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Back In Time, Part II

[Previously, I've used tempo-free stats to look back at the 2000-2001 season. This is the second installment.]

There is no better an example of addition by subtraction than the 2001-2002 Wolfpack basketball team. Freed of a poor-shooting, turnover prone frontcourt and bolstered by Anthony Grundy's development into a first team All-ACC caliber player, the team improved vastly and made the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.

The '02 squad's defense made a slight improvement over the prior season, but the real reason for the turnaround was offense. 2002 was a transitory year in the sense that we said goodbye to Inge, Thornton, and Kelley, and, more importantly, said hello to a brand new perimeter-oriented offense that would regrettably become the bane of thousands. Not because it didn't work, but because it was different and because it worked in a way not easily discerned by per game statistics.

I find it unfortunate that we couldn't embrace what we'd become, that we couldn't enjoy our uniqueness. Instead, people saw the new system as an admission of inferiority. A gimmick that we needed because we couldn't hang with Duke and Carolina while employing a more typical system. This assessment is unfair, but then, so were a lot of assessments of the basketball program during those years. We'd gone through an agonizing era of ugly basketball, one full of poor shooting and giveaways. The new system turned those flaws into strengths, made the team fun again, made it watchable again, and went unappreciated for its trouble. If Herb Sendek was offended by the slight, he never showed it.

(I didn't intend to go off on that tangent, but I guess I have some lingering issues.)

Taking a look at how the numbers changed from 2001 to 2002, the characteristics of the POT are all there: a high proportion of threes, a low turnover rate, and a poor offensive rebounding percentage:
 Pace Off_Eff eFG% TO% OR% 3FGA/FGA
2001 72.7 101.6 49.0 22.9 37.7 28.1
2002 69.7 108.3 52.5 19.1 31.0 40.5
Though the frontcourt departures put a major dent in our offensive rebounding, the improvements we made in the shooting and turnover categories were more than enough to offset the loss of a few second chance opportunities. When you employ this sort of system, you do so with the belief that offensive rebounds don't matter when you shoot well and protect the basketball. And that's absolutely true. The Pack improved by nearly 7 points per 100 possessions (defensively we improved by about 2 points/100 poss). Over the course of its existence, this offense would consistently be among the best in the country, peaking at a #3 ranking in 2004.

The 2002 team allocated most of its field goal attempts to more efficient shooters, and that made a huge difference. The teams four most frequent shooters--Grundy, Hodge, Melvin, Miller--were collectively a vast improvement over the four guys who shot most frequently in 2001 (Grundy, Wilkins, Inge, Crawford):
 FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA eFG% 2FG% 3FG% %TmFGA
2001 422-993 86-273 46.8 46.7 31.5 59.5
2002 546-1173 198-517 55.0 53.0 38.3 61.4
Each of the '02 team's big four shot over 50%, with Archie Miller and Marcus Melvin both above 58%. Constrast that with the '01 big four: Grundy (47.7%), Wilkins (44.4%), Inge (48.6%), Crawford (46.7%).

The full 01-02 numbers:
 %Min ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TO% OR% DR% FTR
Cliff Crawford 40.0 91.7 18.2 15.3 44.9 25.5 2.2 12.5 54.7
Ilian Evtimov 54.6 98.9 19.6 19.3 48.8 22.9 6.2 9.8 31.3
Anthony Grundy 81.0 114.3 26.7 29.1 53.8 14.6 5.7 14.9 35.0
Julius Hodge 66.7 108.4 21.1 20.4 50.6 18.3 8.3 13.2 46.2
Marcus Melvin 71.3 115.9 16.8 17.0 59.3 18.6 4.9 18.3 40.7
Archie Miller 71.0 120.7 15.8 17.0 58.0 16.5 0.9 5.2 33.8
Josh Powell 48.7 101.2 20.7 19.4 53.3 23.5 9.9 14.2 40.6
Scooter Sherrill 31.4 117.8 19.1 21.3 53.5 12.7 3.1 7.8 43.0
Cliff Crawford played essentially the same role that he did the year prior with the difference being that his minutes were severely reduced. Although not a major key to our improved efficiency, it was a factor.

As you can tell, this was Anthony Grundy's team--and rightfully so. Grundy took more shots and used more possessions than he did in 2001 and still improved his shooting percentages and his turnover rate. The step forward represented by his numbers was nothing short of huge.

We also saw the solid debut of the Julius Hodge freshman class--both Hodge and Powell became useful contributors immediately. Powell, while still obviously a bit raw, came right in and provided the kind of efficient shooting in the post that Inge, Thornton, and Kelley never could. In Hodge's numbers you see a glimpse of a future offensive leader. This would be the only year he had a usage (%Poss) under 25%.

Scooter Sherrill had a turnaround season shooting the basketball, and Archie Miller did an admirable job handling greater responsibility.

All things considered, it was a rewarding season despite the sour way it ended. I'd never had so much fun watching NC State basketball, and I'm not sure I have since.