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Thursday, February 03, 2005
 
Picking Up The Pieces
This Saturday's game against Michigan State will be Iowa's first without leading scorer Pierre Pierce, and his absence will certainly be felt. When a guy averaging 17.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.2 apg, and 2.5 spg isn't playing, you tend to notice. Can Iowa fill that void? Sean Keeler briefly considered the idea without reaching a conclusion in yesterday's Des Moines Register.

Pierce used 30% of Iowa's possessions in Big Ten play, which is the most of any Big Ten player, so he obviously had a major impact on the team's offense. Will his production be replaceable? Let's examine some numbers from Pierce and his former teammates' seven conference games.

Player..........................MPG......Floor%.......Off Rtg..........%Poss
Pierre Pierce...............38.4.........0.450................94..............30.2%
Jeff Horner..................37.7.........0.461...............110..............17.0%
Greg Brunner..............35.0........0.532...............110..............23.0%
Adam Haluska.............26.0........0.436...............102..............20.1%
Erek Hansen................19.0........0.396.................84.............10.2%
Doug Thomas..............18.0.......0.548...............110..............15.8%
Mike Henderson...........11.9........0.271................56..............11.3%
Carlton Reed................12.4.......0.418..............101..............15.3%
Alex Thompson..............6.1.......0.543...............115.............10.0%
Seth Gorney...................6.0.......0.267.................58................5.8%

Floor percentage is a measure of how many of a player's possessions are scoring possessions.
Offensive rating measures how many points a player produces per 100 individual possessions.
Percent of possessions how many of a team's possessions a player uses while he is in the game.
See the Hawkeye Hoops Stats Glossary for details.

Some context - average offensive rating for the Big Ten games played through last weekend is 105. Field percentage is about 49-50%. Iowa is scoring 102 and allowing 99 points per 100 possessions in Big Ten play.

The first thing that jumps out at me is Pierce's inefficiency. The team's offensive "leader" produced points at a rate (94) less than what the defense allowed (99). His adjFG% of 52% is barely better than the conference average of 51%. Add on his league-leading 5.4 TO/g, and it becomes clear that Pierce's value is due to quantity, not quality. Averaging 18 ppg is not a great achievement if it takes you as many possessions as Pierce uses.

Given the number of players Iowa has who are more efficient at scoring than Pierce, Iowa's offense shouldn't suffer a major drop-off without him. Those players will probably become less efficient as they fill their new larger roles, but I strongly doubt they'll drop to Pierce's level.

The next topic to consider is where the offense will come from. There will be plenty of possessions to spread around, given that Pierce used 30% when he played, and he played over 38 mpg. Take a look at the former starting five with their possessions used -

Player...............%Poss..........Off Rtg
Pierce....................30.................94
Brunner.................23...............110
Haluska.................20...............102
Horner...................17...............110
Hansen..................10................84
Weighted Average..................101

Now let's look at the same table for one possible starting lineup for this Saturday (I used Thomas and Reed because they've been getting more minutes than Hansen and Henderson).

Player...............%Poss..........Off Rtg
Brunner..................23...............110
Haluska..................20...............102
Horner....................17...............110
Thomas..................15...............110
Reed.......................15...............101
Total.......................90

If you weight each of those 5 offensive ratings(i.e., .23 x 110 + .20 x 102, etc), that offense would have an offensive rating of 96, with only 90% of the possessions used. That means that Iowa would only need to score 50 pts/100 poss on the last 10% of poss to match it's current 102 offensive rating (96 + 0.1 x 60 = 102). Of course, this is the optimal offensive lineup, and these five players won't play all the minutes. But I think it's clear that these five should play the most minutes if Iowa wants to maximize its scoring.

The last lineup leaves 10% of the team's possessions to be accounted for when it takes the floor. You could assume that each player will pick up 1/5 of the poss, or an additional 2% of the team total. That would give you -

Player............%Poss
Brunner...............25
Haluska...............22
Horner.................19
Thomas..............17
Reed...................17

I'm a little concerned by some of those numbers. I looked through most of this season's games, noting players' %poss and their corresponding off rtg for each game. For example, against Indiana, Haluska used 23% of team possessions when he played, and finished with an off rtg of 83. Unfortunately, that's not atypical. In all games where Haluska used over 22% of possessions, his off rtg dipped below 100. Which basically means that he's effective when someone can create an open three for him, but loses his effectiveness when he tries to get his own shots. Brunner's numbers make me think he should still be able to score pretty efficiently. Horner, of course, has been maddeningly inconsistent, but I'm as comfortable with him taking more shots as I am with anyone else. It's been a long time since he took over a game, but at least he's shown he can do it against quality teams. Reed played 15 minutes in each of the last two games, and played a bigger role in them than in any previous conference game. As expected, his efficiency dropped.

Carlton Reed.............%Poss..........Off Rtg
Indiana...........................18....................83
N'western......................19....................97

It's a small sample size, but those are the only two games he's used many possessions. Those two games aren't outstanding, but as far as scoring is concerned, he's a better option than Mike Henderson. Henderson's TO/poss rate is actually worse than Pierce's, and that's no easy accomplishment.

Conclusion
Pierre Pierce was clearly the focal point of Iowa's offense through its first seven conference games. Since he scored in such an inefficient fashion, his absence in the offense probably won't be the crisis some are making it out to be. The team going forward will be more balanced and made up of more efficient scorers, so they should be able to pick up the slack from the fallen star.

Comments:
BillH from http://www.benched42.net/blog/

I say good riddance. I don't think he should have had the second chance he was gifted. If he were a typical student at UI, he would not have been able to plea bargain nor would he have been allowed to come back to be a member of the student body.

I just hope his won't ruin our recruiting; all opponents recruiters will need to do mention "the Pierce incident" to cast doubt in the minds of mothers and fathers of athletes being recruited.
 
A lot of people agree with you Bill, and I think that's why Alford felt that he had no choice in this matter. He didn't want to challenge the entire community again over the same player.

As far as the recruiting goes, I'm sure there are plenty of Iowa fans who would offer a simple solution - replace the guy who does the recruiting.
 
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