January 06, 2020

Stanford WBB: Scoring by Committee?

Warren Grimes

Stanford finished the first days in January with an overall 13-1 record.  With over one-third of the season already behind us, it’s worth a look back and a peek forward.

Losing only one of the first 14 games is an achievement.  This was not a soft preseason schedule.  The wins were accomplished without any one player consistently leading the scoring.  The wins came, in words of Tara VanDerveer, through “scoring by committee.”  In the fourteen games, seven different players were the leading scorers for the game.  The team’s top three scorers (Lexie Hull - 13.2 average; Kiana Williams - 12.4 average; and Haley Jones - 10.8 average) each had team highs in three games, but Nadia Fingall (in two games) and Lacie Hull, Ashten Prechtel, and Hannah Jump (in one game each) also achieved team highs.  That’s impressive.  None of these players may receive an MVP award at the end of the season.  But collectively, they are vital parts of a teamwork offense that creates nightmares for the defense.

I never have liked committees.  Meetings are too long and too tedious, with some members talking just to hear themselves talk.  But that’s not what VanDerveer meant by committee scoring.  She meant sharing the scoring burden, and doing it through teamwork.  Teamwork can be measured in part through assists, and Stanford excelled in this category.  In the fourteen games, Stanford had 220 assists to opponents’ 119.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the top three scoring players were also the top three in assists (Williams 53, Jones 32, and Lexie Hull 28).  When your top scorers are also your top assist makers, that spells excellence in basketball at any level.

Stanford is team oriented not only on offense, but also on defense.  Stanford’s carefully scouted help defense has long been a trademark for VanDerveer.  But this team, even with inexperienced freshmen, seems destined to play the help defense with aplomb.  Low opponent scores, numerous steals, and a lot of blocks are all measures of an efficient help defense.  On scoring, Stanford has an average 20.8 scoring margin (good but not great), has out-stolen oppenents 113 to 103 (better than Stanford teams of the past) and has out blocked opponents by a very impressive margin (81 to 22).

For the steals, Lexie Hull has been most impressive, with 23 steals, but five other players have double digit steals in the first 14 games.  There’s a lesson here.  Hold onto your wallet when the Stanford players are around.  And beware: this theft racket is definitely a team effort.

Its time to talk about the freshmen.  When, if ever, has Stanford brought in four recruits, all of whom, in their first year, have either found their way into the starting lineup (Jones has started nine games and Belibi has started four) or are getting meaningful minutes (Jump has averaged 12.8 minutes and Prechtel 12.5 minutes)?  I can’t recall that ever happening.  A “Fab 4" for the Stanford women! Both Jump and Prechtel have been team high scorers in one game.  Who has the highest points per minute average for the team?  None other than Hannah Jump with .563 per minute.  I noticed that Jump is learning to fake a shot and then drive the basket.  She’s also learning to better utilize screens.  Watch out!

On a blocks per minute tally, it is Ashten Prechtel that leads the team, slightly ahead of her freshman teammate Belibi.  Prechtel is also the second most efficient rebounder (on a per minute basis).  The wildcard is her three point shooting, which gives the defense fits.  Prechtel has a lot to learn about playing the help defense and defending the post, but she, like the other freshmen, will improve with seasoning.

Haley Jones has been the high scorer in three separate games.  Her performance is on the rise. If current trends continue, by the end of the season, Jones will be the team’s top scorer in many, many games (and the second highest in assists).  Jones has size, deceptive speed, basketball smarts and the competitive spirit to contribute inside and out, defensively and offensively.  Jones is showing why she was the #1 ranked high school recruit in the country.  No need to say more.

Then there’s Belibi.  She’s had adjustments, including issues with turnovers, fouling, and learning the scout defense.  But Belibi has started the last three games, for good reason.  Belibi is the team’s leading rebounder on a per minute basis.  She’s also the team leader in field goal percentage, primarily because of her under the basket performance.  Belibi gets boards that other players on the team would not get (a healthy DiJonai Carrington might be an exception).  Belibi is not yet a reliable and creative shot maker when the shot clock is running down, but the potential is there for her to be that and more.

Finally, not enough is written about the team’s critical upperclassmen.  Seniors Nadia Fingall and Anna Wilson are playing the best basketball of their careers.  Fingall was known for her post skills on offense and defense, but surprised WSU with her three point shooting.  When Fingall is in the game, the defense cannot ignore her outside shooting.  All the more likely that a zone defense will be problematic for the opponent.  Anna Wilson is a defensive stalwart with 11 steals.  Her 24 assists, because of her more limited minutes, are on a par with Kiana Williams’ assist per minute performance.  She can spell Williams without any noticable offensive loss, or play with Williams to tighten the defense.

Kianna Williams is one of the conference’s (and nation’s) top point guards.  She’d had some down games recently, but against Washington, Williams took over the game in the second half with her game high 20 points and multiple assists.  Williams is a team leader who steps up when it matters most.

After Friday’s home game against Cal, Stanford will be on the road for the next three games, including games in Oregon where the top five ranked home teams will be favored.  Really tough assignments, but I look forward to watching this young and talented Stanford team take on the very best.


carol McFall said...

VERY helpful. Thank you Warren.

Carol McFall

Bob Stevens said...

super analysis of the team ... thanks for sharing your insights.

Stephen Perlman said...

Excellent post. Let me add a couple of cautionary comments.

Stanford has made opponents most uncomfortable when they steal the ball and score on fast break baskets. In their half-court offense, however, they are only making teams uncomfortable when their (streaky) 3-point shooting is on. When the 3-ball is not going in, the opponent's defense has been making Stanford uncomfortable for the most part.

Tara has made the decision not to invest heavy minutes with Ashten, most likely for the reasons Warren explained. When Ashten is in the game, however, she presents multiple problems for opponents. Her size and presence reduces drive penetrations and her knack for getting rebounds typically erases offensive rebounds by the opponent. Offensively she has shown she can score both inside and outside.

Up in Corvallis, Coach Scott Rueck has made a huge investment in his 2 freshman posts, 6'4 Taylor Jones and 6'6 Kennedy Brown. Neither is quick and both have made many mistakes defensively during the season (I know, I watch them), but putting them in the lineup together is now paying off.

I recognize that Tara and Scott are brilliant coaches with different mind-sets. I am concerned that Ashten's limited playing time affects her performance when she is on the court and our lack of real size with most of our lineups will cause problems for the Cardinal as the season progresses.

Hope I'm wrong.

Reluctantgoogler said...

Several observations about this year's team. First it is great to have a team where so many people are capable of scoring. We haven't had that for a long time. The fact that 3 of 4 freshmen seem to be able to score when needed is excellent. Fran is using moves under the basket that don't work in college, but hopefully she will learn how to create space. Ashten is finally a big with some athleticism. Many other 6-5 players in the past only got better in the senior year because they just didn't have movement.

Tara needs to play certain players more: Anna and Alyssa in particular because she will need them. Jenna also needs to play more because it looks like her confidence is low. She's not a 3-point shooter, she is a basket driver and again, she will be needed at some point. There are times when Kianna has not been on her game, and it would be good to give her a break early in the game not late in the game.

Really impressed with Nadia, she clearly did more work than just rehab. The moves are amazing to watch. Happy for her.

Also, somewhat surprised how quick Haley is. With her body type, wasn't sure whether she'd be smooth or lumbering. She's pretty smooth.

Tara is lucky to have a strong bench even with Maya and DJ out, but the keys to games against Cal and Washington schools is to ensure that the bench can step up against the Oregons in case the starters have trouble scoring. That's something that the Ducks have done well. Arizona St is not a good measure of a large rotation because they haven't been as deep with scorers. When you have talent, you got to unleash confidence.

Pierre M said...

Good reading this posst