Entering tonight’s games, every team in the Atlantic 10 boasts a higher offensive effective field goal percentage in transition opportunities than they net in the halfcourt. That shouldn’t come as a major surprise. Beating the defense down the floor will usually produce better scoring chances as defenders scramble to pick up assignments. Preying on that defensive vulnerability is just one of the reasons, as Zach Lowe addressed last week, some teams at the next level are nearly altogether bailing on offensive rebounding – teams want to avoid precarious transition scenarios.
The standard way to set an opponent on their heels is a good old-fashioned defensive stop. Perhaps the most effective and dynamic method would be a steal – the live-ball turnover being one of the most damaging plays in the game. But, the third defensive action that can shift possession, the block, comes with a little more variance.
When a defender blocks a shot there are essentially three outcomes. The offensive team can recover the rejection and continue on with their possession, or the ball can travel out of bounds whereby the offense retains possession (each of these is credited as an offensive rebound). But better still, if executed well, a block can be recovered in bounds by the defense (a defensive rebound). Like the steal, this version of the live-ball turnover – the block kept in play – immediately initiates a compromised defensive possession for the opponent.
In his The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons described legendary Boston Celtics center, Bill Russell’s unique ability to execute this artful defensive stop.
Russell routinely swallowed up the extended area near the rim, handling all penetrators and displaying a remarkable knack for keeping blocks in play. Whereas Wilt (Chamberlain) famously swatted shots like volleyball spikes for dramatic effect, Russell deflected blocks to teammates for instant fast breaks; not only did those blocks result in four-point swings, but (Red) Auerbach’s Celtics were built on those four-point swings. That’s how they went on scoring spurts…
Through data collected at the website hoop-math.com, we can find out which teams and players in the Atlantic 10 Conference are pulling off this special kind of live-ball turnover.
With 80 rejections, Rhode Island currently leads the conference in total blocks, recovering approximately 46. Dayton is just behind Rhody, collecting approximately 45 of their 72 blocks on the season. The Flyers and Rams are great at protecting the basket, both block roughly 13.0% of their opponents’ two-point shot attempts. Between the two, however, it’s Dayton that really stands out – their 63.4% block recovery rate is not only good for fourth in the A-10, it’s more than 5 percentage points above the national average of 58.0%.
At 65.8%, Richmond ranks 46th nationally in collecting their own blocks, but with a modest 38 total blocks they aren’t exactly intimidating opponents on the defensive end – their 6.1% block rate ranks 301 nationally. What’s worth noting here, though, is that in addition to leading the conference is defensive block recovery percentage, with a 63.8 eFG%, the Spiders are also the most efficient team in transition. When Richmond gathers one of their own blocks and heads the other way, they can feast on susceptible transition defenses.
Although teammates have to be ready to pounce on a swatted ball, the individual shot blocker’s technique is paramount when it comes to making a blocked shot available to recover defensively.
Among the rim protectors in the Atlantic 10 with 20 or more blocks, no one does it better than VCU’s Mo Alie-Cox. The Rams recover 68.2% of his rejections. VCU gets nearly 24.0% of their field goal attempts in transition and Alie-Cox’s ability to keep blocks in bounds helps create those fast break chances.
There is a special group of defenders, however, who are deserving of some special recognition here. Three players in the league have 30 or more blocks – Rhode Island’s Hassan Martin (a favorite around these parts), Dayton freshman sensation Steve McElvene, and Fordham’s do-everything Ryan Rhoomes.
All three are great at what they do.
With an A-10 best 11.2% block rate, McElvene has been a revelation for the Flyers. His defensive prowess has helped lift Dayton from the 278 ranked block rate in 2015, up to the 46th best nationally so far this season. Hassan Martin’s 37 blocks thus far only further his status as the Atlantic 10’s most fearsome shot blocker – 27 of his blocks have come right at the rim.
But Rhoomes gets the gold star here.
Fordham recovers a massive 67.7% of shots blocked by the senior which, in part, helps the Rams to the fourth best transition effective field goal percentage in the league at 59.8% – a clip nearly 7 percentage points higher than their rate in non-transition possessions. Rhoomes’ ability to not only defend a high volume of opponents’ shots, but also to keep many of those blocks in play, represents a huge opportunity for the Rams to attack in transition and spark high-value scoring runs.
As teams increasingly shift priorities to strengthen transition defense, opportunities to take advantage in free-flowing fast break offense may become all the more difficult to generate. Players who are able to help their teams not only defend the rim, but who can do it with guile and craft, help to exploit those compromised transition defense situations that teams are so desperately trying to avoid.