2012-2013 Season

Behind the Numbers: Post Offense and Defense

Michigan 77, Cleveland State 47 -- 1Michigan 88, Central Michigan 73 - #7
Dustin Johnston

Although the quantity of three point attempts has decreased in John Beilein’s offense this season, there’s no secret that his offense leans on perimeter players. The Wolverines lean on four perimeter players – Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III – to do the bulk of the heavy lifting on offense. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary at times feel like after thoughts but are also two of the most important players on the Wolverine roster.

We fired up Synergy Sports and began to break down some film and related statistics to examine Michigan’s big men, their effectiveness on both ends of the floor and the number of post touches they receive.

1. First off, credit needs to be given for what Michigan’s bigs do best: rebound

Morgan and McGary are both dominant rebounders – especially on the defensive end – and are the primary reason that Michigan has been so dramatically improved on the glass this season. Michigan is the best defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten and the second best in the country. Morgan and McGary both have strong rebounding numbers on both ends of the floor and also help to enable someone like Tim Hardaway Jr. to be such a great rebounder by getting bodies on bigger opponents.

Sure McGary isn’t the most effective at converting his second chance opportunities (he often times takes three chances) but both players have made large impacts on the glass. The biggest difference between this team and previous Beilein teams is on the glass: 276th to 83rd in offensive rebounding and 99th to 2nd in defensive rebounding. Morgan and McGary deserve major credit for that improvement.

2. Believe your eyes, Michigan doesn’t throw the ball into the post.

According to statistics from Synergy Sports, just 23 of Michigan’s offensive possessions have ended with a post-up. That’s 1.8% of the Wolverines offensive possessions this season and significantly less than any other Big Ten team.

Illinois (59 poss., 4.2%) and Ohio State (80 poss., 6.4%) are the only conference schools to check in at under 100 post-up possessions while schools like Purdue (146 poss., 11.3%) and Michigan State (131 poss., 10.1%) have probably already thrown the ball in the post more often than the Wolverines will this entire season.

The catch is that no Big Ten team is particularly effective when throwing the ball into the post.

Team % Time Poss Points PPP
Indiana Hoosiers 8.9% 118 110 0.932
Michigan Wolverines 1.8% 23 21 0.913
Wisconsin Badgers 10.5% 124 111 0.895
Ohio State Buckeyes 6.4% 80 71 0.888
Iowa Hawkeyes 8.8% 122 107 0.877
Minnesota Golden Gophers 8.9% 122 105 0.861
Michigan State Spartans 10.1% 131 112 0.855
Purdue Boilermakers 11.3% 146 121 0.829
Nebraska Cornhuskers 9.9% 113 89 0.788
Penn State Nittany Lions 9.7% 118 92 0.780
Northwestern Wildcats 9.8% 119 86 0.723
Illinois Fighting Illini 4.2% 59 35 0.593

Michigan is actually fairly efficient when it does throw the ball in the post but part of that is undoubtedly a product of small sample size. However, no team is scoring over a point per possession on post touches and many teams are well below — making it clear that post offense isn’t the most effective offensive play by any stretch.

Michigan is significantly more efficient in other offensive play types. For example the Wolverines score 1.14 PPP on pick and roll scenarios (including pass outs), 1.20 PPP when passing to a cutting player, and .932 PPP on spot up jumpers (which account for roughly one quarter of Michigan’s offensive possessions). Trey Burke in isolation, Nik Stauskas or Tim Hardaway Jr. coming off of screens or Glenn Robinson III cutting to the basket are just a couple of offensive play types that are significantly more effective than a post-up in the Wolverine offense.

McGary is the more effective back to the basket player with 6 points on 5 possessions (1.2 PPP) compared to Morgan’s 6 points on 9 possessions (.67 PPP). Watching film it’s clear why McGary is more effective: he gets far better position on the block and is often times able to make a post move without dribble. On the other hand, Morgan is much more deliberate and usually needs a couple of dribbles before he’s able to get off his quick hook shot. McGary does a great job of sealing his defender, utilizing his bigger frame, and finishing around the basket in limited opportunities.

3. Jordan Morgan is the more effective defensive player

Individual defensive statistics are precarious at best, especially when considering all of the variables at play. Quantifying team defensive on an individual level would require a thorough understanding of what a team is trying to accomplish on any given possession. As observers outside of the film room, that’s simply impossible. What we do have access to is not nearly as insightful: what happens when a player’s apparent assignment shoots over an individual defender.

Comparing Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary with these data sets is still somewhat illuminating.

On 59 defensive possessions, opponents are scoring .593 PPP with a 32.7 eFG% against Jordan Morgan.

On 57 defensive possessions, opponents are scoring .982 PPP with a 55.6% eFG% against Mitch McGary.

My original hypothesis was that McGary could be penalized for over helping in certain defensive scenarios but watching the film it becomes clear that he simply has given up far more baskets on the block. Morgan is rarely beaten in one on one situations in the post. In fact, the majority of the possessions where Morgan allowed makes were three point makes — often times after botched switches. McGary has given up scores on 12 one-on-one low post situations compared to just six for Morgan.

The following charts show the type of scoring plays allowed (make or foul) versus the number of stops (contested misses) assigned to each player according to Synergy Sports.

Source: Synergy Sports

Morgan stands out as the much better defender at this point. McGary appears to be making some improvement – notably he’s blocked eight shots in the last five games after recording just three blocks in the first 12 games of the season – but Morgan’s experience shines through on the defensive end of the floor.

4. Both players are struggling to finish cuts and rolls

Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary are both most effective scoring in transition or on the offensive glass but they also rely heavily on rolls and cuts to the basket. Roughly 47 percent of Jordan Morgan’s used possessions come off of rolls and cuts while 42% of McGary’s opportunities fall in the same categories. Other than grabbing an offensive rebound, these are the primary ways that either player is able to get involved in the half-court offense. Rolls are self-explanatory while the definition for cuts is a bit looser, in reality the majority of these plays are drop off passes around the basket.

The following chart shows that neither player is particularly effective in either scenario:

Play Types % Time Poss. Points PPP Percentile
Jordan Morgan
Cut 22.1% 21 20 0.952 28%
Roll Man 20.0% 19 18 0.947 48%
Mitch McGary
Cut 29.9% 32 31 0.969 29%
Roll Man 16.8% 18 19 1.056 61%

Morgan’s numbers are down significantly from last season, in which he scored 1.24 PPP on rolls to the basket (81st percentile) and 1.04 PPP on cuts (36th percentile) and his freshman year numbers of 1.26 PPP on rolls and 1.27 PPP on cuts.

Here’s a look at the four Michigan players that have fed the ball to McGary or Morgan the most often this season while either player is cutting or rolling to the basket (with a success ratio in parentheses).


Burke and Hardaway are the primary ball handlers so it makes sense that they have the most feeds. Hardaway does appear to be marginally more effective in getting the bigs the ball in better spots but watching film it’s clear that the majority of the missed opportunities should be blamed on the bigs.

There are not only a lot of misses, there are a lot of bad misses. Morgan and McGary have both missed a handful of dunks and layups that they almost certainly want to have back. It’s fair to guess that steady improvement finishing these type of plays could increase both players productivity fairly significantly without many more opportunities.

5. Conclusion

Michigan’s offense is the most efficient in the country without any post ups. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary are two of the most inefficient offensive players on the Michigan roster – something attributable more to the strengths of their teammates than their personal weaknesses – and it doesn’t make sense to take touches away from Burke, Hardaway, Stauskas and Robinson to feed the ball into the post.

Michigan’s big men do a couple things very well including crashing the glass on both ends of the floor and running the floor hard. If they can continue to do that throughout Big Ten play while steadily increasing their efficiency in rolling and cutting situations – that should be more than enough.

It just doesn’t make that much sense for Michigan to go away from what brought it this far: perimeter offense. There’s a niche for both Morgan and McGary and there’s room for both players to be effective in their own ways. Currently both players are playing right around 20 minutes per game, with Morgan getting a sprinkling of minutes at the four. I would be surprised to see Morgan lose his starting spot anytime soon, given his stronger defensive play.

As for more two post line-ups, I think John Beilein will continue to experiment with them but only slowly. There’s just no need to take Glenn Robinson III off of the floor for long stretches. Michigan doesn’t lose much defensively or on the glass and Robinson is a significantly better offensive player than both Morgan and McGary.

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