Friar Basketball

Repairing a Broken Offense

Group Shot 2019 USA Today

By virtually any measure, Providence’s offense was subpar in 2018-19. The Friars were the only Big East team to average under 70 points per game in conference play (68.7), and they finished last in the conference in field goal percentage,¬†free throw percentage, and 3-point field goal percentage in league games.

The advanced numbers aren’t any prettier. PC finished in the 31st percentile nationally in spot up scoring, 28th in transition offense, 35th in scoring off of screens, and got virtually nothing out of isolation and pick and roll ball handler scoring, where they finished in the 14th and 3rd percentile of all D1 teams last year.

Overall, their .875 points per possession on all shot attempts left them in the 25th percentile nationally.

Providence was strong on the interior offensively a season ago, finishing in the 78th percentile in post up opportunities and 63rd in scoring off of cuts. The interior offense was anchored by Nate Watson’s whose 1.073 points per possession ranked him in the 92nd percentile of all Division 1 players last year. AJ Reeves (83rd) is the only other returnee to crack the 60% percentile in points per possession last year.

To the surprise of no one who followed Providence last season, the trouble spot came at point guard, where Ed Cooley searched for answers through March’s Big East Tournament — after which he told the press that his number one priority this past offseason was to upgrade his team’s point guard play.

Freshman David Duke shot 38% from the field and ranked in the 20th percentile in points per possession, while Maliek White (38% shooting, 31st percentile ppp) and Makai Ashton-Langford (34%, 8th percentile ppp) flashed at times, but struggled to find consistency (notably, White excelled when shooting off of the dribble, as he was ranked in the 93rd percentile on all jump shots off of the bounce).

Enter graduate transfer point guard Luwane Pipkins. While Cooley should count of the continued development of Reeves, Duke, Watson, and Alpha Diallo, and the Friars could benefit from the return of Emmitt Holt, perhaps no player on the roster has the ability to swing this program’s fortunes more come March than the 5’9 point guard of out Chicago.

Pipkins is an X-factor that comes with great potential and several question marks.

If Providence gets the Pipkins from two years ago at UMass this team becomes very dangerous. Second weekend of the NCAAs dangerous.

As a junior, Pipkins averaged over 21 points per game, and shot over 42% from long range.

Last year, Pipkins numbers dipped, in part because he battled through injury. His 3-point percentage plummeted to 28% and he shot 34% from the field as he scored 16 points a night for the Minutemen.

Despite his struggles a year ago, Pipkins figures to be a big upgrade in two areas of weakness offensively for the Friars: Isolation and pick and roll ball handler scoring. He ranked in the 64th percentile in P&R ball handler scoring last year, and 61st in isolation opportunities.

Where Providences becomes downright scary is if Pipkins reverts to his form of two seasons ago. Check out these numbers:

He finished in the 97th percentile in spot up shooting, 97th in scoring off of screens, 74th in isolation, and 88th when scoring off of hand offs. His hand off and off screen opportunities were not as plentiful as pick and roll and spot up shooting, but regardless, the junior year version of Pipkins would completely change the look of the backcourt offensively.

For Pipkins to return to form he will have to get healthy. A balky knee forced him to miss the Pan American Games this summer, while a hamstring injury kept him out of the first exhibition game and early practices this fall. Pipkins did return to the floor in last weekend’s scrimmage victory at Purdue.

Assuming health, the biggest question surrounding Pipkins and his insertion into the Providence lineup will be shot distribution. Pipkins took over 16 shots per game his junior year. Diallo projects to be a first team all conference player, Watson is primed to turn into an offensive force if he can return to health from a knee injury that currently has him sidelined, while Cooley once compared Reeves to Paul Pierce for his ability to score in so many ways. We saw Reeves do most of his damage from beyond the arc last year, but he likely did not come to PC to spend most of his sophomore year spotting up beyond the arc.

That does not factor in the emerging Duke, a senior in White, the returning Holt, and forward Jimmy Nichols, who started 18 games as a freshman.

As has been the case in so many seasons past for the Friars, too many bodies never seems to be an issue. Watson and highly regarded freshman Greg Gantt are currently shelved, and Pipkins is still working his way back. If history is any indicator, Cooley (who has seemingly never been able to enjoy a fully healthy roster) likely won’t have to worry about having too many able bodied scorers, but there are certainly plenty of mouths to feed if this group is fully healthy.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the 2019-20 season will be just how fast these Friars play. Cooley’s teams at Providence have generally played at a slower pace, but the PC head coach said earlier this month that he has always wanted to pick up the pace. Between Pipkins, Duke, Reeves, and White, Cooley has a backcourt that is at its best when playing downhill.

Still, wanting to play faster and finally doing so after so many years of slowing things down are very different things. PC’s bread and butter last year was grinding it out with Watson and Diallo underneath. Successfully balancing both will be critical as Providence looks to rebuild an offense that struggled in so many ways a season ago.

Twitter: Kevin_Farrahar

 

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