Breaking Down Creighton’s Powerful Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 27th, 2016

As Mo Watson‘s National Player of the Year campaign has gained momentum and Marcus Foster is making the most of his second chance with multiple 20-point outings, Creighton has catapulted up the national rankings. The preseason #22 team sports a flawless 12-0 record with notable drubbings of Wisconsin and NC State on its way to a current top 10 ranking in the national polls. Occasional lapses of defense have generated some concern, but the well-oiled machine that is Greg McDermott‘s offense is keeping the ship very much afloat. Through the first third of the season, the Bluejays rank ninth nationally in offensive efficiency, a measure of effectiveness supported by what might be the most well-balanced scoring unit in the country. For Creighton, its offensive efficiency is the what, but it is the how that makes this team so intriguing.

Creighton is an Offensive Juggernaut (USA Today Images)

Creighton is an Offensive Juggernaut (USA Today Images)

The first component of the how is Creighton’s proficient outside shooting — McDermott’s team connects on a nation-leading 45.5 percent of its long-range shots. What kills opponents, however, has less to do with accuracy than with every player in the core rotation being a legitimate threat from deep. That includes 6’10” Toby Hegner and 7’0″ freshman Justin Patton.

When Creighton runs its spread offense and initiates action from dribble handoffs or pick-and-rolls, help defense is an ambitious endeavor. When defenders choose to double in the post or step in to protect the lane against Watson, someone who can knock down open jumpers is routinely left alone beyond the arc. Conversely, the spacing created from this array of outstanding shooters ultimately allows natural penetrators such as Watson or Foster to attack the rim in advantageous, one-on-one settings.

Watson is an ideal point guard for Creighton’s offense. He isn’t a lethal outside shooter (34% career) nor can he bully defenders with his smallish 175-pound frame, but he moves in the open court as if there is a jet pack strapped to his back, probing defenses for players who are incapable of staying in front of him. He leads the country by a considerable margin in assists at nine per game and his assist rate of 44.0 percent ranks sixth nationally. It’s easy to see why he and McDermott’s offense are a match made in basketball heaven. First, a team composed almost entirely of excellent outside shooters guarantees great spacing and makes it easy to find the open man. Second, Creighton’s uptempo style of play — its average offensive possession is just 13.8 seconds long and over a third (34.6%) of the team’s shots come on the fast break — means Watson can use his exceptional speed to pressure the defense before it has a chance to set. His passing statistics support both points: The senior generates 48.1 percent of his assists on three-pointers and 42.6 percent come in transition. Even after a made basket, as the clip below exhibits, the Bluejays race the ball up the floor.

 

Watson’s facilitation brilliance and Foster’s team-leading 19.1 PPG aside, the team’s most critical development this season has been the unheralded play of redshirt freshman Patton. The seven-footer might be a big man in stature, but his style of play more closely mirrors that of a wing in the midst of developing an array of post moves. Seventy-five percent of Patton’s shots come at the rim — an area where he is becoming increasingly effective — but his true value in the Creighton offense lies in his unique abilities on the perimeter. He hasn’t yet attempted long-range shots at a high rate (4-of-6 3FG), but his ability to shoot presents a daunting defensive task in covering pick-and-pop scenarios. Potentially more intriguing, however, is the seamless way in which he has integrated into the offense. The two clips below illustrate his passing abilities as well as exhibit his general sense of awareness of his teammates’ positioning on the floor.

 

 

Patton may not yet command numerous touches, but his presence draws opposing big men away from the basket and he has shown that he knows how to pick his spots (78.6% eFG). His place alongside countless shooters and a lightning-quick change of pace point guard has given McDermott a dangerously effective offense ready to achieve great things this season.

Justin Kundrat (112 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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