Iowa State and Rim Protection

Posted by on January 20, 2015

Since his arrival in Ames prior to the 2010-11 season, Fred Hoiberg has received a lot of respect for the job he’s done with Iowa State. Under Hoiberg, the Cyclones have become an offensive powerhouse that both plays uptempo and scores with efficiency. This style of play makes Iowa State a must-watch team. Hoiberg is often given credit by announcers for bringing his NBA background with him to Ames.
Iowa State’s offensive numbers under Hoiberg have in fact been excellent. Hoiberg’s teams have finished 83, 24, 6, and 6 in adjusted offensive efficiency and currently sit at number 15 in the country this season. However, Iowa State has never cracked the top 50 in defense under “The Mayor”. The typical Hoiberg defense isn’t overly aggressive, instead excelling at not fouling and defensive rebounding.
Not going for turnovers on defense isn’t necessarily a harmful strategy. However, it does limit a defense’s margin of error protecting the rim. Hoiberg has yet to have a team that really bothered opponents shooting inside the arc. Iowa State’s talent and uptempo play has definitely helped them pass the “eye-test” to the casual fan as an elite team, but the Cyclones (and almost every team for that matter) simply aren’t a top 10 team if they don’t have better rim protection.
Just seven games into his career, Jameel McKay appears to have a chance at being the missing link for ISU. The 6’9″ transfer from Marquette has recorded 12 blocks in his last three games. While Iowa State is likely at least a slightly better offensive team spreading the court with a Dejean-Jones/Niang/Hogue front-court, McKay’s defensive presence more than justifies an increase in minutes going forward.
I went back to the seven games McKay has been apart of and looked at Iowa State’s performance with him on the bench versus on the court:

On/off splits aren’t perfect by any means, but you can see that Iowa State’s opponents have shot four percent worse from two-point range with McKay in the game. Furthermore, a rim protector’s impact is likely to extend beyond just defensive 2P%. A great rim protector also deters shots near the hoop from being attempted and/or allows the rest of the defense to be more aggressive and play passing lanes.
Finally, let’s take a look at the lineups for the top 20 defenses in the country. I used Ken Pomeroy’s algorithmic based depth charts as the basis for the lineups with a few minor manual changes. Below you can see the importance of rim protection (using BLK% as the proxy) for these elite defenses:
The great majority of these teams have a big shot blocker to anchor the defense. Of course it’s not impossible to be great without a big shot shot blocker. I wrote about Oklahoma’s new and improved defense last week and they don’t have the type of shot blocker that most of the other teams on the list have in their starting lineup.
It would be interesting to look more into the defensive schemes for teams lacking a player with a high block percentage in the future. There would certainly be some variation in styles. Arizona and West Virginia both don’t rely heavily on blocks relative to other teams on the list, but play defense very differently. Arizona uses the pack-line while WVU has been all press all the time.
A great rim protector probably isn’t quite as important in the NCAA as the NBA. Due to the much lower skill level (especially shooting the ball) and different rules, NCAA teams can get creative on defense. Presses and matchup zones don’t cut it in the NBA, but have led to success for NCAA teams. However, Hoiberg has yet to show an ability to coach good defensive teams without a rim protector. Assuming his style is going to stay the same, Jameel McKay will have to be a difference maker for the Cyclones.

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