Arizona’s Offense Has Saved Its Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 13th, 2017

When Parker Jackson-Cartwright sprained his ankle in a game against Texas Southern on November 30, Arizona head coach Sean Miller must have been worried. His team’s offense, already a concern because of the retirement of Ray Smith and the continued absence of Allonzo Trier, was about to lose its only true point guard. To that point, Jackson-Cartwright had amassed a healthy 37 assists to just 11 turnovers and it stood to reason that, with the Wildcats’ best playmaker hurt and the schedule only getting tougher, an inexperienced offense would struggle to score. Instead, Arizona lost just once in the six games Jackson-Cartwright missed (to unbeaten Gonzaga) and have yet to suffer a defeat since his return. A team that ranks 325th nationally in experience is now quietly 15-2 overall and keeping pace with Oregon and UCLA at the top of the Pac-12. Miller’s defense, of course, deserves a lot of credit. His pack line scheme is one of the stingiest in the country, but that’s true most every year — the man can teach defense. Rather, that Arizona’s offense ranks among the best 30 in the country is the story in Tucson.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s ankle injury spelled doom for Arizona, but the ‘Cats never really missed a beat. (

Arizona’s rotation effectively has one above-average three-point shooter and one above-average passer. It ranks 278th in adjusted tempo and 330th in its share of three-pointers taken within the offense. Yet the Wildcats average roughly 1.14 points per possession to this point (1.11 PPP in conference play), and if Trier can return at nearly 100 percent, they look like the third horse in what appeared to be a two-way battle for conference supremacy. It should be noted that Arizona’s offense has been more mediocre against top 100 opponents, but there are three key reasons why the team has been able to stay afloat offensively.

The all-around brilliance of Lauri Markkanen

It feels ridiculous to think that future top-10 NBA Draft pick Lauri Markkanen might just be the fourth-best freshman in the Pac-12. Bleacher Report did an in-depth breakdown of just how unique the big man’s skill set is, but it is still worth occasionally trying to catch Arizona on television for a firsthand look at a seven-footer who can stagger a defender with a step-back three-pointer. He is easily the team’s most efficient offensive player and the bonus that he hardly ever turns the ball over (9.7 percent turnover rate) is the icing on the cake. It would be reasonable to argue that he single-handedly dragged Arizona past Texas A&M in December, and he logged probably his best game of the season with 22 points and six rebounds in last weekend’s win over Colorado. He has a very real chance of shooting better than 45 percent from three-point range this season (46.5% 3FG) and if he starts getting to the free throw line more regularly, his nearly automatic (84.2% FT) stroke will only fuel his efficiency.

The emergence of Lauri Markkanen gives Arizona a lethal unique weapon. (Getty)

Kadeem Allen… the deep threat?

According to the head coach, “The days of people daring [Kadeem Allen] to shoot are over.” He isn’t over-exaggerating. Allen has already surpassed his total three-point makes of last season (18) halfway through this year, and he has done so on considerably fewer attempts. He’s converting his long-range looks at an extraordinary 50 percent this season — well up from 36 percent a year ago — but his always judicious shot selection has been a real benefit in creating greater space for the offense. He is also shooting better than 80 percent from the free throw line in Pac-12 play, and has the appearance of a much more confident offensive player this season.

Free Throws

During Miller’s tenure at Arizona, the Wildcats have never scored fewer than 20 percent of their points at the free throw line, usually ranking among the national leaders in the category. This season is no different in that regard. Arizona is scoring 23 percent of its points there, but the difference so far this season is that the team is shooting a top-30 national mark of 75.4 percent from the line and nearly 80 percent in conference play. Considering that the Wildcats’ FTA/FGA ratio is already better than 40 percent, it should be obvious to even the non-mathletes among us that the team’s improved success in converting at the foul line has been a huge boon for the offense as well.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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