After struggling from three early in the season, the Purdue Boilermakers have found themselves shooting the ball much better lately. Will it stay though?
Purdue came into the year with the potential of being one of the best three point shooting teams in the country. Everyone aside from Zach Edey has shot 40% from deep at either the high school or college level over the course of a season. The attention Edey requires down low would open up many threes for these shooters that complement Edey perfectly.
They started out the first six games shooting honestly fine from three (aside from a 2-of-19 performance against Austin Peay). One thing I think is forgotten is Purdue shot 8-for-17 (47.1%), 10-for-26 (38.5%), and 7-for-18 (38.9%) from three in the trio of PK85 games. They shot 27.8% against FSU, but followed it up with 7-of-17 (41.2%) and 10-of-24 (41.7%) performances from downtown against Minnesota and Hofstra. Again, not terrible numbers at all, albeit a little bit streaky.
Then the skid happened of the five game stretch from Nebraska to Rutgers that Purdue shot a combined 28-for-121 (20.7%) from three. They sky seemed to be falling, but 3-pointers surely were not.
Then the past two games, Purdue went 13-for-31 (41.9%) and 8-for-18 (44.4%) from three.
And that comes into something that I find really interesting within basketball, shot variance. I won’t bore you with all the details surrounding shot variance, but basically it is this concept of shot quality and that in the long run, the average will be found. So a team may have shooting slumps or hot streaks, but in the end, a percent closer to their true average will be found.
That is what I’m looking at in this, and why I don’t really think much changed for Purdue other than shots have actually fallen. If Purdue generates the same look from 3 ten times, they are only going to make maybe 4 on average. So is it bad offense when the shot doesn’t fall? Do you need to abandon good, open threes if nothing can find the bottom of the net?
Matt Painter and the players have answered those questions during many post game interviews. No. Good shots are good shots, and Purdue needs to keep taking them. They fully believed they would eventually (and will continue) to fall.
Before diving into some of the numbers of why Purdue has been largely on the bad side of 3-point variance, I am going to show three clips below. I want you to watch all three and see if you notice anything significantly different about the 3-point attempts (other than which ones go in and which ones don’t). If you are daring, watch each clip but pause while the ball is in the air. Then truly think about what was different between the three.
In this one, it is another Smith/Edey pick and roll. Ethan Morton replaces to the top of the key and makes the extra pass to Fletcher Loyer on the wing.
So now that we have watched all three, what stands out? I would say all four shots between the three clips end with good 3-point looks for the Purdue Boilermakers. There is a late closeout on most of them. All of them seemed to have pretty good passes. So what was different?
And that is the point I’m trying to make, there really hasn’t been much of a difference. The looks that Purdue has made for the past 2.5 games are looks they’ve pretty consistently gotten all season. Now obviously, they aren’t all identical and there are other factors. There was a couple game stretch where Smith wasn’t hitting shooters in the shooting pocket as much, Purdue seemed to lack a little bit of focus compared to PK85, a couple bad threes were taken, etc, etc.
In general though, Purdue generates good looks. I mean they have the 2nd best rated offense per Kenpom. I have an article here showing some of the actions Purdue has used to be really good this season. They get good looks often, just there was a stretch that they weren’t falling. Now the freshman backcourt have even more experience, and Loyer especially is starting to heat up. The roles players know what they’re supposed to do, and they can all knock down perimeter shots.
It isn’t just all eye test (although I think watching agrees with what is about to come up). There are some numbers that really back up that Purdue was just on the wrong side of variance. The two sites I’ll be using are ShotQuality and Synergy. Synergy tracks a lot of individual plays that is useful to see how often a team is doing something. ShotQuality is a system that calculates how many points are expected per shot given a multitude of detail. Both are very helpful, although I think need to have games watched to back them up.
I’m going to start with ShotQuality data. So as I said, this calculates basically what the average points expected for each shot. So let’s look at the ShotQuality expected 3 pointers made compared to Purdue’s actual 3 pointers made for the past 7 games.
Purdue ACTUAL 3 Point Shooting — ShotQuality Purdue Expected 3 Point Shooting
Nebraska Actual – 7/29 (24.1%) — Nebraska ShotQuality – 9.9/29 (34.1%)
Davidson Actual – 3/25 (12%) — Davidson ShotQuality – 8.9/25 (35.6%)
New Orleans Actual – 5/19 (26.3%) — New Orleans ShotQualilty – 6.6/19 (34.7%)
Florida A&M Actual – 6/25 (24.0%) — Florida A&M ShotQuality – 8.5/25 (34.0%)
Rutgers Actual – 7/23 (30.4%) — Rutgers ShotQuality – 7.9/23 (34.3%)
Ohio State Actual – 13/31 (41.9%) — Ohio State ShotQuality – 10.5/31 (34%)
Penn State Actual – 8/18 (44.4%) — Penn State Actual ShotQuality – 6.2/18 (34.4%)
So as shown above, Purdue on average is expected to shoot around 34-35%, but they only shot above that number twice. The first four on that list are almost a 10% difference on three-point percentage.
As could be guessed, ShotQuality has Purdue expected to be around a 34-35% 3-point shooting team for the entire season. Purdue is currently shooting 32.2% from deep. So they are due for about a 2-3% increase (or regression to the mean) in their average. That is the 78th highest in all of D1. Before these past two games, Purdue was right about at 30% from three, but still taking shots at a 34-35% level. That 5% expected increase was a top 10 number in the country.
It isn’t necessarily a good thing to have such a high ranking in that category, but considering that Purdue is still at such a dominant offensive level, it isn’t a bad thing. Basically the stat is saying that Purdue was expected to make more 3s than what they did, and that difference was one of the largest in the country. The only Big Ten teams expected to have a bigger regression are Maryland and Nebraska.
When even looking at the types of shots they have taken, it makes sense that Purdue is expected to make more. Per Synergy, 67.8% of Purdue’s jump shots are catch and shoot attempts, the most efficient type of jump shot. Out of those, 51% are considered open, and that is about the 90th best rate in the country. The thing is that Purdue hasn’t made these looks. They average 0.869 PPP on contested catch and shoot threes, which is about 270th in the country. They average 1.050 PPP on open catch and shoot threes, good for about 236th in the country.
Purdue has had their two best performances on catch and shoot attempts since around the PK85. It is not that they haven’t gotten similar looks as in those games, it is just that they weren’t falling for a while. Basketball at its core is a make or miss league. Purdue had been missing for a stretch, but the process was good. Now that they have some shooting momentum, as long as they continue to get good looks, there may be more of a chance that Purdue piles on even more shooting games.