Sure, it was the opener of a long season, and both jitters and uncertainty were understandable as Duke struggled to run its offense in a decisive win over Boston University. But, perusing that boxscore, one statistic stuck out, starting a train of thought thatâs still rumbling down the tracks.
Dukeâs 40 percent field goal accuracy was striking, but hardly surprising. Last season a similarly constituted Blue Devil squad made only 44.5 percent of its shots. That was Dukeâs worst overall efficiency since it posted the same percentage in 1996.
In fact, the Devils hit a measly 45.6 percent of their shots over the past three seasons combined, and not due to increased reliance on 3-pointers. Duke took 35.9 percent of its shots from long-range over the past decade, frequency of use the 2003 and 2004 squads did not even match. (Last year 39.8 percent of the field goal attempts were threes.)
The 64 points scored by Duke against disciplined BU also was less striking than it seemed at first glance. Tepid scoring is another recent trend. Last yearâs 78.2-point scoring average was Dukeâs lowest since 1996 (75.4).
The Devilsâ scoring has declined each year since 2001. Much was made of the ferocity of the 2005 North Carolina attack that led the nation in scoring offense with 88.0 points per game; Duke matched or exceeded that output each year from 1999 through 2001.
No, the Duke stat that stood out against the tenacious Terriers was its six assists on 22 baskets.
Presumably a team that passes well and/or plays well together will sport a handsome ratio of assists to field goals made. Maryland coach Gary Williams called his 2002 Terrapins, that yearâs NCAA champs, perhaps his best passing squad ever. The â02 Terps registered assists on 65.9 percent of their baskets.
So, the question that occurs is this: Should a smoothly run offense reflect a high percentage of assists per basket? And, as a corollary, should a good defensive unit, especially of the disruptive sort often produced under Mike Krzyzewski, prevent opponents from achieving a high percentage of assists per basket?
Tracking Duke over the past decade, the answer to both questions appears to be, not necessarily.
|Year||Duke Pct. Asts. Per FGM|| Duke
|Opp. Pct. Asts. Per FGM|| Opp.
There is undoubtedly a relationship between a high field goal percentage and a high percentage of passes leading directly to baskets. Good passes set up easier scores. But the relationship is hardly ironclad where Duke is concerned.
The average Duke club over the past decade notched assists on 52.6 percent of its made field goals. The 2002 squad, which enjoyed handsome 49.5 percent accuracy from the floor, had assists on 57 percent of its baskets. But a better shooting club in 1999 (51.4 percent) had assists on just 51 percent of its field goals.
This variable picture doubtless reflects the adaptability of Krzyzewskiâs motion offense and his teamsâ propensity for creating scores off the dribble. Drives to the basket and other one-on-one moves, even those abetted by teammatesâ screens, rarely accrue assists.
By contrast, North Carolinaâs more patterned âpassing offenseâ averaged an assist on 62.4 percent of its baskets since 2000. Thatâs under three different coaching protÃ©gÃ©s of Dean Smith (Bill Guthridge, Matt Doherty, and Roy Williams) and includes both a national championship squad (2005) and a 20-loss team (2002).
Nor does Dukeâs defense suppress rivalsâ ratio of assists to baskets to the extent you might think. This despite often overplaying passing lanes and forcing opponents out of their comfort zone.
Over the past decade the most efficient assist-to-basket rate against Duke came in 1998, when opponents had assists on 53.4 percent of their scores. Yet it meant nothing. Those same opponents scored a measly 64.1 points per game, lowest against Duke during Krzyzewskiâs 25-year tenure. They also made just 41.1 percent of their shots.
Compared with recent ACC peers, the Blue Devils are anything but average when it comes to rates of assists per field goal.
The 11 ACC teams good enough to earn NCAA bids in 2004 and 2005 (Duke included) had assists on 56.3 percent of their baskets. Duke did that well once since 1992. But opponents of the ACCâs NCAA entrants gained assists on 53.6 percent of their field goals, a rate not reached against Duke since 1992.
Last yearâs NCAA foursome besides Duke (Georgia Tech, UNC, N.C. State, and Wake) had assists on 58.5 percent of their baskets. The Tar Heels were highest with 62.6 percent. The Blue Devils trailed the group at 49.4.
Defensively, the ACCâs 2005 NCAA entrants held opponents to a 50.8 rate of assists leading to a score. Duke held other teams to a 41.9 conversion rate, lowest by far.
So, weâll know better than to judge the efficiency of Dukeâs offense on ratios of assists to field goals made. Alone or combined, statistics such as field goal accuracy, points from the foul line, and ratio of assists to turnovers may be more indicative of Dukeâs offensive prowess.