Show Me My Basketball Opponent: Kentucky (I)

WHAT THEY BRING (offensively)

5,000 foot view: Mediocre shooting team getting tons of OREBs and FTs

AKA, a better version of the same team you saw last year. That team ended up being “bereft” (I guess) of high-end talent, but they had athletic dudes that got to the rim, got fouled a lot, and got tons of rebounds. This team shoots it a tiny bit more from three but is almost exactly as efficient as they were last year. The shooters you need to know, in order of made threes this year, are Tyler Herro (40 of 113, 35.4%):

Keldon Johnson (33 of 81, 40.7%):

P.J. Washington (22 of 51, 43.1%):

Immanuel Quickley (19 of 60, 31.7%):

Of the four, Herro and Quickley can create their own shot off the dribble from deep, while Johnson and Washington are almost exclusively catch-and-shoot guys. Inside the arc, however, Johnson can create his own shots better than anyone in the starting lineup. Washington has the highest eFG% on the team, but more than half of his 66 rim makes are assisted, as well as 21 of his 22 threes. It’s (mostly) about the passing.

Speaking of passing, Kentucky’s at their best when creating from inside the arc. This isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s seen them play, but if you’re inexperienced here, just 30.2% of their shots come from three – the 337th-highest rate nationally. The three guys with the most attempts on the team take 66% of their shots inside the arc. Kentucky’s point guard, Ashton Hagans, is 5 of 26 from three on the season. You are allowed to be very mad if he hits one. Anyway, I think it’s notable that PJ Washington gets a decent number of assists for a big man. He uses 24% of Kentucky’s possessions, and his passouts from the post have been consistently good:

Likewise, most possessions involving Washington as of late have ended very well. He’s slowly figuring out the roll half of the pick-and-roll to some success:

Kentucky ranks 10th in the SEC in terms of P&R usage, but they may up it for this game considering Tennessee’s on-and-off P&R struggles. Something to watch, maybe.

Cal’s slowest* offensive team since 38-0, but they do get out in transition

They’re not Virginia slow, of course, but it’s a bit of a drop in pace from the last two seasons. The Malik Monk Kentucky team played the fastest tempo of Cal’s career at 15.3 seconds per possession; this one goes 17.6 per, good for #191 nationally. Considering its best player is a 6’8″ power forward that’s not fast, it makes sense. That said, the ‘Kats transition offense ranks in the 95th-percentile nationally when they do run it because of guys like Tyler Herro.

Kentucky, like most teams, is very impressive when getting to the basket after a steal (69.3% eFG%), but they’re also good at getting straight to the rack in any transition scenario: 44.7% of their transition attempts come at the rim versus 31.2% in half-court. Immanuel Quickley (pun not intended) demonstrates:

Make it a half-court game

This is ideal for several reasons. Kentucky’s half-court offense ranks in the 65th-percentile on Synergy – not bad, but certainly not elite. (Tennessee’s is in the 99th and #1 amongst Big Six teams.) They turn it over on 2.4% more possessions than in transition, ranking T-152nd nationally in half-court TO%. (Transition: T-88th.) Most notably to me, they don’t attack the rim nearly as well. As mentioned above, only 31.2% of their half-court attempts are at the rim, while 40.5% of attempts are non-rim two-pointers. Kentucky, as a team, shoots 36.1% on non-rim twos. Give me this:

And definitely give me a little bit of this:

If Kentucky beats you because they shot 55% or something on mid-range jumpers, it is what it is. Considering they’ve done this once in 12 games in 2019, it’s pretty unlikely, so I think you’re willing to take this risk. The other plus of keeping them off the rim is that you commit fewer fouls. Kentucky gets fouled 61% more in transition than they do in half-court, per Synergy. We’ll see if it plays out, but a mid-60s possession game seems ideal; last year’s win in Rupp went 64 possessions and the home win 67.

They’re an OREB machine

I mean, you’ve watched Kentucky play basketball in the last 10 years, right? No Kentucky team has finished outside of the top 100 in OREB% under Calipari, and all but four have finished in the top 20. Not since the Doron Lamb days could they reasonably be called a consistent shooting threat (I’ll allow the Jamal Murray team, too), but they’ve always been great at rebounding the ones that don’t go in. This year’s team currently ranks #3 nationally in OREB%, with the caveat that precisely one opponent on the entire schedule ranks higher than #68 in DREB%. (Tennessee ranks 259th!) Both starting bigs are excellent rebounders, with PJ Washington getting 3+ offensive boards in eight of the last ten games:

Reid Travis getting 5+ offensive boards in three of the last six:

And top 10 recruit EJ Montgomery being a per-minute monster.

Montgomery plays just 14 minutes a game, but he averages 5.43 offensive boards per 40, which is highest among the team’s rotation by a significant margin. I find him particularly scary, considering Tennessee’s troubles in defending their own glass at times. Kyle Alexander and Grant Williams will have to be at their absolute best at boxing out in this game.

Also a FT machine

Here’s the full list of teams in the 2018-19 season that rank in the top 25 in both OREB% and Free Throw Rate:

  • Kentucky

And that’s the list! (LSU comes closest at 13th/33rd.) Kentucky essentially gets 0.41 free throw attempts for every field goal attempt they take, which is scary high. They’re also very good at hitting them (74.6%, 53rd-best), so giving them lots of free throws is a bad idea. The bad news for late-game situations is that, barring EJ Montgomery (61.9%) having to play, there’s no exploitable shooter. All six main members of the Kentucky late-game rotation hit 69.6% or more of their free throws, with Herro hitting 91.8% and Quickley 81.5%. If you have to foul someone late, it would be Washington, who has the 69.6% mark…which still translates to 1.396 PPP. Not ideal.

Washington draws over five fouls per 40 minutes:

And Keldon Johnson 4.7:

You already saw a Reid Travis and-one earlier; he draws five per 40. While none are excellent shooters (all in roughly the 70-74% range), none are guys you’re happy to foul. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tennessee run a zone for a decent portion of this game, not least because Kentucky’s not a great mid-range/3PT team and because they need to refrain from fouling.

They’ll turn it over some, so take advantage

Overall, Kentucky commits turnovers on about 18.5% of possessions (158th nationally). They clearly commit more in half-court than in transition. So…how about some actual perimeter pressure from Tennessee’s guards for once? Kentucky PG Ashton Hagans, a freshman, commits turnovers on 27.6% of his possessions and has committed 3+ turnovers in 8 of his 17 starts. Tennessee should hound him from the start and make him look like a freshman.

Others prone to cough-ups: Reid Travis (20.1% TO% in SEC play), EJ Montgomery (18.7% season-long), Tyler Herro (17.7% SEC play).


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