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Thursday, April 14, 2005
 
The Best Defense Is A Great Offense?
At least that's the approach Wake Forest took this season.

The 2003-04 Demon Deacons were recognized as a good offensive team with a bad defense. They led the ACC in both points scored and allowed, with the respective offensive/defensive ratings working out to 114 and 111. Since every significant player from last year's Sweet Sixteen squad returned this year, expectations were high for a banner year.

As often seems to happen when a team returns most/all of its players, this season's WF offense was a definite improvement over the previous year. In fact, their run through the ACC schedule was probably the most impressive statistical performance of any major conference team that I've come across. If the defense had just come along for the ride (see my ACC graph), this team might have been playing deep into March. Of the 17 teams I listed in my post on efficiency margins, WF had the worst defense, and was the only team with a defensive rating below their conference average. Maybe then it's not such a huge surprise that they were vulnerable to a streaky-shooting West Virginia team.

In absolute terms, Wake Forest's 125 offensive rating during their 16 conference games was better than any other major conference team. Here's the top 5 -

Wake Forest.......125
Illinois..................122
Oklahoma St.......118
North Carolina.....117
Michigan St.........117

That lead takes a small hit when you measure the performance relative to their conference's points per possession (PPP) average. Since ACC teams averaged 107 PPP, and the Big Ten average was just 104, Illinois and Wake Forest's offenses were about the same distance from their respective peers.

Team..................Off......Lg Avg.....Diff
Wake Forest.......125.......107.........18
Illinois..................122.......104..........18
Louisville.............116.......103..........13
Michigan St..........117......104..........13
5 teams...............----.......----...........11

There's a pretty big gap between Illinois and Louisville on that list - Wake Forest and the Illini were the two premier offenses in the country this year, at least during the conference season. I documented early on how infatuated I was with Illinois's efficient attack -

They turn the ball over on only 16.3% of their possessions, which is the second
lowest rate in the country. So in any given game, where both teams always have
the same number of possessions (give or take one or two), Illinois will almost
always have more looks at the basket (lower TO rate), and will score more points
on their opportunities (higher adjFG%). That's a deadly combination.
That post was from much earlier this year, but the two strengths listed (adjFG% and TO/poss) continued to fuel Illinois's great offense. They went on to lead the Big Ten in both categories, and by fairly significant margins.

This week is probably the first time I've taken a close look at Wake Forest's numbers, and I have to say that I'm blown away by their balance. They led the ACC in not two, not three, but all four of Dean Oliver's Four Factors of offensive production. I don't know how often that happens, but no other major conference team can make a similar claim this year.

The ACC's leaders, starting with shooting (adjFG%)..... -

Wake Forest.........55.9%
North Carolina.......55.7
NC State................54.1
League Avg...........50.0

fewest turnovers (TO / poss)..... -

Wake Forest........18.9%
Duke.....................19.0
Virginia..................19.0
League Avg...........20.9

offensive rebounding (Oreb%)..... -

Wake Forest.........41.6%
North Carolina.......41.0
Miami.....................38.5
League Avg...........35.1

and free throw shooting (FTM / FGA)..... -

Wake Forest........0.336
North Carolina......0.319
Duke.....................0.308
League Avg..........0.271

While they didn't run away with any one category, I can hardly express how impressed I am that they show up on each leaderboard, let alone head each list.

The following nine guys played in every conference game for Wake Forest -


Name

%Min

O Rt

%poss

TS%

TO/poss

FT/FG

Reb%

Pass

Stl%

Eric Williams

0.76

120

23.0%

63.1%

18.6%

0.80

16.9%

1.9

2.7%

Justin Gray

0.74

124

23.5%

59.2%

14.3%

0.31

5.5%

7.6

2.1%

Chris Paul

0.84

126

23.9%

60.6%

21.1%

0.62

7.2%

31.7

4.3%

Taron Downey

0.63

135

16.3%

68.5%

18.0%

0.28

4.2%

15.7

1.4%

Jamaal Levy

0.63

115

15.4%

55.7%

19.8%

0.40

12.6%

12.9

1.1%

Vytas Danelius

0.51

129

18.3%

58.0%

13.3%

0.23

13.2%

7.2

1.1%

Trent Strickland

0.40

114

19.4%

58.0%

22.4%

0.58

12.5%

10.0

2.2%

Chris Ellis

0.28

123

14.0%

58.7%

20.2%

0.36

13.3%

10.0

1.6%

Kyle Visser

0.16

112

15.6%

56.6%

18.2%

0.52

10.3%

4.0

1.7%


If I had to pick two players most responsible for the emergence of this team's offense, it's got to be Chris Paul and the 275 lb. center, Eric Williams. Wake Forest's biggest improvements from last year came by cutting turnovers and shooting better from the floor, and these guys played the biggest role in each.

Name

%Min

O Rt

%poss

TS%

TO/poss

FT/FG

Reb%

Pass

Stl%

Chris Paul, 03-04

0.84

118

20.7%

62.8%

26.2%

0.62

5.0%

26.3

3.3%

Chris Paul, 04-05

0.84

126

23.9%

60.6%

21.1%

0.62

7.2%

31.7

4.3%


Paul led the team in minutes in both seasons, and as the primary ball handler, his drop in turnovers made a big difference in the team's offensive rating. He's still wrestling with his decision on the NBA Draft, but unless he really wants to prove he can lead a team farther into the tournament, I say he's already proven himself in college. There's still question regarding his height (6-0), but point guards who pass this well and make this many free throws don't grow on trees. He's also a career 47% three-point shooter. And don't forget - this all happened as a 19-year old in the ACC.

Name

%Min

O Rt

%poss

TS%

TO/poss

FT/FG

Reb%

Pass

Blk/40

Eric Williams, 03-04

0.62

107

21.3%

56.1%

22.4%

0.51

13.6%

3.6

1.3

Eric Williams, 04-05

0.76

120

23.0%

63.1%

18.6%

0.80

16.9%

1.9

1.3


Williams really stepped up for his junior season. He raised his FG% from 52 to 61, he got to the free throw line much more frequently, and he got a lot tougher on the glass.

Going Forward
If Paul comes back for his junior season, this should be a fine offensive unit once again, though it would be hard to repeat the performance they had this year. Downey and Danelius filled their roles as well as anyone can expect, and those two and Levy were seniors this year. Still, Paul, Williams, and Gray were the team leaders in minutes and possessions (by quite a bit), and each was excellent this year, so a team with those three at the core would still be one of the ACC's best offenses.
Comments:
Good stuff on the Deacs.

They were absolutely scary at home (okay, they were scary anywhere, but moreso at home), posting (by my count) an offensive efficiency above 130 six times in eight games.

One of the tragedies of the expanded ACC schedule was that Wake and UNC only met once.
 
Thanks Steven. I couldn't agree more about the scheduling.
 
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