Is Dominic Artis’ Return the Source Of Oregon’s Woes?Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 23rd, 2014
Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) is a national columnist for Rush The Court.
The most painful moment of Oregon’s four-game losing streak was prescient. Trailing Stanford 82-80 with just four seconds left earlier this month, the Ducks’ Dominic Artis grabbed a rebound from a missed free throw and streaked down the garishly painted Matthew Knight Arena court. Driving left, Artis leaned back to his right and attempted a finger-roll layup, but it bounced off the rim as time expired, and the Ducks fell by two points, their two-game hiccup turning into a four-game problem. After an undefeated 13-0 start to its season and attaining a top-10 ranking in the Associated Press poll, Oregon has had the wheels fall right off its proverbial cart, plummeting from national view in the span of about two weeks. Much of the blame has been directed at the Ducks’ interior defense, but another factor plays into their poor Pac-12 play: the return of Artis, the sophomore point guard who missed the first nine games of the season for selling team apparel online.
The Oakland, California, native, had a strong start to his freshman campaign last season, tallying an offensive rating above 120 in seven of the 19 games he started and played before missing a month of the season with a foot injury. But since that injury, Artis’ offense has been missing in action. He only had one game (out of nine) in the rest of 2013 in which he played more than half of the minutes with offensive ratings above average, and this season has been no better, with only three above-average performances out of eight games played (including just one in Oregon’s four consecutive losses). Put more succinctly: Artis has had a total of three games in which he scored in double-figures in 17 games since returning from injury last season; he had 14 in the 19 prior to getting hurt.
Artis’ return from suspension threw a monkey wrench into an Oregon backcourt rotation that was playing like one of the best in the country. Before Artis came back, onetime backup Johnathan Loyd and junior transfer Joseph Young both ranked among the top 15 in offensive rating for players using more than 20 percent of team possessions. And off the bench, sharpshooting senior transfer Jason Calliste was among the top 50 in offensive rating for players using more than 16 percent of team possessions. Combined with the lanky, athletic sophomore Damyean Dotson, who does a lot of things well offensively despite being a middling perimeter shooter, the Ducks had four viable scoring options to play in three perimeter positions, with undersized Mike Moser and a host of mediocre bigs playing in the frontcourt.
The nearly 20 minutes per game Artis (97.0 offensive rating) is playing and not contributing well offensively is coming at the expense of his more effective teammates. Young (133.0 OR) has gone from nearly 32 minutes per game to 28.5 as a result. Loyd (123.0 OR) has gone from more than 28 minutes per game to 25 MPG. Calliste (130.0 OR) has gone from 27 minutes per game to 24 MPG. Even Dotson (110.0 OR) has gone from more than 25 minutes per game to 24.5 MPG. And this is with Oregon’s schedule getting increasingly difficult as conference play started — it only has played one cupcake game in its last eight, against Morgan State – which would mean that the team’s most effective players should be getting more playing time, not less. As Oregon’s team effective field goal percentage has tumbled from first in the nation to 17th, its margin for error has gotten much smaller. A team whose glaring inefficiency – interior defense and defensive rebounding – was once compensated for by stellar, team-oriented offensive play now faces a stagnant offense, and a stagnating season.
In this situation, I don’t envy Oregon coach Dana Altman’s position in the least. His team has lost four straight games, his offense has bogged down, and he can’t simply park Artis on the bench for the rest of the year. Loyd and Calliste, Altman’s other two players capable of playing point guard, both run out of eligibility at the end of the season. Curtailing the sophomore’s playing time this season could lead to acrimony, or even a transfer, which would leave the program in a pinch for the next two years. There are not many freshmen who come into a major conference and effectively start from day one at point guard. Losing that status, then losing playing time as a sophomore couldn’t be anything but deflating. But to turn his team’s losing skid around, Altman should give more playing time to Loyd and Calliste – who’ve combined for seven games below a 100 offensive rating out of 38 – and less to Artis, who has five games below 100 out of eight.
(Author’s note: All unattributed season efficiency numbers, playing time and other statistics are from KenPom.com.)