, with those who have a higher combination of shots, free throws, offensive rebounds, and turnovers impacting it higher than others. If a player does well that will help the team line and a good team line implies that at least a couple of players played well. Performance varies from game to game but are there players whose performance might consistently match what happens to the team overall or is everything purely random and changing from game to game?
One way to answer this would be a get a simple correlation for each player, but I'm interested in how things look over the course of a season as much as how individual games match up. With that in mind I've prepared charts for the 6 Kentucky players who have played the most minutes this year which matches their offensive rating for each game with the team's overall efficiency.
note: click for a larger image
Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow are the most interesting I think. Early in the season, Archie's own performance matched up pretty well with the team, but in the last 9 games or so it's varied wildly. Ryan is pretty much the opposite: once he got healthy and back up to speed he's been in tune with the offense overall.
I suspect many of you are thinking the same thing: these are the two players who have basically run the point for UK this season. Early in the year when Harrow was out the point guard duties were turned over to Goodwin. During this time there was a very close relationship between his performance and the team's. Once Harrow returned and resumed his duties, that relationship transferred to him. Basketball-wise this makes a lot of sense: if the point guard struggles everyone else is likely to also.
Alex Poythress shows a similar relationship as Goodwin where in the beginning of the season his performance by and large matched the team, but the last 11-12 games he's been all over the place. Nerlens Noel on the other hand has mostly been mostly in line with the team except for a few games at the start of SEC play, but we shouldn't expect a perfect match.
Noel has an offensive game that is pretty 1-dimensional at this point: he gets his scoring by posting up around the basket and that's it. I'm not sure if that's the reason for the relationship above or not though. One could posit that since shots around the rim are easy, the ability to get the ball to Noel is an indicator of how easily the rest of the team can get to the rim as well. If Noel has a good game it likely means he's getting good shots around the rim which might imply that the rest of the team is doing so as well. Shots at the rim = good offense. On the other hand, if the opposing squad is keeping the ball out of Noel's hands or making it hard for him to score, they're probably doing the same to other Kentucky players as well. That's just a guess though.
Lastly, Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays show little if any connection between their offensive production and the team. Mays is a little bit closer than Wiltjer but neither has a consistent series of games like what we see above. I think a case could be made that this is related to their role as the primary outside shooters on the team. 3-pt shooting is more inconsistent game-to-game than 2-pt shooting is and since both players derive most of the their offensive value from outside shots, it stands to reason that they would be much more up and down when viewed this way.
So what does all this mean? In one sense it confirms what we already know or believe: point guards are important, Goodwin has been erratic recently, and Poythress seems to almost be a non-factor. On the other hand, Harrow is a pretty good guard. If they can get him to play at his true level consistently, this suggests that it would go a long way to getting the rest of the team to fall in line. Likewise, making Noel more of a focus on offense could also have a stabilizing effect. Getting Wiltjer a lot plays inside would probably have the same impact as getting Noel more shots, especially on days when Kyle isn't hitting from outside.