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November 2, 2011
Creating Shots
Tar Heels and Assists

by Corey Schmidt


Among the teams considered to be preseason championship contenders, there are few that feature as many quality returning players as North Carolina. The Tar Heels welcome back every starter from a squad that advanced to the Elite Eight a year ago. Because of this high retention rate, there is a lot of information available about UNC players that can aid us in our understanding of the team as we look forward to 2011-12.

We've already taken a look at the clutch performance of North Carolina's returners, and now we turn our gaze to shot-creating ability. Such a skill is often measured by assisted field goal percentage, which essentially measures how often a player's made baskets are assisted. It is a useful statistic because it can tell us how players create their scoring opportunities. If a player has a high assisted field-goal percentage, then we can conclude most of his baskets come as the result of good passes from teammates. On the other hand, if a player has a low assisted field goal percentage, then his baskets are created largely through his own ability.

In the NBA, this stat is recorded by 82games.com and Hoopdata.com, but to my knowledge it is not available anywhere for fans in college basketball. Inspired by a post on shot creation at Sactown Royalty, I began to keep track of this stat for my mid-major alma mater last year using play-by-play sheets from each game. I now use that same approach here to determine the playmaking ability for various North Carolina returners.

The charts below are based on UNC's 2011 conference games. I broke down each player's field goals made into two-pointers in the paint, two-point jumpers outside of the paint, and three-pointers. This is visualized below with the placement of the text in the appropriate area of the court. Keep in mind that the percentages were calculated by dividing the number of made field goals that were assisted versus the total number of made field goals.

(Note: Play-by-play data was not available for the UNC-North Carolina State game played on January 29, 2011.)

When we look at the frontcourt, we see rather high assisted field goal percentages across the board. This is intuitive in that these players do not necessarily have the ball in their hands as often as guards to create plays. The one major exception here is Harrison Barnes, who created baskets for himself the most in the midrange area. It would be interesting to see what his actual field-goal percentage was on these shots because it could help us determine how effective he was when shooting from here. Alas, that information isn't available on the play-by-play sheet, but we can be fairly certain that Barnes likes to pull up for the midrange jumper when in isolation. By comparison, John Henson and Tyler Zeller made baskets in this area almost exclusively after a pass.

In the paint, we can see that Henson was more likely than Zeller to create his own shot, whether through posting up or making a play toward the basket. For these players I also kept track of how many of their unassisted baskets in the paint came after grabbing an offensive rebound. The percentage for Henson was 50 percent, while it was 76 percent for Zeller. This tells us that Henson probably has more natural playmaking ability in the paint, but Zeller is equally important as a player who can thrive when someone is setting him up for an opportunity to score or when he is cleaning up offensive boards for easy putback attempts.

Moving to the backcourt, we see a major shift in the assisted field-goal percentages. Kendall Marshall--who became North Carolina's leading ballhandler in the second half of the season--was not only the team's best distributor, but he was also its most prolific shot creator. Just 23 percent of his total field goals were assisted. He did most of his damage in the paint, where a mere four percent of his baskets were assisted. In other words, Marshall emerged out of the backcourt as perhaps UNC's best slasher.

The tandem of Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald was also more likely to create their own shots in the paint, but they didn't necessarily do so with the same volume as Marshall. Reggie Bullock, not pictured here, was the one guard who did not fit this mold. About 71 percent of his two-pointers in the paint were assisted.

On the perimeter, these guards very much relied on passes to generate scoring opportunities. For the games I recorded, there was only one three-pointer that was not assisted among the many made by Marshall, McDonald, and Bullock. Strickland's 33 percent mark is tempered a bit by the fact he recorded but three triples.

As a team, 89 percent of three-pointers made by the Tar Heels were assisted. Only Harrison Barnes made more than two unassisted threes. That's some good ball movement, but it is also good to know that North Carolina does possess a player in Barnes who can create a three-point opportunity when needed.

It will be interesting to monitor how these figures fluctuate this season. Will Harrison Barnes generate more shots by attacking the basket? Will the Tar Heels throw it to Tyler Zeller on the block as they did with much success in the NCAA tournament? How will Kendall Marshall's role evolve in year two? Fortunately, with all of these players eschewing the NBA, we'll have a chance to find out in 2011-12.

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Ranking Rookies (10/31)
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Sim Season (11/02)

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