Behind the Numbers: Post Offense and Defense

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 77, Cleveland State 47 -- 1Michigan 88, Central Michigan 73 - #7
Dustin Johnston

Although the quantity of three point attempts has decreased in John Beilein’s offense this season, there’s no secret that his offense leans on perimeter players. The Wolverines lean on four perimeter players – Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III – to do the bulk of the heavy lifting on offense. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary at times feel like after thoughts but are also two of the most important players on the Wolverine roster.

We fired up Synergy Sports and began to break down some film and related statistics to examine Michigan’s big men, their effectiveness on both ends of the floor and the number of post touches they receive.

1. First off, credit needs to be given for what Michigan’s bigs do best: rebound

Morgan and McGary are both dominant rebounders – especially on the defensive end – and are the primary reason that Michigan has been so dramatically improved on the glass this season. Michigan is the best defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten and the second best in the country. Morgan and McGary both have strong rebounding numbers on both ends of the floor and also help to enable someone like Tim Hardaway Jr. to be such a great rebounder by getting bodies on bigger opponents.

Sure McGary isn’t the most effective at converting his second chance opportunities (he often times takes three chances) but both players have made large impacts on the glass. The biggest difference between this team and previous Beilein teams is on the glass: 276th to 83rd in offensive rebounding and 99th to 2nd in defensive rebounding. Morgan and McGary deserve major credit for that improvement.

2. Believe your eyes, Michigan doesn’t throw the ball into the post.

According to statistics from Synergy Sports, just 23 of Michigan’s offensive possessions have ended with a post-up. That’s 1.8% of the Wolverines offensive possessions this season and significantly less than any other Big Ten team.

Illinois (59 poss., 4.2%) and Ohio State (80 poss., 6.4%) are the only conference schools to check in at under 100 post-up possessions while schools like Purdue (146 poss., 11.3%) and Michigan State (131 poss., 10.1%) have probably already thrown the ball in the post more often than the Wolverines will this entire season.

The catch is that no Big Ten team is particularly effective when throwing the ball into the post.

Team % Time Poss Points PPP
Indiana Hoosiers 8.9% 118 110 0.932
Michigan Wolverines 1.8% 23 21 0.913
Wisconsin Badgers 10.5% 124 111 0.895
Ohio State Buckeyes 6.4% 80 71 0.888
Iowa Hawkeyes 8.8% 122 107 0.877
Minnesota Golden Gophers 8.9% 122 105 0.861
Michigan State Spartans 10.1% 131 112 0.855
Purdue Boilermakers 11.3% 146 121 0.829
Nebraska Cornhuskers 9.9% 113 89 0.788
Penn State Nittany Lions 9.7% 118 92 0.780
Northwestern Wildcats 9.8% 119 86 0.723
Illinois Fighting Illini 4.2% 59 35 0.593

Michigan is actually fairly efficient when it does throw the ball in the post but part of that is undoubtedly a product of small sample size. However, no team is scoring over a point per possession on post touches and many teams are well below — making it clear that post offense isn’t the most effective offensive play by any stretch.

Michigan is significantly more efficient in other offensive play types. For example the Wolverines score 1.14 PPP on pick and roll scenarios (including pass outs), 1.20 PPP when passing to a cutting player, and .932 PPP on spot up jumpers (which account for roughly one quarter of Michigan’s offensive possessions). Trey Burke in isolation, Nik Stauskas or Tim Hardaway Jr. coming off of screens or Glenn Robinson III cutting to the basket are just a couple of offensive play types that are significantly more effective than a post-up in the Wolverine offense.

McGary is the more effective back to the basket player with 6 points on 5 possessions (1.2 PPP) compared to Morgan’s 6 points on 9 possessions (.67 PPP). Watching film it’s clear why McGary is more effective: he gets far better position on the block and is often times able to make a post move without dribble. On the other hand, Morgan is much more deliberate and usually needs a couple of dribbles before he’s able to get off his quick hook shot. McGary does a great job of sealing his defender, utilizing his bigger frame, and finishing around the basket in limited opportunities.

3. Jordan Morgan is the more effective defensive player

Individual defensive statistics are precarious at best, especially when considering all of the variables at play. Quantifying team defensive on an individual level would require a thorough understanding of what a team is trying to accomplish on any given possession. As observers outside of the film room, that’s simply impossible. What we do have access to is not nearly as insightful: what happens when a player’s apparent assignment shoots over an individual defender.

Comparing Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary with these data sets is still somewhat illuminating.

On 59 defensive possessions, opponents are scoring .593 PPP with a 32.7 eFG% against Jordan Morgan.

On 57 defensive possessions, opponents are scoring .982 PPP with a 55.6% eFG% against Mitch McGary.

My original hypothesis was that McGary could be penalized for over helping in certain defensive scenarios but watching the film it becomes clear that he simply has given up far more baskets on the block. Morgan is rarely beaten in one on one situations in the post. In fact, the majority of the possessions where Morgan allowed makes were three point makes — often times after botched switches. McGary has given up scores on 12 one-on-one low post situations compared to just six for Morgan.

The following charts show the type of scoring plays allowed (make or foul) versus the number of stops (contested misses) assigned to each player according to Synergy Sports.

Source: Synergy Sports

Morgan stands out as the much better defender at this point. McGary appears to be making some improvement – notably he’s blocked eight shots in the last five games after recording just three blocks in the first 12 games of the season – but Morgan’s experience shines through on the defensive end of the floor.

4. Both players are struggling to finish cuts and rolls

Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary are both most effective scoring in transition or on the offensive glass but they also rely heavily on rolls and cuts to the basket. Roughly 47 percent of Jordan Morgan’s used possessions come off of rolls and cuts while 42% of McGary’s opportunities fall in the same categories. Other than grabbing an offensive rebound, these are the primary ways that either player is able to get involved in the half-court offense. Rolls are self-explanatory while the definition for cuts is a bit looser, in reality the majority of these plays are drop off passes around the basket.

The following chart shows that neither player is particularly effective in either scenario:

Play Types % Time Poss. Points PPP Percentile
Jordan Morgan
Cut 22.1% 21 20 0.952 28%
Roll Man 20.0% 19 18 0.947 48%
Mitch McGary
Cut 29.9% 32 31 0.969 29%
Roll Man 16.8% 18 19 1.056 61%

Morgan’s numbers are down significantly from last season, in which he scored 1.24 PPP on rolls to the basket (81st percentile) and 1.04 PPP on cuts (36th percentile) and his freshman year numbers of 1.26 PPP on rolls and 1.27 PPP on cuts.

Here’s a look at the four Michigan players that have fed the ball to McGary or Morgan the most often this season while either player is cutting or rolling to the basket (with a success ratio in parentheses).


Burke and Hardaway are the primary ball handlers so it makes sense that they have the most feeds. Hardaway does appear to be marginally more effective in getting the bigs the ball in better spots but watching film it’s clear that the majority of the missed opportunities should be blamed on the bigs.

There are not only a lot of misses, there are a lot of bad misses. Morgan and McGary have both missed a handful of dunks and layups that they almost certainly want to have back. It’s fair to guess that steady improvement finishing these type of plays could increase both players productivity fairly significantly without many more opportunities.

5. Conclusion

Michigan’s offense is the most efficient in the country without any post ups. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary are two of the most inefficient offensive players on the Michigan roster – something attributable more to the strengths of their teammates than their personal weaknesses – and it doesn’t make sense to take touches away from Burke, Hardaway, Stauskas and Robinson to feed the ball into the post.

Michigan’s big men do a couple things very well including crashing the glass on both ends of the floor and running the floor hard. If they can continue to do that throughout Big Ten play while steadily increasing their efficiency in rolling and cutting situations – that should be more than enough.

It just doesn’t make that much sense for Michigan to go away from what brought it this far: perimeter offense. There’s a niche for both Morgan and McGary and there’s room for both players to be effective in their own ways. Currently both players are playing right around 20 minutes per game, with Morgan getting a sprinkling of minutes at the four. I would be surprised to see Morgan lose his starting spot anytime soon, given his stronger defensive play.

As for more two post line-ups, I think John Beilein will continue to experiment with them but only slowly. There’s just no need to take Glenn Robinson III off of the floor for long stretches. Michigan doesn’t lose much defensively or on the glass and Robinson is a significantly better offensive player than both Morgan and McGary.

  • gobluemd16

    Another piece with really great insight and deep statistics. Great read, thanks so much

  • geoffclarke

    Nice article. Morgan’s been in the lineup for 3 years and I don’t know if we’ll see him develop post moves here. I’m hopeful McGary can because even though we already have enough offensive options, it can’t hurt having more.

    • rlcBlue

      I think Morgan already has developed post moves – my jaw just about hit the floor when he opened the second half on Sunday by dropping in a left-handed jump hook over Amir Williams – it’s just that his moves would have to be much closer to unstoppable to be a better option than trying to get open shots for his teammates. I love seeing how well Morgan has developed in college.
      The defensive difference between Morgan and McGary is another testament to the coachability of Morgan and the coaching of Alexander. I just hope Bacari stays around long enough to coach up Mitch as well as he’s coached up Jordan.

      • Mattski

        Yeah, I’m a big Morgan fan. I’m always a little taken aback that others don’t appreciate him more; glad Dylan came up with this analysis because it might quiet some doubters. Obviously, McGary has huge upside, and is also really likable, but I just admire Morgan’s hard work and fire. Everyone forgets how much offense he supplied with Darius Morris.

        • Wayman Britt

          Morgan does work hard and is a good rebounder, but he sure does have a tendency to miss bunny jumpers close to the basket.

          • Mattski

            He does, but as ardent fans we magnify these things. He was catching the most flack when he was more a centerpiece of the offense. . . and leading the league in shooting percentage.

      • geoffclarke

        I like so much about Jordan Morgan and think he obviously helps this team in many ways, but I wouldn’t confuse his occasional half hook as a post threat or his post game with DeShawn Sims’, for example. Speaking of that, how well would Sims do now as a 4 in our offense?

        • rlcBlue

          No, I definitely wouldn’t compare Jordan to Peedi. Graham Brown or Chris Young, sure.

  • arsenal926

    As usual the Behind the Number articles are simply the best and most enlightening information you can find about the wolverines on the web. The more I read these I learn to accept that Beilein is a fantastic coach and truly understands what aspects will make this team better and what are relatively unimportant.(I.E wasting possessions with post touches)

  • eddieben

    Good stuff, Dylan. While post-up moves are something that haven’t made hay this season, I would like to see McGary step out and shoot the 10-12 foot jumper. It seems like this is in his arsenal if he can get in the position to take that shot. That said, I’m not sure there’s room for that in the flow of this offense.

    When UM runs with the double post, it’s no wonder why Morgan takes the 4 spot—his defense is what puts him there. However, if McGary slid to the 4 on the offensive side, I wonder if this mid-range game could be brought to light more.

  • jsmith1114

    JB ball has proven incapable of coaching Bigs homers can toat the companyline if they want but the proof is in the pudding.

    • Mattski

      Oh my! I’m toating.

      • rlcBlue

        It’s all Beilein’s fault that Blake McLimans isn’t yummy butterscotch pudding.

    • MGoTweeter

      Hmm I think all you have proven is that you don’t watch basketball. Go watch deshawn sims as a freshman compared to a senior. Or ask Kevin pittsnogle or look at Jordan Morgan’s senior year tape. Beilein develops skills with the best of them. If you want to say he does not utilize the post enough fair, but you sound like a complete jackass saying he does not coach bigs.

  • Kool Breeze

    Dylan, nice piece. To be honest, I am one of those idiots that prefer that Johnny Beehive throw the ball to the post a little more. I don’t advocate this because I want us to become a post team, but only to create more opportunities within the offense that he has established. I am only talking about a handful of touches a game. It gives you another possible offensive option, and if successful, forces defenses to account for it, opening more good looks on the perimeter. When Beehive got here, we were not a pick and roll team either, I would just like to see what it would do for us is all.