Does overall offensive and defensive efficiency really mean anything? Is it all a bunch of useless percentages meant for the basketball nerds who slave all day over measurements that never pan out in win-loss records or tournament performance? I thought I’d play with the numbers a bit. I’m not necessarily trying to prove anything earth-shattering, but I do believe stats mean something and can show a team where it is succeeding and where it needs improvement.
In the 2000-2001 season, Duke had a 35-4 record. They were ranked 11th nationally in defensive efficiency and 3rd in offense. They won the ACC Championship and also won the NCAA Championship! Only two years later in 2002-2003, they were ranked 32nd in defense and 21st in offense. They lost 9 more games than the 2000-2001 team, but they still won the ACC Championship and made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA. This makes it appear as if you can fall 15-20 positions in defense and offense, and it has a definite effect but not necessarily in a catastrophic way.
Okay, let’s skip to the 2005-2006 season. Duke was ranked 50th in defense and 3rd in offense. They had a 32-4 record, were ACC Champs and made it to the Sweet 16. The next year, 2006-2007, they were ranked 11th in defense and plummeted to 115th in offense. They lost 10 more games than the 2005 team, they lost in the ACC Tourney and lost to VCU in the NCAA opener. In this case, the huge drop in offensive efficiency appeared to hurt the team in a mind-blowing way.
Then there’s an interesting three-year trend that’s more current. The 209-2010 Duke team was ranked 4th in defense and 7th in offense. They ended with a 35-5 record, won the ACC Championship, and then won the NCAA Championship. The 2010-2011 Duke team was ranked 9th in defense and 9th in offense. They sported a 32-5 record, won the ACC Championship, and then lost to Arizona in the Swee the NCAA Championship. The next year (2011-2012) they had a 27-7 record. Their defensive efficiency bottomed out at 145th and they were 12th in offense. They lost the ACC Tourney and lost to Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA. Again, a significant drop—this time in defense—had a disastrous effect.
Last year, 2012-2013, they improved defensive and offensive efficiency by half to 71st in defense and 6th in offense. Their record was 30-6, they lost the ACC Tourney but perhaps overachieved a little in the NCAA Tournament by making it to the Elite Eight.
What might all this mean in regard to this year’s team? Even if the team improved again only by half (35th in defense, 3rd in offense), that could make a difference in wins and losses and especially in tournament results. There seems to be no question that the team can be ranked in the top five nationally in offensive efficiency. The team is loaded with great shooters. Parker is a scoring machine, and Hood is supposed to be a versatile shooter. Sulaimon and Dawkins can score in bunches, Cook can score well when needed, and Jefferson should be more of an offensive threat. Ojeleye is a great shooter if he wins some minutes. If the team plays unselfishly, all the shooters should get their fair share of points.
Defensive efficiency is more difficult to predict because we have no way of knowing how good the new players are or how much guys have improved defensively in the off-season. The positive news is that this group is very quick and athletic. Plus, Cook is supposed to have taken a significant leap forward in defensive skills. Thornton is known for his tenacious defense. Hairston is an aggressive defender, and Sulaimon is very tough. We’ll see who else shows up big on the defensive end. This is a teachable team so their defense should improve throughout the season.
Does number-crunching help? It can.