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Villanova Advanced Stats: Tahj's Shot Chart

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Continuing their series started here, corollary and youngBUCK trade emails breaking down the shot charts of Villanova's players from the 2013-2014 season.  This edition focuses on departing senior, James Bell.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The court breakdown used to generate colors, for reference.  If it offends your spatial sensibilities....just don't look.

Court

James Tahj (The Liberty) Bell

Tahj

Region

Makes

Attempts

FG%

expected average

1

22

37

59.46%

63.87%

2

19

35

54.29%

63.04%

3

1

9

11.11%

40.78%

4

5

12

41.67%

44.05%

5

1

3

33.33%

28.57%

6

0

3

0.00%

38.89%

7

0

5

0.00%

20.75%

8

1

3

33.33%

40.00%

9

2

4

50.00%

37.25%

10

7

18

38.89%

40.00%

11

9

23

39.13%

37.97%

12

17

56

30.36%

32.81%

13

17

41

41.46%

40.46%

14

24

53

45.28%

38.31%

From: youngBUCK

Subject: James Bell's Shot Chart

To: corollary

The breakdown of James ‘Tahj' Bell will slightly deviate from what we've been doing, since his ‘improvements' will matter more to a team we can't pronounce in a place we can't find on a map than they will to Villanova next year. Instead of looking forward, let's take a look back at his final season, and point out his hot spots and his cold ones.

Main takes from the visual/raw data:

  • The side of the court that Bell attacked from made a significant difference at the rim. From the left side, he went 19/35 for a 54% clip, while from the right side, he went 22/37 for a 59.5 % rate. Worth noting that Bell had his share of fast break lay ups, and I am almost positive he took/made every lay up from the right side. So, taking out those gimmes, the numbers are comparable. Unfortunately, we couldn't scrape the data for his dunk percentage, but it was wayyy too low. Can't miss dunks guys.
  • ...Bell was essentially a three point gunner who needed to gravitate towards the left side of the court.
  • The right side of the court was not kind to him. He made 39% on corner threes, and shot a woeful 30% from the right wing. More importantly, he took 56 threes from the right wing. Clearly, ‘shoot ‘em up' is at times better in theory than it is in practice (although, I'll allow for poor efficiency if we get to hear Jay feign hipness a few times a year).
  • Bell was known to pull up in transition for a straightaway three, and that's perfectly fine with me as long as he's shooting 42% on 41 attempts.
  • The left wing three was his money shot, and you'll be hard pressed to find better efficiency from such a large part of the arc. He went 24/53, which is good for a 45.3% clip, which demolished the expected 38%.
  • Lastly, the left corner was kinder to him than the right, as he made 9/23, or 39% of his attempts.
  • An interesting lesson learned from the visual is just how deep some of his threes were. Apparently no one told Tahj that there is no such thing as a four point shot.

James Bell rode a scoring roller coaster throughout his senior campaign. There is no questioning he made a quantum leap forward in all relevant statistical categories, setting career highs in minutes, field goal percentage, 3 point field goal percentage, free throw percentage, rpg, apg, and apg (29.5, 42.6%, 37%, 82%, 6.1, 1.6, 14.4 respectively). He was thrust into the senior leader post (which seems more like a figurehead position at this point, but I digress) and performed most of the year. I doubt Villanova wins against Iowa and Kansas in the Bahamas, @ Marquette, or Providence without his scoring. I also doubt Villanova loses two of its last three games if he scores more than a combined 29 points. So I guess it's up to us on how we want to judge his final season as a Wildcat. On one hand, he exceeded expectations and provided valuable minutes for a team that shocked pretty much everybody. On the other, his tendency to disappear offensively when we needed him most can't be forgotten either.  It's definitely worth noting again that these charts are only from the Kansas game on, which removes a few of Bell's most explosive scoring outputs. Personally, I think this actually helps the data, as it weeds out a few games that looked more like scrimmages.

Now that the formalities are out of the way, let's get back into the data. His positional shooting chart from three was similar to that of Ryan Arcidiacono, as he was VERY good from one spot (left wing) and VERY bad from another (right wing). Amazingly, despite shooting 30% from the right, he maintained a very respectable 37% overall from three. The interesting point is how much better it could have been. If you take out the high volume, low efficiency shots from the right, he morphs into a perennial three point gunner at 42%. Obviously you can dissect anyone's shooting chart and take out bad data to boost his stats. However, the main purpose of these statistical visualizations is to show/understand player's hot/cold spots, and cater the offensive game plan (if that exists) accordingly.  When a senior is taking the bulk of his shots in spots where he is least efficient, something is very wrong. So here's your proof, Jay & company. The eye test didn't fail us.

Another teaching point from three was his average at best percentages from the corners. I'm starting to think the average fan (I'm looking at you, Jimdribbles) may have selective memory about Bell's percentages from these spots. Throughout the season, everyone was imploring Tahj to take more shots from here, but the stats don't lie. This shot was no more efficient for Bell/the team than simply continuing to swing the ball. What is most remarkable is that someone with such flawed shooting form, who put so little rotation on the ball, managed to shoot 37% from three (sorry, had to do it).

I already covered the possible reasons for Bell's shooting discrepancies when shooting on each side of the rim, beyond being right-handed. All season long we clamored for Bell to penetrate more, and while he showed flashes of greatness doing so, more often than not he forced a leaner that rimmed out. I'm not sure what it is about the rim that scared James (likely mental), but he definitely underutilized his bursts of quickness to penetrate and finish.

More evidence of the one-dimensional nature of Bell's offensive game is the shortage of two pointers away from the rim. This is not a skill he has in his repertoire, and I'm not mad that he didn't force two point shots. It's just worth mentioning that Bell was essentially a three point gunner who needed to gravitate towards the left side of the court. Uncharted territory (pun quota met).

I'm sure you'll delve deeper into the intrinsic value of Bell, but I'll give him his due as well. The most vital basketball skills that Bell flashed do not show up on shot charts. His largest contributions, in my opinion, were being a glue player that did many of the things that Villanova didn't do well, well. His work on the offensive and defensive glass, his opportune steals, his (at times) lock down defense, and his level-head made him a good pulse for the team. These are not things that show up in shot chart visualizations, and his value is much more than selected shooting percentages.

That being said, his shot selection was undoubtedly poor at times. He has a bipolar shooting chart from three, and didn't do much inside the arc. I firmly believe that if Jay had better positioned Tahj in the half court and ran plays for him in his hot spot (left wing) instead of his neutral spot (straightaway), his stats would jumped even more. No matter what, Bell came ready to play this year, and Villanova simply doesn't win as many games as they did without him. Moreover, his chart provides further evidence for how desperately JW needs to increase output where his players are efficient, and decrease output where they are not. Blindly rolling the ball out and taking shots in areas you are inefficient from in makes no sense. Clean it up, and points per possession will spike.

Breakdown, ten words or less: avoid the right wing, gravitate towards the left. Good luck.

From: corollary

Subject: Bell's Shot Chart

To: youngBUCK

Players

Minutes

eFG %

TO %

OR %

FTR

O Rtg

D Rtg

Differential

James Bell

857.02

56.86%

17.89%

33.44%

40.84%

1.16

0.93

0.23

Darrun Hilliard

838.35

55.40%

17.92%

30.70%

41.34%

1.12

0.91

0.22

Josh Hart

623.37

54.31%

15.72%

33.61%

48.05%

1.16

0.94

0.21

Daniel Ochefu

617.85

56.37%

17.44%

33.04%

37.99%

1.14

0.93

0.21

Kris Jenkins

363.58

55.74%

15.74%

34.21%

47.13%

1.18

0.98

0.20

JayVaughn Pinkston

780.48

52.85%

17.23%

32.37%

44.48%

1.12

0.93

0.19

Ryan Arcidiacono

902.42

54.04%

17.33%

32.13%

42.78%

1.12

0.93

0.19

Tony Chennault

462.47

54.98%

17.99%

31.38%

46.60%

1.13

0.95

0.17

Dylan Ennis

441.62

51.21%

16.18%

32.58%

48.79%

1.11

0.97

0.15

Forget about the shot charts (for now;  we'll be back) - this one right here helps show why Tahj was my pick for team MVP for two thirds of the year, and honestly remains my selection for the year-long honor.  The team just played better with him.  All the little things you mentioned:   rebounding (lineups including him rebounded 33.44% of the team's misses, 3rd best overall and best starter on the team), defense (tied for 2nd lowest lineup D Rtg on the team), and just overall two-way basketball (highest point differential - +0.23 points per possession) are represented in that little chart.   Why even mention the eFG% (56.86%, highest on team) or 3 point shooting (39.41%, 2nd best on team) those same lineups sporting Bell logged?  Don't worry - I've got plenty of reasons to.

One of the biggest mistakes you (really, most Villanova fans, but you're who I've got to play off, here) can make in assessing Bell's ‘failures' this season is projecting your own disappointments over who he was as a player.  This is a guy who spent his junior season as the only decent 3 point shooter on a truly awful shooting team, played the defensive specialist who typically drew the other team's toughest cover, and supplied excellent rebounding for his position.  Yet most of what could be heard after the year (and  in the buildup to his breakout senior campaign) was a chorus of lamentation for his tendency to ‘disappear' for portions of games, lack of a killer instinct, ‘not good enough' handle,  and what could have been if he didn't have rods in both his legs.

When he started off the year so well, predictably, he heard his share of appreciation - he'd finally learned how to take over, what a senior leader, blah blah blah.  Just as expectedly, when his shot deserted him later in the year, he caught a heaping of blame for the team's late season hiccups.  ‘Same old Tahj, man, just disappearing when it mattered.'

Never mind that, in the course of a career year, he basically addressed every shortcoming attributed to him.  Doesn't take over enough games?  He scored more than 15 points in 17 of 34 games this year, and hit 14 in two more, while singlehandedly influencing a number of important games (in a 29 win season) with key , timely shots.  Can't get to the basket?  He took almost twice as many shots at the rim this year than he did last, and improved his overall percentage of shots taken at the rim.  Additionally, he continued his superb rebounding, piling up the counting stats and contributing to the team's offensive rebounding percentage in a big way (when you look at the deeper stats), as well as continuing to take (well, at least combine with Hilliard) the other team's best offensive player.  He literally submitted one of the finest two-way seasons for Villanova basketball in recent memory, but the memories most casual fans walked away with were colored with disappointment over the way this (and his) season ended, and ‘what could have been' had he been healthy for the duration of his career.

It just shows how fickle support can be, and how a ‘Disease of More' can afflict fan bases, even over the course of a single season.  Tahj flashed a game that was leaps and bounds ahead of anything he had shown in his first 3 years here, playing at a level that was likely (and ended up being) well above anything he could sustain over a full season, while leading the team to an entirely unexpected elite record.   But the fans had seen it, and it became the ‘norm' expected of him as the season wore on - and when he couldn't match it, he caught the same old tired criticism.  Too often, the focus seems to be on the pieces of a player's game that are missing, rather than what's there.  No, Tajh didn't have and never developed the handle to be an elite dribble-drive guy, but elite (or even good) skills in that area are incredibly rare for a college player at his size and position, and he still managed to develop them in a big way this year.  No, Bell didn't quite step up to the plate in the last few games of the year, but he had been FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE YEAR for a team predicted by so, so many to finish in the middle of the road in the BE, but ended up contending for a #1 seed.  I'm not trying to play down the end of the season, where legacies / epitaphs are written for the year (and it would have been real nice if Tahj had shown up for those games - he didn't (quite)), but at some point the expectations far outpaced the reality of the player Bell was.

I feel this was/is a common problem, especially for a Villanova team last year that truly did not have a star - or star-caliber player.  Villanova's success was built on a bunch of role players - all with flaws - playing hard, typically smart basketball TOGETHER.  None of them - with the possible exception of Hilliard (as we've alluded to, though, he doesn't have the mindset) had the tools to consistently take over a game.  Sure, maybe it's something they could need to be better, but pretending a 3 and D specialist with a developing-but-still-not-great handle should be taking over these games, when it's beyond his skillset - and outside the character of the team - just takes away from a great season we should be appreciating rather than bemoaning.  James Bell was a catch and shoot specialist with a half-decent ability to drive and some solid defensive skills, and he performed that role to an incredibly high level this past season.  The fact he wasn't, and didn't play like, a superstar should not take away from how well he performed his job for the team this year.  Only attaching expectations you honestly never should have had can do that.

Bell's my MVP of a Villanova basketball season I will appreciate  for at least as long as I remember the stink of the 3-4 seasons preceding it.  It's something we needed, and here's hoping the culture Bell helped build and instill helps the program continue towards more real postseason success.