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Arizona basketball: Using advanced stats to evaluate the Wildcats roster

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are about ready to host two of the better teams in the conference this weekend, including the conference-leading Oregon Ducks. For that reason, I've felt it's as good of time as ever to take an in-depth look at this Arizona team.

Here's what the stats have to say about the Wildcats:

Kaleb Tarczewski is playing the best basketball of his career

Despite an ankle injury that limited him in the preseason, and a foot injury that forced him to miss eight games, Kaleb Tarczewski has put together a terrific senior campaign. Since coming back from injury, he's averaging 12.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

He's noticeably been an improved player this season compared to years past, and the stats back it up.

His offensive and defensive rebounding percentages are at an all-time high (13.2% and 25.4%, respectively). His turnover percentage, something that has been an issue in the past, has dropped each year and he's now sitting at a career-best 13.0%. Meanwhile, his true-shooting percentage -- which incorporates two-pointers, three-pointers, and free throws -- is also at the best mark of his career. What does all of this get you? A player efficiency rating (PER) of 23.2 -- again, easily the best in his career (not to mention that his PER since returning from injury is 28.2!).

And it's not just individually where he's thriving. He makes Arizona a much better team. Tarczewski has an offensive rating of 138.7 and a defensive rating of 101.4, which gives him an impressive net-rating of +37.3.

I've been critical of Tarczewski in the past -- it doesn't help that I love Dusan Ristic's game -- but it'd be foolish to overlook the strides he's made this season.

Mark Tollefsen is the team's most versatile player

Before the season started, Mark Tollefsen told me that he planned to bring versatility to the Wildcats' roster this year, and that's exactly what he has done. Defensively, Tollefsen can guard the three and the four, but offensively is where he's so valuable.

Tollefsen struggled with his shot early in the season, but he has scorched the nets since, and is currently shooting 40.8% from behind the arc this season. Only Gabe York, who is at 43.5%, has shot better than that.

Inside the arc, Tollefsen leads the team in 2PT%. He's made 63.2% of his field goal attempts inside the three-point line. How is that number so high? Well, he's second on the team -- behind Ryan Anderson -- in putbacks (18), and 33.3% of his made baskets are of that variety, per Another ridiculous stat? He's shooting 81.8% at the rim.

Tollefsen's ability to score both inside and outside makes him the most efficient scorer the team has, as he boasts a team-high true-shooting percentage of 65.1% and the best offensive rating (135.1). He's also such an ideal role player because he doesn't need the ball in his hands to produce. He has the lowest usage rate (14.9%) of any rotation player.

That being said, the one area where he could improve is at the free throw line. It's not that he doesn't make them, in fact he shoots a team-best 83.3% from the line, it's that he has the second-lowest free throw rate -- the number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt -- on the team (25.6%).

Guard play is a major issue

Okay, here is where most of Arizona's issues are -- the guards. With Allonzo Trier out, the Wildcats' crop of backcourt players isn't awe-inspiring.

Regardless, here's a few tidbits about each one of them:

Allonzo Trier: Trier is an offensive juggernaut. He's second on the team in true-shooting percentage (64.0%), and his finishing ability is impeccable. He has converted a whopping 73.9% of his field goal attempts at the rim so far this season. Trier is also second on the team in free throw attempts per game, and he was hitting a solid 78.2% of them. His perimeter game hasn't been up to par with his slashing ability, but it was rapidly improving before his injury. His current 3PT% isn't great (35.5%), but he did make 6-of-16 (37.5%) in the three Pac-12 games before his injury. All in all, he's a dominant offensive player, and there's a reason why Trier has the highest usage rate (23.5%) on the team. You want the ball in his hands. Period.

The downside to Trier is that, while he is a dominant offensive player, he doesn't make that much of an impact on the stat sheet elsewhere. His defensive rebounding percentage isn't too bad (13.0%), but his offensive rebounding percentage is one of the lowest I've ever seen: 0.9%. He also commits nearly two turnovers for every assist, but honestly, you can live with that because of how effective he is as a scorer.

Defensively, he has the second-worst defensive rating (98.1) and the lowest steal percentage (0.9%). He wasn't sharp on that end at the start of the season, but Sean Miller noted his improvement since, and that's initially why he saw his minutes increase. All in all, Trier is the best guard on the team and the team will improve when he gets back.

Kadeem Allen: Allen has been Arizona's best guard aside from Trier. He has been the team's best perimeter defender, and numbers support that as has the best defensive rating on the team (90.8), plus he also leads the team in blocks (19) and steals (27).

Admittedly, his scoring ability hasn't be as good as it was advertised, as he's averaging just 9.0 points per game, but that's largely due to him having to play point guard and distribute the ball. What is concerning is that he hasn't distributed it as well since Pac-12 play started. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.82, which isn't bad, but it was up above 3.0 near the beginning of the season.

At the same time, however, his scoring numbers in Pac-12 play are up, so perhaps this is just a case where he's reverting to the player he's more comfortable being -- a scoring guard. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially since Trier's absence means someone has to score in his place. It will be interesting to see if his assist numbers rise when Trier is back.

Gabe York: York is a polarizing player, and that may seem odd because he's shooting nearly 44% from three and is averaging 13.9 points per game. But the reason that some aren't huge fans of his is that he really doesn't make the team a whole lot better. York's net-rating is +14, the third-worst among rotation players.

He may shoot well from deep, but he doesn't excel at much else. He struggles to finish at the rim -- as his team-worst 55.8 FG% at the rim indicates -- he has more turnovers than assists, he doesn't make an impact on the glass (6.4% TRB%), and it results in him having a PER of just 15.7 -- only Justin Simon and Parker Jackson-Cartwright are worse than that.

Of course, we know he has issues defensively too. He tends to struggle to get through screens, and frankly, he's just not a great man-to-man defender. And it shows. The team's defensive rating is 93.8, but York's is 98.0 -- only Parker-Jackson Cartwright and Allonzo Trier are worse in that regard.

Still, York's value as a shooter for this team can't be understated either. Like it or not, he's Arizona's go-to scorer and, to his credit, he has been consistent all season.

Justin Simon: I like what I've seen from Simon in his short time on the court, but he's also a very limited player right now on the offensive end. He has the worst offensive rating on the team (96.6), and that can likely be attributed to the fact that he's a non-shooter. Not only does that make him a one-dimensional player, but it packs the paint for the rest of the team. The effect was similar when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was on the team, but Rondae was more advanced as a slasher, plus he could also play the four and was capable of knocking down a mid-range jumper. Simon hasn't shown the ability to hit a mid-range jumper, and he's not able to play the four.

The bright side is Simon's defense. He can guard three positions and his length is what really stands out, plus his lateral quickness is solid. He has the second-best defensive rating on the team (92.0), and it's not that surprising as I've felt he's an upgrade defensively over York, PJC, and Trier.

If only he was able to contribute more offensively.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright: Yikes. It's safe to say Parker has not been good this season. Take a look at this.

He has regressed in almost every area of the game, plus he has the worst defensive rating on the team, the worst net-rating (+2.2), the lowest PER (9.8), and a poor true-shooting percentage (44.5%). If there are any positives here, it's that he has improved his floor game as the season has gone on. He has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team, and it's over 2.0 in Pac-12 play. But simply put, it's been a rough year for him.


Since I've been using net-ratings quite a bit above, I felt I might as well just post them all.

Mark Tollefsen +37.4
Kaleb Tarczewski +37.2
Ryan Anderson +34.7
Allonzo Trier +22.5
Kadeem Allen +22.4
Dusan Ristic +20.7
Gabe York +14.0
Justin Simon +4.6
Parker Jackson-Cartwright +2.2

Tollefsen being at the top was surprising, but the guards being at the bottom really wasn't. Again, this isn't necessarily a ranking of the players, but rather how much they've impacted the game or how well the team plays when they're on the court -- which of course, is dependent on a lot of things.

Best lineups?

Putting all the information we have at our disposal together, we can create the team's best lineups. These are mainly based on statistical measures, but they also incorporate "realistic fit" as I call it. For example, Zeus, Ristic, and Anderson are in the top five in defensive rating, but you wouldn't start the three of them together. Instead, you'd take the five best players that would make the most sense as a lineup.

Best offensive lineup:

Allen | Trier | Tollefsen | Anderson | Tarczewski

Best defensive lineup:

Allen | Simon | Tollefsen | Anderson | Tarczewski

Best overall lineup based on net-rating:

Allen | Trier | Tollefsen | Anderson | Tarczewski


Now, stats aren't perfect and they always have to be used in context. For instance, the defensive rating and offensive rating for individual players are partly influenced by the players that are on the court with them. So while stats like that do help, they shouldn't necessarily be the end-be-all when evaluating players.

That said, stats still do help paint a picture about a player and team, and that's why I decided to do this.

I hope you enjoyed it!

*all stats via and