My feelings on the "Sides" offense are well-known to those who have read my stuff for the last couple of years. It is even more well-known to my friends. Let's just say I am not a fan. For the last couple of years I have wanted to see the Hoos run a spread offense, whether the Villanova offense or one similar. I have wanted to see an offense with one or zero post players and the rest of the players operating from the arc, with ball screens and the lane area open for driving. I love the Villanova offense. Recently I read that Coach Tony Bennett also likes the Villanova offense. The last two rosters would have been, IMO, perfect to run that offense and not so good for the Sides offense. We had ample perimeter players who could shoot the three to easily put four three-point shooters on the floor, no post scoring presence, and players who could use some help getting to the rim. Last season would have been ideal for the Villanova offense with De'Andre Hunter at the four.
But for the 2018-19 roster, Sides might just be the perfect offense. We don't have the roster for the Villanova offense (using the term as a proxy for a spread 4-1 or 5-0 offense predicated on driving and shooting the three with a minimal post presence). It all comes down to the 4 position. We do not have a 4 with the combination of three-point shooting and dribble drive ability to make the Villanova offense work.
Immediately, I can hear you all saying, "But what about Hunter?"
De'Andre played most of his possessions last season at the four, and he was sensational. Big fours weren't quick enough to guard him and quick fours weren't big enough. He can shoot the three and he can put it on the floor and take it to the rack. He can even defend pretty much any four the opponent can put on the floor.
Problem is, we don't have three guards to put on the floor with him for major minutes. With the perimeter depth situation, Dre is needed at the three. The only experienced perimeter players on the roster are Dre, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. For Dre to play the four for substantial minutes means relying on one or more of 5-9 true freshman Kihei Clark, 6-7 defensively-challenged international true freshman Kody Stattmann, and sophomore Green Team veteran Marco Anthony to be part of the regular rotation.
"But what about Braxton Key?" I really can read your minds.
I will tell you what about Braxton Key: He and Hunter should be able to play together in a four-perimeter lineup, allowing Hunter to play the four and making the Villanova offense work. Problem is, Key does not have a credible three-point shot. He shot 33% from the arc on 97 attempts in a freshman campaign where he played 30 minutes per game - and dropped from there as a sophomore, shooting 25%. His best offensive game is close to the basket, primarily in transition, on offensive rebounds and dribble drive.
But there is an offense for which Key would be a fairly idea four: Sides! Think Anthony Gill, who was extremely efficient in transition, on offensive rebounds, and on face-up dribble drives from the wide post area. Gill did most of his damage in those areas, and it is something that has been missing from UVA's offense since his graduation.
That's Hunter and Key. Mamadi Diakite hit 3 of his first 6 three-point attempts as a freshman, then missed his last five and didn't try a single one as a sophomore last season (there's another essay in there). Francesco Badocchi does not have three-point range and how ready he is for prime time is an open question. Jay Huff could potentially be that stretch four, but needs to prove he can defend, and would be perfect as a five in the Villanova offense. He might allow us to play the offense as a change of pace, but I'm not going to forecast it as the base offense because of Huff. The offense also does not suit Jack Salt even as the five. One of the reasons that Villanova was so deadly last year was because their five Omari Spellman was able to step out and nail treys at a high efficiency. Salt provides neither the three-point shot nor the post presence. He's a pure blocker.
Throwback to 2013-14
The prototype of the Sides offense could be said to be the 2013-14 team. That team started the year with a more free-flowing approach, but after out-of-conference struggles, Joe Harris made his legendary Red Truck Pilgrimage to Tony's House. At this meeting, It Was Decided to return to the Sides Offense of Yore, and the rest is history. Virginia steamrolled to its first of three ACC Regular Season Championships and first of two ACC Tournament Championships in the Tony Bennett Era, thanks not only to its ACC-best defense (91.0 conference-only DEff), but also to its offense, which finished 2nd in the ACC behind Duke. It was UVA's highest ACC rank in offense, and highest OEff of the last five years. That team, led by Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, and Anthony Gill, with strong support from London Perrantes, Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey and Akil Mitchell, was Bennett's most dynamic, diverse and difficult to contain offense. In addition to its highest efficiency, it had the highest ppg average (tied with 2015-16), the quickest tempo, the most transition offense, and the best offensive rebounding by far of the Championship Era.
The 2013-14 offense had all the elements of a great Sides offense. Gill and Tobey were prolific with their backs to the basket. Mitchell was good in support. The three of them were strong offensive rebounders (34.0% for 6th in the ACC). Gill was a tremendous face up driver who drew fouls in gross. Joe Harris was deadly running off screens, Malcolm Brogdon good driving to the basket, and London Perrantes ran the show and was lethal on open threes from the top of the key area. More than any other of Bennett's teams, 2013-14 could score in all the different ways.
The 2018-19 team is a bit of a throwback to that team, even down to depth issues on the perimeter. Justin Anderson was the only perimeter player off the bench to log substantial minutes, and Teven Jones was the only other true point guard on the roster. The Cavaliers played a 7-man rotation with a little help from Evan Nolte and Darion Atkins. The 2018-19 team projects to the least depth of the Championship Era, with two proven post players and three proven perimeter players, plus Key, who is proven but new to UVA.
Looking primarily at functions and roles in the offense, the reminiscences are there:
Ty Jerome = London Perrantes
Kyle Guy = Joe Harris
De'Andre Hunter = Malcolm Brogdon
Mamadi Diakite/Braxton Key/Jay Huff = Anthony Gill/Mike Tobey
Jack Salt/Frankie Badocchi = Akil Mitchell/Darion Atkins
Taking a closer look at these groupings shows how the 2018-19 team could be the most diverse, robust Sides offensive team since 2013-14.
Ty Jerome and London Perrantes - These are two different players but both fill the role of quarterback, running the show and getting the ball where it needs to be. Both shoot the three from the mid-court area very well and are deadly when the defense gets compressed down to the baseline. Neither shrinks from the moment. Remember this?
Ty, of course, is a bigger part of the offense than was London that year. He's much better at getting into the lane and scoring, he's more of a primary scoring option, and he's a true late clock isolation operator. Both of them run the baseline in Sides, but where they are lethal is up at the point.
Kyle Guy and Joe Harris - This one is the cleanest and most obvious parallel. Both are superlative coming off screens and have beautiful jump shots. Guy is the successor to Harris's role in the offense, and draws similar attention. The comparison is a bit unfair to Guy at this point, as we are comparing the sophomore Guy to the senior Harris, but I look to see Guy take a step forward in his efficiency as a driver, just as Harris developed that part of his game over his last two seasons (as he has in the NBA).
De'Andre Hunter and Malcolm Brogdon - The comparison is not perfect, of course, as there are real differences between the two, but both play the role of the player most likely to break down the defense off the dribble and rescue a faltering offensive possession. Each complements the Guy/Harris well, by being good at the catch-and-shoot three-point shot while being the best at attacking the basket. Brogdon was better at spot-up shooting and off screens, while Hunter is better in isolation. Brogdon was a "Very Good" pick-and-roll ballhandler, while Hunter has not run the play enough to have any rating. Malcolm was a better ballhandler, Hunter a better offensive rebounder and finisher. Both players were deadly in the middle of a zone defense (Malcolm with 1.035 PPP vs. zone and Dre with 1.241 PPP) and both players drew fouls and went to the free throw line. Until Hunter came along, Brogdon with his 4.1 fouls drawn/40 minutes and 39.7% FTr in 2013-14 was the king of Virginia perimeter players at getting to the line. Dre blew him away with 5.1 FD/40 and a 46.0% FTr.
Mamadi Diakite/Braxton Key (Jay Huff) and Anthony Gill (Mike Tobey) - Neither one of these players seems at first blush to be a good match for Gill. Key is a combo forward and Mamadi lacks the offensive refinement of Gill's game. But when you look at what Gill did within the team's offense, you see how Diakite and/or Key could fit into that role. In 2013-14, Gill drew fouls at a prodigious rate unapproached by any other Hoo in any other year. He drew an astounding 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes with an 81.0% FTr. Yes, 81.0. Neither Key nor Diakite comes anywhere close to those numbers, but both did draw over 30% FTr in 2018, and in his freshman campaign Key compiled a very respectable 47.7% FTr, drawing 5 fouls per 40 minutes. Both players are willing to be physical in going to the basket. Anthony kept it close to the basket, and he was exceptional on putbacks. Over 59% of his shots were around the rim (not post-ups), and he converted 1.415 PPP for a Synergy Sports Excellent (94%) ranking. Of his offensive plays, almost 70% were on cuts, posts, offensive rebounds or isolation plays. Gill shot 70% at the rim and 80% on putbacks.
Mamadi was even better last season at shots around the rim and scoring on cuts. His 1.435 PPP on cuts (at 35.4% of possessions his most frequent play) was at 90% on Synergy for an Excellent rating. Around the rim (not post-ups) he came in at the 98% level in Synergy's rankings with a 1.554 PPP efficiency on 75% FG% shooting! Mamadi is still not the post scorer Gill was, as his 0.72 PPP falls considerably short of Gill's 0.906.
Looking at these numbers another way, we find that sophomore Mamadi Diakite and sophomore Anthony Gill had remarkably similar scoring efficiencies. Gill powered the Hoos with a 58.7% eFG%, and 60.8% TS% in 2013-14. Diakite played a peripheral role on Virginia's offense in 2017-18 with an eFG% of 57.7 and TS% of 60.9. While Mamadi did not get to the line as often as Gill, he shot a considerably higher percentage once there, 78% to 62.7%. Gill was more consistent, and he had more opportunities. He had more opportunities partly because he was better at not fouling (4.2 PF/40 vs. 5.6/40), and partly because his team emphasized inside play more than did the 2017-18 squad. Almost 40% of the 2013-14 team's field goal attempts were at the rim, and a shade under 30% were from the arc. Four years later, attempts at the rim were down to just a shade over 30% with both two-point and three-point jumpers increasing to 35%.
Gill averaged 19.8 minutes per game that year. Mamadi averaged 15.6 last year. Gill took 20.4% of his team's shots while on the floor. Mamadi took 18.1%. Gill was supplemented by Mike Tobey, who played 18.1 minutes per game and took 24.3% of the team's shots while on the floor. He was not as efficient as either Gill or Diakite, coming in with an eFG% of 48.3% and TS% of 51. His FTr was 27.2%. Tobey also was a sophomore that year. His 14.2 points/40 minutes were just above Mamadi's 13.7.
All of this suggests to me that Mamadi has a shot at filling that Gill/Tobey role in the offense if he can stay on the floor, and get enough opportunities.
Key is very difficult to grade partly because all his numbers are from a completely different system, and partly because I just have not seen many of his games. No matter how you slice them, however, his offensive numbers are poor. His efficiencies and shooting percentages are low, and there is no area of halfcourt offense where he showed mastery (defense is a totally different story, but that's for another essay). I'm projecting for Key on the basis of what I know of his athletic "toolkit", the areas he did show some proficiency during his two years, and his video, that he can be effective in the Gill role. Braxton like Gill is good around the basket with high percentages on putbacks and an aggressive attack on the dribble. In both years at Alabama, over 40% of his shots were at the rim, where he converted 59.4% as a freshman and 65.2% as a sophomore. He's strong and physical. That he was no Anthony Gill at Alabama does not necessarily mean much, because Anthony Gill at South Carolina was a very different player than Anthony Gill at UVA. He shot mostly jumpers, both 2pt and 3pt, with only 25.8% of his shots at the rim. The staples of his offensive production at UVA - cut and post-up, accounted for only 25% of his possessions at South Carolina.
Just as Gill's game changed when he got to UVA from South Carolina, look for Key's game to change.
Jack Salt and Akil Mitchell - The similarity here is in being the low usage "other post." It's not a great similarity as Salt is a "no usage" post, at 8.9% while Mitchell at least was at 15.5%. Jack may be low usage, but he is not low efficiency. A full 80% of his shots are at the rim and he hits 66.2% of them. Salt always sticks to what he's good at.
The blend of skills and roles in the 2018-19 roster fit fairly well with the Sides template as laid down by 2013-14 - even to the extent of having experience in the system. Guy and Jerome should have the mastery of the reads that we saw from Harris and Brogdon as upperclassmen. Hunter brings the attacking creativity that Brogdon gave 2013-14 (and some, to be honest). Jerome and Clark are the floor generals. Diakite and Key need to grow into the role of post area attackers, largely with the face up attack and on the offensive boards (it is small coincidence 2013-14 was our best offensive rebounding team). This overview of the roster and how it fits the Sides system leads us to the factors I will be looking at as I watch games this season.
Seattle Hoo's Watching Points
Last season, I had my things I wanted to see, and I didn't see many of them nearly as often as I had hoped to. The offense was still phlegmatic to say the least, and often downright constipated. As with last season, I am hoping to see elements of the 2013-14 offense, which was in many ways the best offense of Tony Bennett's career.
Sides works best when the ball goes through the post. I want to see the ball passed into the post early in possessions, and especially early in games. Even if the post player is not a regular scoring threat, the offense can run actions off of that post pass, and getting the ball into the paint puts pressure on the defense. When Virginia goes through the post early, the Hoos typically find a better offensive rhythm. If they can have some scoring success around the basket, it tends to flatten out the defense and give the perimeter shooters more room. Pound it inside early, then rain destruction down from distance.
Facing Up 4s.
Synergy sports includes face-up attacks under "Post-Up" possessions. Mamadi Diakite's overall low "Average" rating on Post-Up possessions masks that he's actually a pretty good face-up attacker. Overall, he scored 0.72 PPP on Post-Up plays, and 0.714 on Face-Up, but when he drives into the middle, his PPP is an even 1.00, which translates into the "Good" or "Very Good" range. He achieved this efficiency from both sides of the lane. Mamadi still needs to develop back-to-the-basket moves and his face-up jumper is a barren resource, but he should be getting several opportunities per game to face up and attack the defense, as seen in this video from his Player Page.
In 2013-14 the Hoos were sixth in the ACC in offensive rebounding. That year and the following year, they grabbed over 30% of their misses. In the three seasons since, their offensive rebounding percentage has declined each year, from 27.6% down to 26.7% last season. One way for the big men to contribute to the offense is through crashing the offensive boards. Salt, Diakite, Hunter and Key are all strong offensive rebounders, with the latter three being especially adept at turning them directly into points. I want to see UVA's offensive rebounding percentage approaching the national norm of around 29%.
I know what you're thinking (again). Virginia has some extremely effective transition players, and their best team, the 2013-14 team, also happened to be their most transition-oriented team of the last five years. Last year saw a slight uptick in transition possessions, but with players who can run the floor like Diakite, Hunter and Key, and likely regular minutes from Kihei Clark, the Hoos should be looking to run. As with offensive rebounding, I'm not looking for the Hoos to become UNC or Marshall, but approaching the tail end of the group rather than being the fat kid dragging his ass in gym class would not be unreasonable to ask for from this group. The 2013-14 team shot 16.1% of its initial FG attempts in the first ten seconds of the clock per hoop-math.com, and 8.8% after defensive rebounds. The 2016-17 group was the slowest at 10.8% and 4.5%. In 2017-18 the Hoos were a little faster overall - 11.7% - but that was the result of more steals, because they still only ran after 4.5% of defensive rebounds. As with last year, I want to see Virginia in the neighborhood of the 2013-14 numbers.
On a podcast recently, the Screen the Screeners podcast, the host wondered at the attention to detail that Tony Bennett brings to preparing to defend opponents, and mused whether the UMBC debacle might lead Bennett to "bring that same attention to detail" to offensive game planning. Finding and attacking mismatches simply does not appear to be part of Bennett's system, and I can think of at least one loss where that absence was a major factor. It's a strategy that can lead to easy baskets or force the opponent to make a change he does not want to. If an opponent takes you out of your normal stuff, you can counter-move by finding a matchup advantage that forces him to react in such a way that relieves the pressure on you. What if posting his 5-4, 140-pound guard with your 6-5, 200-pound guard who can simply catch it, turn and shoot over the top forces the opponent to bring help from a big, allowing your point guard to choose from four teammates being guarded by only three opponents? This team has players who can cause mismatches, and we need to take advantage of those.
Virginia's most dynamic lineup will once again not be its starting lineup. Once again, the most dynamic lineup for Virginia does not include Jack Salt. With Key, the most dynamic lineup is going to have Mamadi at the 5, Key and Hunter as the forwards, and Guy and Jerome at guard. Last year, the most potent lineup for Virginia had Isaiah Wilkins at the five, with Hunter and Hall at forward and Guy and Jerome in the backcourt. That lineup in just over 300 possessions had a robust 1.28 OEff to 0.82 DEff margin for a margin almost twice the 0.27 NetEff of the starting lineup. That was the dominant lineup in the last six minutes of competitive games, where its efficiency margin was 1.30 to 0.90. Interestingly, the starting lineup fared better in the last six minutes of games than overall, posting a 0.38 NetEff in that context. We could see a similar situation this year, where the lineup that starts and plays the most possessions is not the lineup that finishes out close games. But enough speculating on minutes, because that's tomorrow's topic.