UConn’s Offensive Issues and How Rodney Purvis is the Only Cure

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 29th, 2015

UConn do-it-all guard Ryan Boatright looks like he might run away with AAC Player of the Year honors this season, but when it comes to determining whether the Huskies will make the NCAA Tournament, it will ultimately be the play of running mate Rodney Purvis who makes the biggest difference. Let there be no debate that Boatright is the best and most important player on the team, but the senior isn’t the offensive player Shabazz Napier was and he doesn’t have a running mate as good as he was as Napier’s complement last season. Rather, Boatright is a skilled but flawed offensive player who cannot shoulder the burden by himself, as evidenced by the team’s overall ugly offensive efficiency numbers. And after getting a chance to watch the Huskies play in a road loss to Stanford last week followed by a win over UCF and a man-handling of South Florida last weekend, it is clear that Purvis is the player most capable of lending Boatright a hand.

Rodney Purvis' Offense Is UConn's Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

Rodney Purvis’ Offense Is UConn’s Key To Returning To The NCAA Tournament.

His performance this season has in many ways been a microcosm for what has plagued UConn all season long, though — consistency. The NC State transfer has only scored 10 or more points in back-to-back games once this season (against Columbia and Central Connecticut State), and even within the flow of games, Purvis can frustratingly flit in and out of focus. At times last week against the Cardinal, Purvis looked unstoppable. He bullied his way to the basket whenever he felt like it; he made a few contested jumpers over smaller defenders look easy; and despite making just one of his five free throws, his aggression helped teammates get open looks. When the final horn sounded, he had logged 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and the rest of the Huskies had managed just 45 more points in their second straight loss. The team’s offensive funk reached its low point during the second half, and Purvis was seemingly content to fade into the background as Boatright forced floaters in the lane and Amida Brimah tried his luck in the post. Purvis has UConn’s best combination of size and athleticism on the court, and Stanford had absolutely nobody who could effectively guard him. And yet he was a veritable ghost in the second half. He followed up the disappointing Stanford performance with an ugly eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in an equally ugly win over UCF after that, and then looked like a man reborn last Sunday against South Florida as he went for 17 points, including 8-of-12 from the charity stripe and abused whichever poor player drew the unlucky assignment of guarding him.

It should be clear to even casual college basketball fans that the Huskies have the pieces to be very good this seaon. Boatright is arguably the best player in the conference; Purvis and freshman Daniel Hamilton have NBA athleticism and potential; Brimah is a future NBA player himself and one of the best defensive big men in the country. In a watered-down post-Louisville AAC, this should be a recipe for domination. Instead, the Huskies are 11-7 overall and already two games behind Tulsa in the conference standings loss column with exactly zero impressive wins. The offense is the issue for this team, and Purvis, who many expected to become a breakout star and Boatright’s partner in crime, has been as much a part of the problem as a part of the solution. He is unquestionably the team’s most gifted offensive player — at 6’4″ and a solid 205 pounds, he is big enough to bully most opposing guards into the paint, and way too fast for ambitious forwards who try their luck at checking him on the perimeter. He is a tough finisher at the rim and, although he isn’t a gifted shooter, he is hitting better than 35 percent from downtown and commands some respect from distance. His game weaknesses are that he is an atrocious free throw shooter (54%) and an embarrassingly bad rebounder for a player with his physical gifts. He also hasn’t  quite figured out his role on this team just yet and, as a result, his offensive contributions have waxed and waned.

Hoop-Math shows what you might expect from Purvis. Although he is shooting better than 60 percent on his shots at the rim (more than double his field goal percentage on two-point and three-point jumpers), he takes only 28.8 percent of his shots there. This number represents exactly the same percentage of two-point jumpers he takes and pales in comparison to his threes, which account for an alarming 42.4 percent of his shots on the season. Not all of this is his fault, though. Without Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey’s excellent perimieter shooting, the Huskies are a shell of the three-point shooting team they were last season, causing opponents to clog the lane to prevent drives at the rim from athletes like Purvis and Hamilton. The fact of the matter is that he is too big and too strong (and not nearly a good enough shooter) to be so passive, though. Kevin Ollie‘s strategy has been to bring Purvis off the bench as an instant energy offensive spark, and at least in small sample sizes, Ollie is pleased with the results. His minutes haven’t been cut and he is learning to be more assertive offensively by looking to attack the basket more often. On the surface, it all seems so easy to suggest. If Purvis plays more aggressively, the team’s offense will improve to a level more in tune with its already excellent defense, and the Huskies will start winning again. But if he remains inconsistent and keeps hanging around the three-point circle for the final six weeks of the regular season, the defending champs could be on the outside looking in come March. It’s a lot to put on a single player, but Purvis is the key to UConn going from good to great.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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