It's no mystery that the offense has seen the majority of the scrutiny for this year’s team. Arizona has become a team that is slow paced, selfish, and stagnant. Or at least that’s what some people have been leading us to believe.
I think, however, that there's much more to Arizona's lack of offense in the recent months. Reason #1 for Arizona’s slight decline has been their shooting, as Applequest recently pointed out. As a result of poor shooting, our efficiency has been trending down. Arizona started off the year as a top 10 team in terms of offensive efficiency and eFG%. Now, Arizona ranks 63rd in eFG%, which means we’ve been playing recently in the 100’s. Not good. Some attribute this to lack of motion and team offense. I agree. And this begins the point that I am trying to make here…
Arizona started the year as one of the best teams in the nation in terms of assist %. It’s a byproduct of the “system” that Miller has implemented. All players are involved in a motion offense. Lots of hands touch the ball until the defense is exploited for a high %, high efficiency shot. When playing weaker opposition to start the year, this was all fine and dandy. However, as the competition started to heat up, individuals decided they’d rather take the ball themselves than keep the motion moving. It set back the whole progression of Arizona’s offense. After a few weeks into PAC play, we had taken a step backward instead of growing in our offensive identity.
However, over the past 3 weeks or so, I’ve noticed that the team has focused much more on limiting contested 3’s, spreading the ball around, forcing passes to the post, and getting better movement from off-ball players. In a sense, it seems like the team is trying to get back to the basics of the system. In the process of “relearning”, we’ve had to take a few tough losses. But if you look at the numbers, the assist %’s are actually on the rise again. I believe this is a great predictor of where the team is heading.
I stole Applequest’s method of using a 5 game average to get a smoothed out trend. The table below shows the Assist % for the team as the year has progressed. The dip in the middle happens right when PAC play begins. I think this almost perfectly tracks Arizona's successes and lack of success for the year and gives a great indication of where the team is trending.
So, in summary, I believe that assists lead to higher % shots, leads to more efficient offense. Since we’ve had to go back to basics, we gave up a couple games, and did not look comfortable, but it does look like the team is on track, and has been, even throughout the recent losses.
As we focus on implementing our offense, I think that Arizona will slowly start to play how they have been built to play. Looking at the big picture, I like where this will put us in March