Arizona has been touted all year for their defensive identity and there is no doubting their status as one of the elite. However, it is on the offensive end of the floor that Arizona can continue to make improvements.
While Arizona has certainly been a good offensive team (ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency according to Kenpom.com) they lack a truly elite attack. With the conference season at the midpoint, here are a few things that can keep Arizona at the top.
Improve at the Free Throw Line
Although Arizona has a fantastic blend of size and perimeter players, the shooting percentages from the free throw line (66%) have been the worst of the Sean Miller era. In fact it’s over 7 percentage points lower than Miller’s average Arizona team.
Why is that? The biggest culprits, both fortunately and unfortunately, have been Arizona’s two freshmen. Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are taking the 1st and 3rd most FTs for the team. However, they are also the two worst FT shooters of the first 7 players in the rotation. If you discount their FTs, Arizona would be shooting 74%, which would be top 40 in the nation.
But here’s the good news: both players have been making great strides from the line and are showing a very positive trend in their shooting. The chart below shows a 5 game running average for both freshmen as well as a predictive trend line that Arizona fans can hope to see.
I'll be honest here. I have not included the Stanford game from Wednesday in the chart below. Hopefully they can shake that one off and move on.
Although Gordon had a bit of a midseason slump, reports from practice indicate a dedication to improving from the line, and his progression reflects this, despite a let-down vs Utah and Stanford. If all goes well, Arizona can expect their freshmen to start averaging closer to 70% from the line when the free throws count the most – in March.
Force the Ball Inside
Arizona is 2nd in the country at FG% at the rim with an astounding 78%. In large part this is because over half of those shots come via assists, which makes for easy buckets. Here’s a look at where all of Arizona’s dunks are coming from this year.
However, there’s a huge problem. Although Arizona is fantastic at finishing at the rim, they only take 32% of their total shots at the rim, which is 294th in the country.
So where exactly is Arizona taking the volume of their shots? 2 point jumpers. Whether it is from 5 feet or out to the 3 point line, Arizona takes 41% of their shots from the most inefficient part of the floor.
Not surprisingly, Arizona is not very good from this range, shooting just 33%. This is actually quite alarming. Arizona is just too big, too talented, and too smart to be taking such a high volume of shots from such an inefficient location on the floor. Even if they have to force the ball to the block, Arizona must dedicate themselves to attacking the rim. It is imperative that they do not let opponents lull them into 2 point jumpers.
There are two sides to this coin. On one side, Arizona is extremely unselfish with the basketball, which is why they rank 43rd in the country in assists per made field goal. What’s more, they are 26th in assist to turnover ratio, so you almost have to accept the fact that having a fantastic assist rate will come with some turnovers.
However, on the other side there are still too many unforced turnovers. Arizona is 77th in turnovers per possession, which is just not good enough. Arizona averages 11tpg. Look for Arizona to keep that number under 10, as they have done three times so far in PAC12 play, to improve their offense and enter the ranks of the elite.
The Future of Arizona’s Offense
To those following Sean Miller's coaching career for a while, it is obvious that the defense comes first. We have seen Arizona improve each year that Miller has been here. Now that the defense has shown itself to be a dominant force, fans should look for improvements on the offensive end of the floor as we enter February to prepare the team for the ultimate goal in March.
Although the team is already very talented and capable on offense, there are still areas of improvement. It appears that the team is on a great trajectory and it is certainly within reason that Arizona becomes a top 10 offensive team by the time tournament play begins. Championships are won only when defense and offense unite. Arizona has that potential. It is time to see if they can reach it.