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St. John’s early-season takeaways III: the offense & patience

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Some decent performances, but some poor shooting from a team that finds enough to win.

LoVett takes a tough shot
Wendell Cruz

By the end of the Advocare Invitational Tournament, it was understood that the St. John’s defense was carrying the team. Still, the offense, which has had its struggles, is finding ways to put points on the board, even as shots are sometimes a struggle.

A closer look at what’s been going on with what was expected to be a smooth-shooting squad for the Red Storm.

Note, of course, that this is a team with a talented starting five.

But this is also a team that has three star guards playing 84% or more of the team’s minutes (upwards of 33 minutes per game), forwards who struggle with foul trouble and sometimes, this is a team with a tendency to attack perhaps TOO hard.

Offense, by the numbers

(from KenPom.com)

Against Division I opponents, St. John’s has shot 37% outside the arc (119th in the country), 42% inside the arc (317th in the country) and 80% from the free throw line (14th best in the nation); Chris Mullin’s squad has turned the ball over on 17% of possessions (77th nationally). That adds up to an effective FG% of 47% (266th in the country).

Last year’s team finished the season with an effective FG% of 50%.

Which is to say that the Johnnies are scoring the ball a bit worse than last year, and not just because of the Central Florida muckfest. The team is putting up points, however, because they are crashing the offensive glass well, grabbing 32% of their misses.

But for a team built for fast breaks, perhaps there have been fewer easy scores than the team was hoping for. Some of the passing and ball-sharing have been sub-par, an aspect of the attack that the team will need to work on (which we will discuss shortly).

There are unexpected performances: Shamorie Ponds shooting 21% outside the arc; Marvin Clark and Justin Simon shooting 46% and 43% inside the arc, respectively; Tariq Owens shooting 37% inside the arc; Marcus LoVett only assisting on 12% of his teammates’ made shots.

Wendell Cruz

But there are other unexpected performances: shooting 78% from the free throw line; Ponds drawing over six fouls per 40 minutes; Justin Simon undefeated from beyond the three-point line at 5/5. Marcus LoVett is shooting 39% outside the arc, baiting opponents into fouls, and handling well in traffic.

And Ponds has been a multifaceted scoring weapon despite his missing shot - handing out assists like a high-level PG, finding his way to the line when the shot isn’t falling, and playing 30+ minutes of aggressive ball per night to set the tone.

There is good offensive talent, still learning how to play with one another.

Three offensive notes

Patience? St. John’s believes in their concepts - attacking, transition play, moving quickly to draw fouls. But the team has fallen victim to attacking against a number of set defenders, waiting to corral the shot attempt. Shamorie Ponds and Bashir Ahmed are noted by the fans as culprits, but Marcus LoVett’s trigger finger is hasty, as well.

Justin Simon struggled in the final two Advocare games with nine turnovers - making passing decisions while in the air and looking for bailouts after penetrating too deeply.

Playing too hard? Not sharing enough? Or just a lull?

Zone Offense: St. John’s beat UCF on Sunday, but St. John’s largely struggled with the Knight’s 2-3 zone. St. John’s also only shot 8 free-throws, they first time they were held in single-digit free throws this season.

At times, the eagerness to get a bucket was overshadowed by good ball movement and player movement. Earlier versions of Chris Mullin’s teams - for example, the two teams that defeated Syracuse - moved the ball well against zone defenses.

Perhaps Bryan Trimble Jr., whose first two games were solid, can become a player who helps break zones. Better shooting from Shamorie Ponds - which should come, since he was a far better shooter as a freshman - will help.

Interior scoring: Marvin Clark II can provide some post-up play to get interior scoring going. But other than his play, the team’s ability to score from pick-and-rolls or any other half court sets to get shots at the rim has been quite limited.