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An in-depth look at efficiency and lineups for Virginia Basketball

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How efficient are the Hoos? Which combos are the most efficient? We take a look at ACC play and the last five games for Virginia.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers are clicking at 27-2 (15-2 ACC) and are in the driver’s seat for another No. 1 seed in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments with one regular season game left this season. Even with the success evident in Virginia’s record and the metrics (No. 1 in KenPom, BartTorvik; No. 2 in AP Poll, NET rankings), there’s been a lot of discussion around lineups and player combinations used by Coach Bennett.

So, we decided to take a look at some of those lineups — with the help of Danny Neckel’s statistics prowess — and compare their effectiveness and frequency of use.

In order to examine some of the performances on a more personnel-based level, we collected the number of possessions with each player on and off the court, and then looked at the offensive and defensive points per possession (PPP) in both situations.

For those unfamiliar, 1 PPP is generally the standard on which to base things. If you’re holding an opponent under 1 PPP defensively that’s a good thing. The lower, the better. The opposite, of course, is true for offense. Anything 1 PPP and over is solid, but the higher the better. Per KenPom, Virginia’s best defensive performance was the 0.70 PPP mark the Hoos held Clemson to back in January. Offensively, it’s the 1.45 PPP vs Virginia Tech in the first match up (for comparison, Saturday’s three point barrage was 1.34 PPP).

On the season, Virginia is No. 2 overall in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per KenPom.

ACC Play - Overall

ACC Play PPP

Player Total Poss O Poss D Poss UVA Points Opponent Points O Points Per Possession D Points Per Possession Difference Court Diff
Player Total Poss O Poss D Poss UVA Points Opponent Points O Points Per Possession D Points Per Possession Difference Court Diff
Guy 1770 886 884 1071 820 1.209 0.928 0.281 0.236
No Guy 221 110 111 110 106 1 0.955 0.045
Key 1114 557 557 645 513 1.158 0.921 0.237 -0.041
No Key 877 439 438 536 413 1.221 0.943 0.278
Hunter 1648 828 820 1001 758 1.209 0.924 0.285 0.173
No Hunter 343 168 175 180 168 1.071 0.96 0.111
Diakite 1142 572 570 668 499 1.168 0.875 0.292 0.087
No Diakite 849 424 425 513 427 1.21 1.005 0.205
Huff 530 264 266 353 249 1.337 0.936 0.401 0.199
No Huff 1461 732 729 828 677 1.131 0.929 0.202
Jerome 1602 803 799 964 756 1.2 0.946 0.254 -0.003
No Jerome 389 193 196 217 170 1.124 0.867 0.257
Clark 1194 596 598 692 555 1.161 0.928 0.233 -0.055
No Clark 797 400 397 489 371 1.223 0.935 0.288
Salt 797 400 397 444 385 1.11 0.97 0.14 -0.192
No Salt 1194 596 598 737 541 1.237 0.905 0.332

Unsurprisingly, Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome are the most efficient players with over 1,600 possessions played. All three hit at least the 1.2 PPP mark, the highest on the team save for Jay Huff’s 1.337 in 530 possessions.

As expected, Kihei Clark (1.161 PPP) and Jack Salt (1.11 PPP) have the least efficient offensive numbers, but even those hit the 1 PPP mark. Braxton Key falls between the two at 1.158 PPP. What jumps out is Mamadi Diakite’s 1.168 PPP offensively, which isn’t as efficient as you’d expect from watching his performance in ACC play.

Where Diakite shines, however, is in the defensive category. He’s the only player whose on court presence dips below 0.90 PPP. Much like the offensive categories, no one player causes Virginia’s defensive PPP to jump over that barometer of 1.0. That’s comforting.

Now, let’s look at lineups:

Top Ten Used Lineups - ACC Games

Top Ten Used Lineups Total Poss O Poss D Poss UVA Points Opponent Points O Points Per Possession D Points Per Possession Difference
Top Ten Used Lineups Total Poss O Poss D Poss UVA Points Opponent Points O Points Per Possession D Points Per Possession Difference
Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Diakite - Salt 240 121 119 140 109 1.157 0.916 0.241
Clark - Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Diakite 224 111 113 150 99 1.351 0.876 0.475
Key - Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Diakite 207 103 104 114 97 1.107 0.933 0.174
Clark - Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Salt 168 86 82 95 95 1.105 1.159 -0.054
Key - Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Salt 125 61 64 72 69 1.18 1.078 0.102
Clark - Key - Guy - Hunter - Huff 97 49 48 63 37 1.286 0.771 0.515
Clark - Key - Guy - Jerome - Diakite 90 44 46 47 40 1.068 0.87 0.199
Key - Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Huff 90 47 43 70 45 1.489 1.047 0.443
Clark - Key - Guy - Hunter - Salt 88 43 45 51 42 1.186 0.933 0.253
Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Diakite - Huff 71 36 35 62 22 1.722 0.629 1.094

Over the course of the ACC schedule, Bennett has used the Guy-Jerome-Hunter-Diakite-Salt lineup the most. This is unsurprising as it was the starting lineup for the first eight games of the season until Jerome missed the Miami game with a back injury. Bennett returned to the lineup for the Duke game in Charlottesville, but had to change it up again at North Carolina after Diakite collided with Hunter against the Blue Devils.

Starting honestly is not that big of a deal, as minutes played is a far better indication of balance and lineup use, but Bennett seems to like Salt starting to win the tip off and establish on the defensive end. The “Big Three” all average over 30 minutes per game in conference play, with Clark (23.9), Diakite 22.8), and Key (21.8) all averaging over 20. The eight man rotation is rounded out with Salt (16.1) and Huff (10.9) both in double-digit minutes.

Clark’s minutes may seem high to some, but there are several reasons for his usage in conference play. First and foremost, there are fewer players that bring depth to the point guard position. Jerome is the primary ball-handler, but Clark is clearly the next guy up. Secondly, Bennett is a coach that plays matchups. In three games — the first matchup against Virginia Tech, against Miami, and at Louisville — Clark played 30 minutes or more. All three of those teams feature shorter point guards, and his 37 minutes against Miami happened when Jerome was out with injury.

Beyond that, Bennett likes to run both Jerome and Guy off screens with Clark as another facilitator. That doesn’t mean he’s the only guy that will dish for assists in that situation, but the movement creates a plethora of issues for opposing defenses. Two of the top-three most efficient lineups (when looking at offense AND defense) feature Clark.

The offensive efficiency of lineups featuring both Clark and Salt have been questioned a lot this season, but it’s not a huge drop-off when compared to others (we’ll get to the Jerome-Guy-Hunter-Diakite-Huff monster shortly). When looking at total possessions played by the top-10 lineups in ACC play, the combination of Salt and Clark have been used just 18.3% of the time (256 possessions out of 1400).

Things shift slightly when you look at the five most recent games.

ACC Play - Last 5 Games

ACC Play - Last 5 Games

Player Total Poss O Poss D Poss UVA Points Opponent Points O Points Per Possession D Points Per Possession Difference Court Diff
Player Total Poss O Poss D Poss UVA Points Opponent Points O Points Per Possession D Points Per Possession Difference Court Diff
Guy 494 246 248 318 227 1.293 0.915 0.377 0.248
No Guy 60 31 29 35 29 1.129 1 0.129
Key 255 127 128 140 124 1.102 0.969 0.134 -0.4
No Key 299 150 149 213 132 1.42 0.886 0.534
Hunter 425 215 210 285 185 1.326 0.881 0.445 0.408
No Hunter 129 62 67 68 71 1.097 1.06 0.037
Diakite 380 188 192 242 171 1.287 0.891 0.397 0.149
No Diakite 174 89 85 111 85 1.247 1 0.247
Huff 197 100 97 156 81 1.56 0.835 0.725 0.584
No Huff 357 177 180 197 175 1.113 0.972 0.141
Jerome 462 232 230 298 217 1.284 0.943 0.341 -0.051
No Jerome 92 45 47 55 39 1.222 0.83 0.392
Clark 349 173 176 222 166 1.283 0.943 0.34 -0.028
No Clark 205 104 101 131 90 1.26 0.891 0.369
Salt 144 72 72 76 76 1.056 1.056 0 -0.473
No Salt 410 205 205 277 180 1.351 0.878 0.473

For reference, the last five games include @ Virginia Tech, @ Louisville, vs. Georgia Tech, vs. Pittsburgh, and @ Syracuse.

Here, you can see how lineups have shifted as players (namely Huff and Key) have gotten more integrated into the rotations. Salt’s usage decreased significantly as 82% of his ACC possessions played came in the first 12 games of the season.

Much like the overall ACC numbers, the Big Three are super efficient on offense. Unsurprisingly, the defense gets worse when Hunter and Diakite are on the bench. Keep in mind, however, that these individual numbers are not the end all, be all for assessing performance because no one player performs in a vacuum (that’s where lineups are more useful).

Salt and Key have the most dramatic drop-off in on/off court comparisons, but no one player falls below that 1 PPP mark on offense.

Let’s take a look at lineups:

Top Ten Lineups - Last 5 Games

Top Ten Used Lineups Total Poss O Poss D Poss UVA Points Opponent Points O Points Per Possession D Points Per Possession Difference
Top Ten Used Lineups Total Poss O Poss D Poss UVA Points Opponent Points O Points Per Possession D Points Per Possession Difference
Clark - Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Diakite 90 45 45 64 39 1.422 0.867 0.556
Key - Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Diakite 66 33 33 37 34 1.121 1.03 0.091
Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Diakite - Huff 62 32 30 58 15 1.813 0.5 1.313
Clark - Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Salt 51 25 26 30 32 1.2 1.231 -0.031
Clark - Guy - Jerome - Diakite - Huff 36 18 18 23 15 1.278 0.833 0.444
Clark - Key - Guy - Jerome - Diakite 31 14 17 10 14 0.714 0.824 -0.109
Clark - Key - Guy - Hunter - Salt 23 11 12 14 7 1.273 0.583 0.689
Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Diakite - Salt 22 11 11 10 9 0.909 0.818 0.091
Key - Guy - Jerome - Hunter - Salt 22 11 11 6 12 0.545 1.091 -0.545
Clark - Key - Guy - Hunter - Huff 17 9 8 18 6 2 0.75 1.25

First things first: some of these lineups have been very good. Others, used very infrequently, have been very not great. The top three lineups have been used 39.4% of the time over the last five games, two of the three have been unbelievably efficient.

Clark, Guy, Jerome, Hunter, Diakite have been clicking, but that’s nothing compared to the dramatic difference with Guy, Jerome, Hunter, Diakite, and Huff over the last five games. Granted, those numbers are drastically impacted by the overall efficiency of the outside shooters against Syracuse, where that lineup played a huge chunk of the second half. Lineups featuring Huff and Diakite are possible this late in the season with the improvement of Huff on the defensive end.

The combinations of Clark and Salt over the last five games have registered a 1.2 PPP, but the defensive efficiency is interesting. When Jerome is on the court with the duo, the Hoos gave up a nearly matching 1.23 PPP on defense. With Key in instead of Jerome, that defense holds opponents to 0.583 PPP. And we always say Bennett won’t sacrifice defense for offense...

Takeaways

  • A lot of factors play into lineup usage to include matchups, fouls, rest, injury, and hot hand.
  • Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter are really good.
  • There are going to be more efficient and less efficient lineups, but for the most part, Virginia’s offense is still efficient regardless of who is on the court (especially with the most used lineups).
  • Defensive efficiency numbers are weird and mostly make no sense to me, if we’re being honest.
  • Clark and Salt are very infrequently used together (under 4.8 minutes per game over the last five games), and don’t even make up the least efficient lineups (that goes to Key and Salt).
  • At no time will the most efficient lineup be on the court for the entire game. That’s just not possible and is terrible personnel management.

Overall, Virginia has eight players that all add value. Some, of course, add more than others. However, these numbers show the drop-off in efficiency isn’t as dramatic as the eye may indicate at times, even in the cases where drop-off exists. Lineups that aren’t as good as the most efficient ones are still not terrible.