In the pre-season, our coaching staff emphasized that this season we would have an uncharacteristic offense for Duke: an offense run through our big men. This doesn't seem to have happened. My question is "Why?"
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Even with the current slump, Mason is still averaging almost 11 points per game. And this is with his being truly terrible at the line. If he were shooting a better percentage from the free throw line, he would easily be our 3rd leading scorer behind Austin and Seth. As it is, he barely trails Ryan who is currently third in scoring. As it is right now, our forwards who play the most minutes (Ryan, Mason, and Miles) combine for about 30 points per game. That's approximately 37.5% of our almost 80 points per game. Considering that they occupy 2 of the 5 spots on the court at any given time during the game, we would expect them to score 40% of the points if we were to have a perfectly balanced offense. 37.5% is not very far off of that mark. Add in better free throw shooting from Mason and you probably get a little bit over 40%. Even though Mason hasn't quite been as consistent as we might have hoped, he has been good. Combined with his brother and Ryan, they are absolutely contributing enough offense to keep us balanced. Recent high profile matchups (UNC and FSU) combined with Mason's scoring drought have skewed the national media's perception of how our team scores buckets, but Duke has gotten effective production from its big men all season, even if the offense has not been consistently run through them.
I think it has been more post-oriented than in recent years. For a long time this season Mason was our most consistent player and we were feeding him the ball. Ryan has been up and down and his game isn't really suited for the traditional "feed the post" type of offense. Miles has stepped up but his offense is more like Zoubek's, he'll make some nice post moves from time to time but the bulk of his offensive contributions will be created by others or garbage buckets by crashing the glass. Essentially, Mason is the only one who has proven on a consistent basis to be able to receive a post entry pass and make a post move and finishing on most of those post moves. However, Mason has hit a slump the last few weeks for whatever reason. Duke currently has 4 players averaging double figures and two of them are Mason and Ryan.
I think we've gotten away from making a deliberate effort to get the ball into the post. The question is, did we go away because the Plumlees were ineffective, or are they ineffective because they don't get the ball? In my mind, when the ball goes inside good things happen more often than not. And there are plenty of times they're open underneath and we just don't pass them the ball. I mean like a dozen times per game for Mason and probably five times a game for Miles. It's really frustrating to watch and I'm sure it's really frustrating for the players too.
I would not mind our guards becoming better at entry passes into the post but by this point I think we've learned that running the offense through Rivers is the best option. IMO.
And compared to the past several years, we are emphasizing our post players on offense. Looking at "usage," or possession percentage, Mason is 2nd on the team with 22.1% (Austin leads the team with 23.7%). Ryan (21.6%) and Seth (21.8%) are virtually tied for third on the team. Quinn is at 20.7%, although in limited minutes. Miles (18.3%) is quite a bit ahead of Andre (16.5%).
Anyway, looking at these numbers, it's true we're not emphasizing our big men as much as UNC or Ohio State, nor should we be, but our big men are seeing the ball at a comparable rate to Kentucky's big men, for example, and at a much better rate than the past few Duke teams. So I guess what I'm saying is I don't think the premise underlying your question is accurate.
Also, as a caveat, I should mention that usage % is not a perfect indicator of how often a player touches the ball, but I do think it's the closest stat we have.
Against VT Duke shot 24 threes. Mason took 5 shots.
Against FSU we shot 28 threes. Mason took 1 shot.
Against BC we shot 22 threes. Mason took 5 shots.
If that is emphasizing post play then I have never watched a basketball game in my life.
I don't have a problem with our game plan, but the idea that we are emphasizing our post players is just incorrect.
Against FSU and Virginia Tech, Mason's usage rate was lower (18.6% against VaTech -- not outrageously low -- and 16.1% against FSU). Miles's and Ryan's were also in the teens in those two games. If our entire season looked like that, I would agree we weren't emphasizing our big men. But we'd been emphasizing them plenty in the vast majority of the previous 27 games. I think it would be foolish to make a blanket statement that we aren't emphasizing them based on a mere two games that run counter to the previous 27.
As I said earlier, it's not a perfect stat, but it's worlds better than shot attempts, and unless someone knows of a better one, it's all we've got for this conversation.
An awful lot depends on:
The quality and timing of touches--whether caught in the paint, on the move, which I believe is a funtion of how the ofense is structured. It is very difficult to make an entry pass from beyond the three point line. I think that Zeller gets far more quality catches than Mason because of how Carolina's offense is structured.
Duke uses an awful lot of pick and rolls. Those plays are designed for the dribbler to score the ball. There is no scheme for getting the ball to a second outside player to get it to the screener when moving to the basket.
Duke rarely uses a high-low game that would result in quality passes, drives to the basket, shots from the foul line (I think that Miles would make a reasonably high percentage of such shots). Also. I think that a high-low game could be run in a manner that would perhaps make passes to the high post player moving to the basket.
Duke never presents with two low post players on either side of the lane with the other low post player getting touches to score. I think that Duke utilized that option in one game with Ryan and Mason; Ryan got some good looks, missed most shots taken, some of which were less than ideal. The experiment with that mode of playing stopped.
Mason's low foul shooting percentage perhaps makes utilizing an offensive scheme designed to get outside players more quality opportunities, than utilizing a scheme that creates such touches for Mason. Also, because Mason is really the only low post option, designing an offense that is geared to get the ball inside perhaps makes less sense than the current system.
If Mason catches the ball inside and doesn't feel he can create a good scoring opportunity for any of a variety of reasons--one often can feel those things before the catch--the best play is to throw the ball back out. Perhaps Mason is tired, off balance, well defended, in an undersireable position to try to attack the basket when he gets touches.
Duke relies on Mason an awful lot of the defensive end, and lacks a fourth big man to give him more rest.
Many of Mason's scores require that he muscle his way laterally to the rim from several feet outside the lane. That perhaps takes more out of him then we realize.
I don't know when K decided to red shirt the third Plumlee, before or after he made the comment. If the kid had an inside scoring game and the comment was made before the red shirt decision was made that might explain the offense's orientation
I don't know how these things are computed, but making threes as often as Duke does with as many three shooters as Duke has might explain why in the end K decided to emphasize the outside game. The first few games, the outside players were looking inside as a first option, Mason got better touches, and the inside game had a better look.
I was very surprised at how well Curry gets to the basket and finishes and how well he shoots from distance. That might explain why he was moved off the point.
Finally, Rivers has delivered big time, and the effectiveness of his game (the judgments he makes) has grown as the season has progressed.
Frankly, I don't have much of a problem with it, because Ryan and Miles are way better college bball players than Mason. Curry and Rivers are clearly our best players and should be emphasized. I just think its absurd to say that we are emphasizing Mason because we aren't. He simply hasn't developed into the dominant big man that many expected he would be. And I'm not blaming it all on him or wojo because we haven't had a point guard that could get him the ball in the three years he's been here.