The NumbersU. Dayton BasketballLet it Fly: The Dayton Flyers and the 3-Point Line

Stat Matt digs into the numbers behind Gem City's deep ball shooting
Matt Rhein2 months ago49 min

As we all glow in the post-coital reflection of Dayton’s 2-1 trip to Maui and the expected, if not direct, beat down of Houston Baptist, it seems an opportune time to look at how the Dayton Flyers are performing at the three point line on both offense and defense. Before heading to Hawaii, Flyer fans had concerns about the Gem City’s performance from deep on both sides of the ball. With the famous “soft rims of Maui,” the Flyers capitalized on some hot shooting from downtown while not letting their Power 6 conference opponents blow them away from behind the arc. Is the improved shooting and tighter perimeter defense something Anthony Grant and dem boyz can sustain? The answers live within the numbers, friends. Let’s dive in.

In their first three games, Dayton was shooting 33.3% from the 3-point line. This is only slightly above the nation-wide division 1 average from three at 33% and was only good for an even 1 point-per-possession on 3-point attempts. In addition, 42% of Dayton’s field goals had come from behind the three-point line, a lot of shots for an average return. The Flyers were still able to score an average of nearly 90 points in these three games thanks to the near layup line Obi Toppin and company had going to the basket against the tomato can opposition. Flyer fans feared opposition in Maui would provide stiffer resistance in the paint (HA, YOU FOOLS!) and the reliance on the 3-pointer from a mediocre shooting Dayton could be an issue.

Dayton & Opponents 3 Point Shooting Percentage as the season has progressed.

Of course, the Pacific Ocean and those soft as butter rims in Maui (in a gym comparable to the cafenasium at VCU) treated the Flyers well. In the three games in Maui, Dayton shot 44% from beyond the 3-point line which is good for an arousal inducing 1.32 points-per-possession. This raised Dayton’s 3-point shooting percentage to 38.9% for the season, which is 35th among all Division 1 teams and earns UD 1.17 points-per-possession on 3-point attempts. These are the type of numbers that indicate Dayton can be a threat when shooting from deep.

Most of my allegiances in sports, including Dayton, have conditioned me to be pessimistic. My interest in analytics in sports has only furthered this pessimism, teaching me to expect untimely regression when above average performances appear, so my gut reaction is not to expect the hot shooting from distance to continue.

We have previously covered how key contributors Ryan Mikesell and Jalen Crutcher are rather mediocre 3-point shooters and have shot near their career averages thus far early in the season. Rodney Chatman shot 32% from three in his two years at Chattanooga, but so far this season is shooting 43.3%. Can we expect that same production from a player who is besting his average shooting percentage from three by 11%? Probably not, though perhaps it is an area that Chatman improved on in his transfer year (and after his performances in Maui, I am definitely willing to be persuaded that Chatman ate, slept, and took all his classes last year in the Donoher Center while getting up shots and doing bench presses). Yet, there are also metrics that suggest Dayton could see a consistent uptick in 3-point shooting this season.

As if constantly turning every Dayton opponent into his own personal Washington Generals, it seems Obi Toppin might also be a pretty good 3-point shooter. Last season, Toppin shot 52% from behind the line, but only took 21  three point shots all season, a sample size not large enough to make concrete judgments on his deep shooting ability. This season, Toppin is shooting 42.9% so far from the 3-point line and has already taken as many attempts from three as he did all of last season.

Teams have been terrified of letting Obi beat them off the dribble to yam on them, giving him space to get off his shot and he has taken advantage of it. Now if Toppin can continue to hit nearly 43% of his three-point attempts and average 1.29 points-per-possession on those shots, then he will be the Top 10 NBA pick Jay Bilas frequently and loudly proclaimed him to be. Furthermore, I suspect if he continues to shoot at least three attempts per game from deep, he will certainly see a dip in his completion percentage. Yet his jump shot looks good (though I don’t claim to be any type of “shot doctor”) and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Obi won’t continue to be at least an above-average 3-point shooter going forward.

Not only does Obi seem to have a chance to be someone that can shoot the three at a above-average rate, teams double teaming the star sophomore can create good, open, shots for his teammates. We saw numerous instances where Virginia Tech and Kansas double-teamed Toppin when he had the ball down low, but he was able to find a teammate for an open shot. On catch and shoot opportunities for the Flyers this season, 61% of those shots are “unguarded” or open. This is up compared to last season, which saw 58% of catch and shoot shots for Dayton be open.

This season on three-point attempts that Obi assisted on, Dayton is shooting 55% and averaging 2.56 points-per-possession. Compare this to last season and we see an improvement on the 37.7% of shots made and 2.47 points-per-possession on three-point attempts Toppin assisted on. If teams continue to lock in on Obi when Dayton has the ball, his teammates will continue to have open shots. Now they just have to convert them.

While the Flyers three-point shooting metrics improved on their trip to Maui, the same cannot be said for the three-point shooting percentage they concede. While everything seemed rosy for UD on their return to the mainland, Dayton’s opponents had shot 38.1% from deep which is just 309th in the country. Dayton’s tomato can opponents’ before Maui alarmingly shot no lower than 40% from three in those games, while only Georgia shot below the D1 team three-point average against Dayton at 25% (with Virginia Tech and Kansas at 38.1% and 36.4% respectively). Worrying numbers for Dayton’s perimeter defense so far. Yet could there be hope?

Three-point defense has been a frequent topic for Ken Pomeroy. Most recently on The Athletic, he used a recent Kentucky team to illustrate the randomness that three-point defense is subjected to. In short, KenPom finds that defenses have little influence on whether or not a shot will go in after it is taken. However, you learn more about a team’s defensive skill looking at the two-point FG rate for opponents, and if a team is able to prevent teams from taking threes at all.

First the bad news, Dayton’s two-point field goal rate isn’t much better than the same metric for threes. Currently, teams were scoring on 49% of 2-point field goal attempts against Dayton after Maui, ranking 185th in Division 1. The encouraging news is examining how many three attempts the Flyers give up. Only 30% of the field goal attempts taken by Dayton’s opponents have come from behind the arc. This is a vast improvement on last year, where 39% of field goal attempts against UD were from the three-point line. Michael Scott once famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and Dayton has done a solid job preventing their opponents from getting shots off from behind the three-point line. The percentage of threes that go in against UD will vary and hopefully regress, but if they continue to prevent them you would accordingly see the Flyer’s defensive metrics improve.

As another big game for the Flyers approaches against St. Mary’s, Dayton’s apparent improved shooting from three-point range, and their ability to defend from that area, will quickly be put to the test. The Gael’s are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country and are notably aggressive on defense. The sample size to assess Dayton’s play in all areas has been clearly small so far, but we will likely learn more about where this Dayton team stands after Sunday’s game.

Matt Rhein

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