Scott Drew Correct in Comments to DeCourcy, Critics are WrongPosted by dnspewak on January 9th, 2012
It’s hard not to like Scott Drew on a personal level. Responsible for perhaps the most remarkable rebuilding job in college basketball history, the young, vibrant head coach at Baylor has transformed a scandal-ridden program into a Big 12 powerhouse since taking over in Waco in 2003.
In interviews, Drew speaks with a friendly, non-threatening tone. He hails from a famous basketball family as the son of Homer Drew and the brother of Bryce Drew, and he speaks openly about his faith as the face of a small, Baptist university. On the basketball court, Drew has shattered any previous notion of lowly Baylor basketball by recruiting elite talent to the school, resulting in two NCAA Tournaments, an Elite Eight appearance and, these days, a top-five ranking and a shot at a Big 12 title. He’s a nice man with a nice story. That’s the American Dream.
So why do so many people still criticize Scott Drew?
As Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News explains, his doubters hate him for a lot of reasons. Among them, you’ll hear that his teams play undisciplined and unstructured offensively. They’ll say he’s not a basketball coach, but instead an amasser of talent who recruits as many McDonald’s All-Americans and NBA Draft picks as possible without any regard for team basketball. Other Big 12 coaches have called him out for negative recruiting, and every so often, somebody will accuse Drew of cheating — without any evidence, of course.
Much of this criticism stems from jealousy. Baylor is a private school with a tiny student body compared to the rest of the Big 12, and non-traditional basketball powers are not supposed to lure elite prospects like Drew has. The Bears disrupt the status quo, and that doesn’t always sit well with college basketball blue-bloods. Drew has not built a perfect basketball program, though, and jealousy cannot explain why his teams have plummeted to below-.500 finishes in Big 12 play during two of the past four seasons. In 2008-09, for example, Drew’s team followed up the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years by winning just five league games, despite having a roster almost identical in makeup to the prior year. Then, after BU made the Elite Eight in 2010, the Bears fell from their top-20 position in the November polls last year to miss the postseason entirely.
With this recent track record of collapses, it’s not unfair to keep a watchful eye on the Bears. Perhaps all of the NBA talent on this roster will suddenly lose focus and cohesion in Drew’s unstructured offense, leading to another lower-half finish in the Big 12. However, Drew disagrees with the perception that his teams rely on pure talent instead of team ball. His teams are unorthodox in that they play a more NBA-centric game, and Drew won’t run many sets or implement the swing offense any time soon. Instead, as DeCourcy writes, “the principle thrust of Drew’s offensive approach is to take advantage of mismatches, as is the case in the NBA.” Call it “playground” if you like, but Drew recruits superior athletes and scorers and isolates them in a half-court setting. When his teams are losing, Drew’s offense is sometimes the first target of attack, but the coach defends the freedom he grants his players on the offensive end.
“When people think of ‘freedom,’ they think of Lace Dunn taking wild shots,” Drew said. “But you go back and look at the numbers: We’ve been first and second in offensive field goal percentage in the Big 12 over the past two years. If we were taking bad shots, that wouldn’t be the case.
“Do we take bad shots? It comes down to the numbers.”
Meaning: The numbers say otherwise.
Drew said the Bears’ problem last year, when despite optimistic predictions they finished 18-13 and missed the NCAA Tournament, was an excess of turnovers – 15.7 per game. Jackson has added a feral quality to the offense with his 3.7 per game, and the team still is averaging 15 in that category. But the Bears accumulated 122 more turnovers last year than assists; this year, their assist and turnover totals are almost identical.
Drew’s analysis is spot on. He has built teams with terrific forwards and has fed them the ball for high-percentage shots, and his players are not just a bunch of volume shooters. Like he said, the turnovers, lack of assists and overall unsteady guard play a year ago contributed to most of Baylor’s problems — not field goal percentage. Thus, as the guard play has improved this year with the addition of Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip and even Gary Franklin, Baylor is subsequently undefeated and rolling toward a potential Big 12 championship. A.J. Walton has played well at the point, too, and overall this backcourt is a lot more productive than the 2010-11 version. Baylor may still rank in the bottom third of Division I basketball in turnovers, but assists are way up (14.8 APG) and it is playing more like a unit this season.
In 2009-10, Baylor made the Elite Eight while averaging 14.1 assists per game. Last year, that number fell to 11.8. Assists mean that players are sharing the ball. Assists mean players are not worried about getting their points — they’re worried about winning. And most importantly, the assist totals mean that Drew’s philosophy of offensive freedom can absolutely work at this level as long as he recruits great guards. Drew has never had an issue finding long, talented wings and forwards with NBA potential. But somebody has to get the ball to players like Perry Jones, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and the rest of the crew. Jackson, Heslip, Walton and Franklin are doing that in 2011-12, and Tweety Carter did that in 2009-10.
Bob Knight may never praise Scott Drew’s offense, and he’ll continue to hear the “streetball” and “undisciplined” labels thrown at his teams. But if Drew successfully recruits distributing, playmaking points guards, he can also continue to recruit high school All-Americans and let them play an offensive style predicated on a more one-on-one, NBA approach. As the numbers point out, the problems have never stemmed from Drew’s NBA hopefuls jacking up bad shots in an effort to increase scoring totals and impress scouts. It’s always come down to guard play, but that issue has been corrected to some extent this season. As long as the guards do not regress, do not expect these Bears to crash and burn in 2012.