Buddy Boeheim has been no friend to Syracuse basketball’s offense

Jan 12, 2019; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Buddy Boeheim (35) drives while being defended by Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets forward Michael Devoe (0) during the second half of the Yellow Jackets' 73-59 win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

If you’re a little bit more than a casual fan of college basketball, you’re certainly heard “KenPom” get tossed around. The term refers to the advanced statistical rankings generated by Ken Pomeroy, the godfather of such things at the college basketball level.

Talking heads will often refer to a team as being ranked “X” in KenPom, meaning their national statistical ranking determined by Pomeroy’s mathematical formula. Pomeroy figures out adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency for each team (how many points scored or allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for each team’s opponents). He then ranks them based on the differential between the two numbers.

For example, Syracuse has an adjusted offensive efficiency of 111.4 and an adjusted defensive efficiency of 96.6, good for a +14.81 adjusted efficiency margin at KenPom. That margin has them slotted at 55th in the country.

I explain all of that to explain that, while Ken Pomeroy is the godfather, Bart Torvik also does statistical analysis with very similar results to KenPom called T-Rank. The team results and rankings end up fairly similar, as evidenced by where he has the Orange – 64th overall, 110.3 adjusted offensive efficiency, and 97.3 adjusted defensive efficiency. While Torvik’s numbers like SU a little less overall than KenPom’s, the two sets of digits are not just in the same neighborhood, they’re on the same block.

Both sites also do individual player ratings, but Torvik does not keep his behind a paywall. And since there are six players of consequence to this point of Syracuse’s season (Buddy Boeheim, Marek Dolezaj, Joe Girard III, Alan Griffin, Quincy Guerrier, and Kadary Richmond), there are some interesting things to note at T-Rank.

Guerrier and Dolezaj are Syracuse’s most effective players on offense and it is not close. Guerrier’s offensive rating is 125.1 and Dolezaj is right on his heels at 122.4.

The third highest? Richmond at 106.8 with Griffin close behind at 104.1.

The starting guards are fifth and sixth on the team in efficiency. Girard stands at 96.8 and Boeheim is at 96.4.

Some of this comes as logical extension from the positions they play. Guards and wings in the Syracuse offense traditionally dominate the ball, so they are more likely to commit turnovers. They also tend to shoot from farther away, including three-pointers, and there is a correlation between field goal percentage and shot distance from the basket.

Making it worse for this team is looking at usage rate compared to efficiency.

A player’s usage rate is an estimate of the percentage of plays where a specific player does one of three things: shoots a field goal attempt, draws a foul that results in shooting free throws, or commits a turnover. The higher the number, the higher the percentage of plays where a player shoots from the field, shoots free throws, or turns the ball over. The average usage rate is 20.0 (100 percent divided by five players on the court at a time).

Here are the current usage rates for these six players:

  • Griffin – 24.5
  • Boeheim – 21.8
  • Girard – 21.3
  • Guerrier – 19.5
  • Richmond – 18.9
  • Dolezaj – 15.3

The starting guards stand second and third in usage rate while being the least efficient offensive players. And here is some additional context regarding those two and Griffin:

Boeheim has an excellent turnover rate, the second lowest of this group of six, trailing only Guerrier, who rarely handles the ball. Of course, unlike Girard and Griffin, Boeheim is asked to be neither a creator nor a slasher, rarely dribbling more than once unless he is trying to bully his defender into the paint. That low turnover rate deflates Boeheim’s usage rate, as does his very low free throw rate.

Griffin and Girard, who are the primary ballhandlers in the offense, have significantly higher turnover rates (Richmond is slightly higher than either). They also have higher free throw rates, which also increases their usage rates.

In other words, Boeheim’s high usage rate is almost completely driven by him shooting the ball. And there’s more to Boeheim being a problem for this offense.

» Related: Jim Boeheim change his rotation? Don’t count on it.

The junior guard is last among this group in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. Effective field goal percentage weights three-point shots and true shooting does the same, also factoring in free throw shooting. And Boeheim is last in both statistics while leading the team in field goal attempts per minute.

Boeheim’s defenders will say that he is a good passer. He is fourth in total assists and fourth in assist rate among this group of six players. They will also say he is a solid defender, getting a good number of steals. Boeheim stands fifth in steal rate in this group, ahead of just Guerrier.

He also has a very low defensive rebounding rate, gathering 5.2 percent of all possible defensive rebounds. In other words, he gets one rebound every 19 missed opponent shots. Boeheim is listed at 6’6” while Girard is at 6’1”. Girard, meanwhile, has a 9.0 defensive rebounding rate, meaning he chases down one of every 11 opponent misses.

If all those fancy numbers have your head swimming, here are a few basic ones in on simple sentence: In the last four games, Boeheim is shooting 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) on both two-point field goals and three-pointers while totaling seven rebounds, eight assists, and nine turnovers.

Boeheim is completely miscast on this team. His role from his freshman year is the right one for him – around 12-15 minutes a game as a shooter off the bench, mostly deployed against an opponent’s reserves to increase his potential effectiveness. Instead, he’s the leading man in terms of both minutes and shots, the exact opposite of what he should be.

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About Jim Stechschulte 894 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. He currently resides in Syracuse.