Welcome back on Hack a Stat! After the first five rounds of the Euroleague, the surprises looking at the standing are many. Perhaps the most unexpected is the position of Moscow’s team: CSKA Moscow, with a record of 2-3, is currently thirteenth. Looking at some numbers, let’s find out the reasons behind this surprising start.

ITALIAN VERSION: https://www.backdoorpodcast.com/hack-a-stat-i-problemi-del-cska/


First of all, a necessary premise: we are still analyzing a sample of only five games, also played with a roster almost never complete due to the problems related to Covid. Therefore, I will point out only some warnings that I have noticed at the beginning of the season in this analysis.

Let’s take a look to the teams’ ratings chart:

cska moscow ratings

CSKA Moscow is averaging respectively the 12th and 13th Offensive and Defensive Rating of the League, numbers that place it in the worst quarter of the chart above. We have rarely associated these values with the Russian team; to give you an idea, that Offensive Rating of 109 is the second-worst rating yielded by CSKA in the last twenty Euroleagues.

The same can be said for that 112.3 Defensive Rating: it is also the second-worst value averaged by CSKA in the last twenty seasons of the Euroleague.

What is hard to think is how it is possible that, with the additions of Shengelia and Milutinov and the return of Clyburn, CSKA, compared to last season, has worsened rather than improved its game. Actually, basketball is a complex sport and the sum of the talent of the individual players is not equal to the efficiency generated on the court.

CSKA Moscow offensive phase

Itoudis is certainly excited to have players like Shengelia, James, Clyburn, and Milutinov on his roster, but until now he has been forced to regress his offensive system to a series of isolations. In a kind of shared monarchy, James, Clyburn, and Shengelia alternate themself as primary creators. Going into the detail of the playtypes, the situation is the following:

CSKA Moscow playtypes

Mike James is CSKA’s main offensive leader and generates most of his and his teammates’ shot chances with the pick and roll. And this could be perhaps one of the CSKA’s offensive problems: compared to last season, Mike James now has different teammates to play the PNR. In my opinion, the American player should not end most of his possessions with a personal conclusion but he should involve Clyburn and Shengelia more.
Using them as non-receiving screeners or third men to spread the court decreases their efficiency as offensive players. But to better understand this, let’s break down James’ pick and roll as handler during this season.

Mike James’ pick and roll

Mike James' pnr
Mike James' pnr

In the two charts above you can see the number of PNRs played by James and how they were concluded. If we do not consider those finished without a shot (therefore through a pass that does not lead to a shot), James closes 66% of the picks with his own shot. This means that James involves a teammate in only one-third of the pick and roll played; if last year such a thing would have been understandable, given the greater presence of good off-the-ball players, this year with screeners like Milutinov, Clyburn, and Shengelia that same data is not convincing. Furthermore, Clyburn and Shengelia are rarely used as screeners: therefore their role is reduced to third men, rarely involved in the PNRs led by James. And in fact, in the playtype table above, their most-used game situations are isolations, post-ups, and catch-and-shoot/drive.

Shengelia and Clyburn screeners

However until Itoudis will not change his playbook, James will remain a key player in CSKA Moscow’s offensive game, as he is one of the few players able to create for himself and others without needing to be served in particular situations (for example, Shengelia in post-up). In fact, the first two CSKA’s playtypes in terms of frequency are precisely catch-and-shoot and pick’n’roll.

The right side-kick for Mike James

In this sense, the lack of a pass-first player in PNR situations is perhaps more problematic than expected: Hackett and Hillard, the other two backcourt players with a fair number of possessions, are not great users of this dynamic. As for the Italian, the frequency of the PNR as a handler is 22% corresponding to a PPP of 0,78 (Lega average around 0,74). Hillard, on the other hand, only ends 15% of his possessions with a pick and roll but averages a poor 0,40 as PPP.
These data show another one of the problems for CSKA: most of the team possessions are created from a PNR, but the only two players able to guarantee efficiency and volume in this game aspect are James and, secondly, Hackett (whose peculiarities reside in other game aspects). Therefore, James and Hackett should currently be staggered to ensure an offensive continuity but, actually, this cannot always be done; this is because Hackett is a great side-kick for James, both offensively and, above all, defensively.

CSKA Moscow combinations

As can be seen from the two couples’ impacts, Hackett turns out to be an excellent companion for Mike, unlike Hillard. With Hackett and James playing together, CSKA Moscow has a positive Net Rating; when one of the two is sitting on the bench, the Net Rating is always negative. With Hillard, however, the balance is negative also when both Darrun and James are on the court. Perhaps, therefore, an additional backcourt player with different skills could benefit Itoudis’ playbook, if he will continue to build a pick-and-roll-centric offensive phase.

CSKA Moscow defensive phase

A further problem of CSKA’s current offense is the inclination to lose balls. In a very static attack, as we have seen, it is easier for the defense to anticipate the passing lines and bring pressure to the ball handler. For now, in fact, CSKA is among the very first positions in terms of turnovers. And we all know what happens when several balls are lost: transitions are allowed to the opponents.

CSKA Moscow transitions allowed

Crossing the frequency of opponents’ transitions and teams’ TO%, we can see how CSKA Moscow’s position is a great warning for Itoudis. Not only that, but Moscow’s team is also first for PPP granted in these situations.

Furthermore, the need to have Mike James on the court, who is not a very good on-ball-defender, generates some problems: James is involved in opponents’ PNR situations the 34% of his active defensive possessions, where he grants 1,82 PPP (the League average is 0.74)! Hackett is therefore crucial as James’s side-kick also for the defensive phase, but it is not always so immediate and easy to hide the American pointguard on opponents less inclined to the use of PNR.

Itoudis, therefore, has a very long season ahead and his roster is certainly full of alternative solutions to improve the current situation. It will be interesting to see how.

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