Data dive: Yogi Ferrell’s heavy offensive workload

IUUM0039

Note: Only stats for games where the opponent is currently in the RPI top 150 are included in this post.

There is no doubt that Indiana’s season thus far has been chaotic and unpredictable, marred by some bad losses but boosted by some great wins. And while predicting how the team will perform on a given night might seem a bit like flipping a coin, there has been one unwavering presence: Yogi Ferrell.

The absolutely tremendous year Yogi is having has been somewhat lost in the fray of a tumultuous season. IU hasn’t had a scorer like Yogi since Eric Gordon was in Bloomington for his only season as a Hoosier. Still, Gordon was a shooting guard who had other teammates directing the offense and looking to open things up for him, while Yogi is not only the leading scorer but also the team’s primary facilitator.

There is an inherent paradox that arises when a team’s leading assist man is also its leading scorer: When to score and when to assist?

It has been clear for some time that Yogi has to score for this Hoosier squad to be competitive, simply because there aren’t many others that are ready to shoulder a significant scoring load. Some of the other backcourt candidates — Troy Williams, Evan Gordon and Stan Robinson — have all been too inconsistent to be heavily relied on. Even so, many debates have raged this season about whether Yogi is doing too much shooting and not enough facilitating.

First, it is interesting to put some context around Yogi’s season in terms of offensive responsibilities. No team in the Big Ten requires more from a single player than Indiana requires of Yogi Ferrell and the numbers are there to back it up.

Using play-by-play data, assists and points can be combined to form a metric that measures how many points a player is responsible for. This metric is defined as [(points) + (assist points)/2] (e.g. a player scores 10 points and assists his teammates on six points, to give 13 points total). This measure is used below to determine what percentage of the team’s points a player is responsible for:

Chart1ab

It is no surprise that Yogi is first in the conference in terms of combined scoring/assist responsibilities. Yogi is also fifth in assist percentage of team’s total and second in points percentage of team’s total. This chart also reveals the perils of relying so heavily on a single player as the only players over 30 percent play on teams that struggle offensively.

What’s even more impressive about Yogi’s scoring is that most of his made field goals are unassisted. It holds true that the higher percentage of unassisted baskets a player makes, the worse his field goal percentage is. The chart below shows this trend for some of the league’s top scorers:

Chart2ab

Of the ten players in the Big Ten that have the highest percentage of unassisted shots, Yogi Ferrell is second in effective field goal percentage. The percent of made field goals assisted is shown in parentheses:

Chart3ab

Essentially, this reveals just how good Yogi has been at creating his own shots while still getting quality looks at the basket.

It is evident that Yogi shoulders an enormous load on the offensive end for the Hoosiers this year, but many have criticized how that load is distributed between points and assists. Several college basketball analysts this year have said that “as Yogi goes, so go the Hoosiers,” but the data is not conclusive (though Alex did show that Yogi’s two point percentage is significantly lower in Indiana’s losses). In other words, Yogi consistently delivers on offense, but what makes the difference between a win and a loss for Indiana is typically whether the rest of the team can supply enough additional offense.

Looking at various statistics in the team’s wins versus its losses this season, Yogi’s performance is very steady. There is no significant difference in Yogi’s shot quantity, overall shooting percentage, scoring, or percentage of the team’s total points between wins and losses. This evidence doesn’t support the theory that Indiana’s offense plays better when Yogi is shooting or scoring less. The only measurable difference in terms of Yogi’s performance is that his assists per 40 minutes are higher in Indiana’s wins than in its losses.

In Indiana’s wins versus RPI top 150 teams this year, Yogi is averaging 4.6 assists per 40 minutes, but only 3.4 in the Hoosiers’ losses. It is important to be careful before drawing any conclusions here, because there is always more to the story. The important question to be answered is if Indiana is playing better because Yogi is assisting more, or if Yogi is assisting more because Indiana is playing better.

For example, if Yogi consistently sets his teammates up with great passes, but they simply miss their shots, he will still have poor assist numbers. It turns out that Yogi’s assist numbers are closely correlated with the rest of team’s shooting percentage.

Chart4ab

This seems to imply that Yogi is getting more assists simply because his teammates are making a higher percentage of their shots. As a result, the Hoosiers tend to win the games where Yogi’s assist numbers are higher.

Having seen the numbers, there is no overwhelming evidence that Yogi needs to adjust his scoring/assist balance for the benefit of the offense. It is always important to take only what the defense is giving and adjust the game plan accordingly, but when this Indiana squad needs a bucket Yogi will always be option number one.

There is truly no simple answer to the score versus assist dilemma for Yogi Ferrell, because so much depends on the defensive game plan of the opponent. As the team’s floor general and primary offensive threat, Yogi faces a challenge unlike that of any other Big Ten player. Indiana needs Ferrell to score, to pass, and to lead, but ultimately the team really needs the other players to step up.

Two very good wins against Iowa and Ohio State have come with impressive performances from Indiana’s supporting cast, especially in the absence of Noah Vonleh for the Ohio State game. Though a tournament berth is out of reach barring a run through the Big Ten tournament, if the rest of the team continues to supplement Ferrell’s consistency with some of their own, the team has the chance to pick up some good wins to close out the year. Regardless, in this chaotic season it is important not to overlook what a player Yogi Ferrell has become.

  • Gregory Spera

    “No team in the Big Ten requires more from a single player than Indiana requires of Yogi Ferrell…”

    ^This. (And I would say, in the country.) Yogi has been THE MAN all season.

  • Indiana_Banners

    Yogi has been phenomenal. I did not think he would be this good this fast. Next year is going to be huge for him because he’ll actually be OPEN sometimes.

  • Alford Bailey

    I’m a big proponent of everyone having an opinion and I respect most all of them. But the one thing that irks me to no end is when people pound on Yogi when he has a bad game. This kid coulda went about anywhere to play ball and IU is extremely lucky to have him.This article says it all. Think this season is bad, imagine it without Yogi. He gives a 1000% every night without fail. When Yogi’s 4 years are up he will be talked about as one of the all-time great point guards at IU.

  • Indiana_Banners

    I have been pretty unhappy with all the folks railing on Yogi this year. He has been great in pretty much all facets of the game… defense… offense… special teams(joking).

    People have criticized his passing, but his assist totals haven’t ballooned because we don’t have shooters not because he isn’t passing. Against Nebraska there were so many times he got the ball to a player that was open behind the arc, only to have that player put the ball down and dribble into the defense. This has been the biggest culprit in our assist totals this year. The offense has been spaced well. Yogi has found open players… they just can’t or more often WON’T shoot. That will change next year as Stanford, Troy, and even Hollowell get more comfortable shooting the college 3. And when Blackmon and Johnson are two of the guys catching the ball out there and cutting loose.

    I think Yogi could easily average 6 or 7 assists next year with slightly better shooting. He is much better at finding his teammates than he was as a freshman, and that’s why his assists haven’t gone down…

  • Andy

    I couldn’t agree more. Yogi has done everything that could possibly be asked, both on the court and assuming a leadership role. He is simply not well cast as a volume shooter and will benefit greatly from adding a guy like Blackmon, who can light it up from the perimeter. Win or lose I will always be a huge Yogi fan.

  • Andy

    Yogi Ferrell is the ultimate competitor and the ultimate team player. Most of the time I find myself hoping he will hoist 22 foot jump shots because honestly they have a better chance of going in than most of our looks on offense. He has improved his defense as the season has gone on and will continue to develop. We love you Yogi!!!

  • HoosierGrampy

    The presence of a couple “fairly decent” ballers named Ted Kitchell, Randy Whitman, Ray Tolbert, Landon Turner, and Jim Thomas helped IT develop into 1 of the best PGs to ever play the game. Perhaps Yogi can figure out a way to get Vonleh involved in every half-court offensive set, because it’s become plainly apparent in recent games that CTC either cannot or will not come up with such a scheme. Maybe a collection of DVDs featuring AZ, UK, FL or MSU would allow him to see how other coaches get their bigs involved–BY DESIGN.

  • SCHoosier

    Think how much better Yogi’s numbers would have been had he not had to fire up a bunch of junk 3′s in about four games where IU needed a big margin closed in the waning minutes of those losses. IU was last in the league in some TO statistics…how did Yogi fair with that category? My guess is it improved as the year went along..even with the “Flying Walendas””.

  • fourputtsforsnowman

    While I hope YF improves, I could not disagree more with the analysis both in terms of its conclusions and the “spirit of the game.” The combined shots/assist analysis shows a range of about 33 to 27 across the 10 players. It probably isn’t a statistically significant difference. And if not, then you can’t conclude that YF has more scoring/assist responsibilities than other players. Just not supported unless statistically significant. Clearly the differences across the players are small.

    Further in the analysis the author states “What’s even more impressive about Yogi’s scoring is that most of his made field goals are unassisted.” Excuse me, this is exactly what losses games…having an individual who demands the ball for himself, and then shoots. An opposing team would enjoy playing a team that shoots unassisted. What I’m saying is that this observation can be interpreted as a weakness, not a strength in YF’s game.

    My take is this: YF has a lot to learn about playing point guard. He has raw individual ability but is a terrible team player. Consider defense: This website has shown still shots of him directing others on defense while he has his back to the ball and the play. It happens all the time. He certainly isn’t a “lock down” defender and one on one many opposing point guards seem to score and make their plays. He’s just passive. Against PSU on the last play he didn’t even keep himself between the PSU guard (with the ball) and the rim. Could you run an analysis of how well opposing guards play when guarded by YF?

    On offense he holds the ball and stays in one place. EZ to guard. Its NV who works and works and works to get open (only to not receive a pass). By the time others have the ball he’s either in the way (standing too close to make a move, never sets a pick, or the shot clock is winding down. IU has responded by moving YF to the corner without the ball and bringing NV to the foul line or key to get the ball and create his own advantage. Essentially WS has done the same these last few games. It is working. If I were NV I’d turn pro…he’s working too hard without much point guard assist help. I’ve wondered where IU would be this year if they still had hulls.

  • msquaredb

    I can’t heap enough praise on ITH for producing these types of articles. Excellent! My only gripe is that I’d like to see some R^2 values for those trend lines.

  • Seth

    “Statistical significance” refers to the likelihood that two or more different sample subsets from the same larger population are different in mean or variation. Since the first graphic is comparing different players entirely, statistical significance doesn’t really apply. And I most definitely did not mean to imply that Yogi is significantly above the rest of that group, just that he is number one in the entire conference.

    As for the unassisted shots, I did not at all mean, nor did I say, that this was a great thing. It is “impressive” because unassisted shots are harder to make, per the regression chart. That Yogi shoots the second best effective fg percentage in that group, means he is doing a good job of creating his own shot. Ideally, every shot from every player in every game would be assisted – they’re higher percentage shots.

    The main point, really is that Yogi faces a unique challenge. He has to score a lot yet still lead the team in assists. This is not a great shooting team, and you can see that his assists go up when the team does shoot well. When Yogi has more offensive weapons, we will look to see him have more assists and less scoring. But this year, he is doing a pretty good job. Not perfect, but still very good.

  • fourputtsforsnowman

    Ok, ok…minor difference of opinion. And I think we agree looking forward: We both look for YF to play smarter (when he has more offensive weapons). That may mean more assists and less points but it may mean YF scores more points because they are easy points (if IU can credibly spread the floor). I don’t rate his play this year as “very good”. I rate it as average. I didn’t see anything statistically to say he’s above average and watching the games I certainly don’t see much “very good” play. I saw lots of inconsistent play (some good, some bad) that overall nets to average. But it doesn’t really matter does it? …because he is capable of very good play…absolutely. He seems like a reasonable young man who just needs to learn. And I think losing this year will motivate him as well as his teammates. Should be fun to watch next year.

  • ManovSteelo

    I like the reasoning, but given the use of the 3-pt shot in today’s game in particular, Yogi is no Isiah. Zeke was a career 53% shooter in his two seasons with no threes, while playing just as many minutes as Yogi per game (34); Yogi’s shooting a poor 42% from the field on twos alone and almost shoots the same from 3 — with lesser assist numbers. Granted, the teammates are much worse on this year’s Hoosier squad than in ’81, but Yogi is primarily a jump shooter who is much improved but still too streaky to not let off-nights ruin his production offensively in the scoring column. In Year 3, he needs to learn how to finish contested layups and / or make his runners and floaters, not jack as many threes, and learn how to draw more fouls off penetration. That was the game of Isiah at IU and in the pros, and though Yogi is not nearly as talented a player, he can still finish his four years as a legend and maybe even be a pretty good.

    BIG POY in my book, though; too bad he was killed by weak teammates and a surprisingly poor in-conference record. Hope Blackmon Jr. is an elite upgrade to Eron Gordon, ’cause Yogi deserves a talented running-mate in the worst way.

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