Bill Self and the Law of Averages: The difference between making waves and riding them

  • Many people are upset or at least annoyed that the Jayhawks were only able to beat TCU, the bottom feeder of the Big 12, by only 3 points in a game that was close for nearly the entire game. After defeating Texas on the road, many thought the team had found their identity and wouldn’t be turning back. Several have zeroed in on one key stat for the Jayhawks this year and have made some very compelling arguments regarding the correlation between the number of three pointers the team takes, and the success of the team offensively. Unlike past years where a high number of long range attempts usually meant settling for jump shots instead of attacking the paint, this year the 3 point shot is our most powerful weapon. Kansas is shooting almost 40% as a team from deep. This leads to the general assumption that as a team they should always shoot a significant amount so as to capitalize on this strength. This is true but it also is not.

    Bill Self is a very good coach. He wins lots and lots of games. He is especially good at beating good teams, historically. However, for some reason he seems more likely to be upset (or played close) by not as good teams. This is not coincidence. He is not lucky or unlucky. As Jaybate pointed out several years ago, Self appears to “amp” the team for some games and send them out “flat” others. “Amp” meaning sending them out with energy, wrinkles, and a strategy that will crush the other team, “Flat” referring to low energy, basic game plan, and a strategy that makes the team work. I doubted for a long time the validity of this assertion, but I now see it likely has at least some truth to it.

    It may have taken some time this year, but Self has figured out that this team’s biggest strength is their ability to shoot the three. Even though that style of play goes against Self’s traditional basketball values, he has utilized it recently in the games against the best teams. Against “weaker opponents” (though TCU is not necessarily a weak opponent this year) we have seen a dramatic difference in style of play. Where this team struggles is scoring inside. So, Self, a man who loves toughness and balance is demanding his team play inside when he thinks they can win that way, and maximizing their shooting strength when they need it. We have seen this for whole games and half by half. And on the surface this works as a decent explanation.

    However, I feel there is some deeper, mad scientist, work going on here. I think Self this year is trying to beat the law of averages. My biggest fear for this team relying on 3 pointers is the inevitable 2 or 3 for 20 game from deep that just happens sometimes. It is very difficult, nearly impossible to win such games as GREAT shooting teams like Utah and Gonzaga have shown. Too many possessions are wasted without points or opportunities for fouls to really have a chance to win such a game where the shots just don’t fall. We barely missed such a game in Austin purely on the shooting of Greene. Everyone else was off from deep. So this year, I think Self is actively trying to encourage bad shooting nights against teams we can beat inside while limiting the actual number of 3 pointers taken. So here is the strategy as I see it. On a night we are playing a team we are supposed to beat, guards and Perry can take a 3 if it comes to them but we aren’t going to work for those shots. Also, if you make your first one, you are done. No player can waste a hot shooting night against a low level team. If you keep missing, keep shooting. That is how we have come to several 3-8, 2-7, and 3-11, shooting nights. Yes Mason shot 5 three pointers but he only made the last one so no harm done to the law of averages.

    The key is to keep the 3pt% low in these games. Other strategies Self might employ in these scenarios include: frequent subbing to prevent game flow, focus on feeding the post, sitting Greene, the “quick hook,” harsh/negative timeout talks. On the flip side in games where they need to play their best to win strategies include: minutes for Greene, opportunity to get into the flow, 4 out 1 in, faster tempo, more positive bench interaction, encouragement to take open shots even if they miss.

    HEM has suggested that a sound strategy this year would be to give Greene minutes early and if he is on “ride the wave.” This clearly works. However, Self is not the kind of man to leave his game plan up to the mood of a “wild hare” like Greene. No, he wants to be the one to make the wave. Save Greene, and his other sharp shooters, peak performances for when he needs them. Make sure they don’t get the opportunity to breakout against weak competition and the law of averages allows them to crest when he wants them to.

    Unfortunately for HEM specifically, this means that during the tournament there will be a game or 2 (or 3 if we are lucky) where Bill Self appears to intentionally throw a game by going away from a strategy he knows works. We will play a team we should handle easily and win (or lose) a close one while only shooting 10 or less three pointers. We will not make more than 5 that game. HEM will be furious.

    Self will make this gamble. Because the law of averages is real, and he refuses to let it rule him. Bill Self makes waves, he does not ride them.

  • @benshawks08

    Interesting post.

    Yes, there is a “law of averages” involved. However… when we attempt to play our game not with our opponent but instead choose to play a game with the law of averages we are giving in to superstitions. The law of averages can’t really big predicted. It’s like the coin flip principle. You can flip it 10 times and come up heads every time. If you are playing a game with the averages, you start wagering on tails for flip #11. But that flip still remains a 50/50 proposition. This is where many amateur gamblers get into hot water. They have a streak of bad luck and they compound it by “doubling down” and over-stressing a bet where the odds remain the same and are not part of a universal scheme that it is time for their luck to change.

    We definitely rely more on 3 this year than any other year during the Bill Self era. I don’t mind that. Yes, we can be bitten by averages and over time have a cold night or two or three. I don’t mind it because we still have other weapons we can turn to. Frank can drive! And sometimes our post guys show up to score.

    Another element I like is that Bill instills some level of discipline in our guys to take the 3 when it’s right, and not force it. Once in a while they still force it or take an ill-advised attempt, but for the most part, we remain fairly disciplined on when we take 3s.

    As much as we all often complain about some of Bill’s strategy, he does actually know quite a bit about basketball. Concerning the 3s… he knows it relates most to energy. When we run good motion in our offense, guys will be open for 3s. And the more space they have to score, the better chance we have of having a good shooting night from 3.

    There are no guarantees… If you watched KSU two nights ago you may come to realize that a team can even get cold at bunnies! There is always the chance we bring energy to a game, execute on both sides of the ball, but still can’t hit the 3. In those games, I’m hoping we still win most of them because our defense buckles down and keeps us in the game. Frank takes some driving liberties. Our bigs find some way to add points in the low post or mid range. Maybe we create some open court baskets. We do still maintain enough dimensionality to provide scoring somewhere besides the 3 pt line. In as bad as we played last night, we still did win on the road without counting on 3s. If Perry had stayed out of foul trouble, we may have even posted a big win and still not hit the 3.

    Our ultimate key will be to find ways to win every single game. Sometimes it will come from playing tough defense. Other times, we’ll be in a scoring race. We are all starting to see players develop and have more to offer us on offense. We are starting to see more scoring possibilities, and we know the potential is wrapped around ENERGY. When we have a lot of motion in our offense, great scoring opportunities exist. Whether or not we capitalize is another story.

  • @drgnslayr So do you think come tournament time, we will see such motion every game or will Self gamble thinking his team can conserve some energy and still find a way to win? If there is no concern for the law of averages why does Greene not get 5-6 opportunities from 3 every game, with at least a couple drawn up specifically to get him looks? Surely Greene is in good enough condition and his defense has improved enough (still needs more) to allow him some opportunities. Why reign in that horse if he can go 4-6 every game? 12 points in a game to 65 are a big thing to miss out on. Is Self missing this like HEM suggests, or is something else going on?

  • @benshawks08

    I think Self has the desire for Brannen to get some looks every game. The problem with Brannen is he doesn’t really create for himself. He relies of the offense running enough motion to get him open. When we have energy and run lots of motion, Brannen gets open and is capable of torching the nets.

    I think we got a glimpse of what Self is up against in the ISU game. ISU came ready to play… lots of energy, and the crowd frantically screaming behind them. Self said that his guys never did what he asked. He was trying to get them to run plays and offense, even right after a timeout and the guys just didn’t do it.

    We all get angry when we see the end result… like the shot clock running down and a forced shot. Self already has a purple face because he knows how they didn’t execute running up to the point where we see it on a bad result.

    I think there is something to your post (and @jaybate-1.0 long record) on Self amping up or down. I don’t know how much of it is about preserving energy and how much of it is about him playing chess and thinking ahead and knowing it is usually best to take your team into the next game NOT riding the big victory of successful execution.

    We were experiencing ups and downs all in one game… like in halves. Remember the OU game?

    And then we bring 40 minutes of basketball to Austin. Then we dud out for 40 minutes in Fort Worth. So to some degree it seems like Self may be gaming his team to play upbeat for big games, and because of that, he can’t get them amped for the smaller opponents.

    This part of strategy is way, way beyond me. My background playing was all about coming amped every single game, regardless of who we played. Some coaches have the ability to really get their guys going every single time they are on the floor. Self is not one of those guys. So I’m guessing he picks his moments to try to spur his players on. Getting guys amped is a real skill. There aren’t so many coaches that have that capacity to do it every single game. In my books, this is the one area where Self could improve. But he sure has other aspects of the game mastered… enough to be one of most-winning coaches.

  • I wonder if some of this is about team dynamics. I think Self sometimes purposefully puts himself in opposition to his team to try to help them come together. He forces them to rely on each other instead of him.

    I don’t know if anyone has seen “Whiplash” but it is great! Spoilers ahead if you are planning on watching it. Not that knowing anything about the movie would change how great it is. My girlfriend and I talked afterward about whether in the end Simmon’s character was vindicated by the outstanding performance of his protege, or whether the young man succeeded in spite of the abuse from his mentor. The comparison to KU Basketball comes in that the players, like the drummer from the movie, are already at an extremely high level of skill. And it sometimes takes some extreme tactics to breakthrough to the level of greatness. To me the central questions the film raises are “what does it take to be the best?” and "how far is too far in pushing someone beyond what they thought they were capable of? The film is incredibly well made and a lot of fun to watch (even though it gets pretty intense).

    Anyway, I think Self uses strategies somewhat similar to J.K. Simmons character. He uses a combination of encouragement and criticism to drive the improvement of individuals but also the team chemistry. You often hear high praise one press conference followed by biting remarks the next. You see smiles and fist pumps one game, and purple faced barking another. This could be the result of honest emotions relating to his teams performance, but it could also be a calculated maneuver to influence performance. Now, I am not saying that Self is as abusive or manipulative as the character in Whiplash, but it is certainly possible that there is calculation behind his actions. The modulation between friend and foe creates an environment that encourages the athletes to be more reliant on each other than the “unpredictable” coach. Players are always striving for the approval that comes almost randomly. This could also explain the high number of transfers from KU considering this would be a very stressful and difficult process to go through every year. But when it works you get a hard as nails team that plays for each other and are all driven to improve themselves everyday not just for the coach but for themselves.

    This is the point in the season where we can start to expect reports of player only meetings and increased togetherness shown on the court. I almost wonder sometimes if Self doesn’t expect his team to at some point say “forget coach, let’s go win this like we know how!” Ironically it will be exactly how he taught them to win.

    P.S. In no way do I advocate using this tactic with children of any kind!! It takes a very strong will and great understanding of people and their breaking point to be effective. I have mentioned that I am a teacher on this board before and want to make sure it is clear I do not treat people (especially students) this way!

  • @benshawks08 @drgnslayr I really enjoyed the discussion up to this point. Good stuff.

    I find myself speculating too on what is going on in the mind of Bill Self. It seems like I learn a lot about basketball trying to do so. I felt the same way following Roy.

    To offer the perspective that came to my mind while reading your posts was ‘developing complexity over the course of the season’. If we kept bombing threes like HEM suggests and completely abandon the inside out game, then you are taking away from your confidence to play a more complex game. Complexity is much more difficult to scout and guard. Complexity is having 5 guys on the floor that can score against an array of defenses while being able to switch on the D end without creating bad match-ups. Complexity and confidence in the team is what I see Self developing each year. Each year he has to create that all over again in a new way because new players arrive, current players develop, old players leave.

  • @KJD @drgnslayr I have also really enjoyed the discussion. I know a lot of posters in here have really well thought out theories and are very good at defending them, but I like throwing out some of the weird ideas in my head and watching others pick them apart. Thanks!

  • @benshawks08

    Way to get it down on pixels.

    Not saying I totally agree with you hear, but it is a thoughtful take and I probably come down somewhere between you and @drgnslayr, probably close to @drgnslayr. But your take is thought provoking and it made me think a little harder about what I think goes on.

    Tactics become strategy when strategy cannot be executed.

    Self enters every game with a strategy (a recipe of tactics aimed at achieving a strategic goal) for beating another team.

    But the future is NOT 100% predictable, so the short-fall variances from expected strategic outcomes have be addressed by changing tactics.

    If short fall variances from expected are central to the strategy, then tactics become strategy.

    You junk the strategy and begin iterating through a series of tactics fitting a stream of situations until you get something going.

    No matter what the recent trends are, you still have to play to your greatest MUAs offense to defense.

    Every opponent’s personnel varies considerably.

    You have to find where you match up with that best and attack their to begin with.

    Self sometimes attacks places that at times don’t make sense.

    Early on he was attacking inside simply to give our guys practice attacking inside, not because it was necessarily the best place to attack. He had to restore their confidence in their abilities to attack inside after what UK did to them. He played inside out even when it looked bad doing it.

    He did something similar for a few games to get the team used to winning outside in. It looked much better, because the team has a lot of good shooters and they got hot.

    But once he believes his players understand how to play both inside out and outside in, then he goes to work on the spread game, and against TCU, he finally unveiled the REAL Perry Ellis stretch 4. The REAL Perry Ellis stretch 4 is the 3 I have been telling every one Perry truly was, since he first arrived.

    Against TCU, Perry was frankly showing more driving speed from wings and high post crossing drives, than the incredible Kelly Oubre does. Perry Ellis’ was dribbling beautifully with his left hand. The guy is as natural of a long 3 as I have EVER seen. To be honest, we don’t have to replace Oubre next season, if Oubre jumps. We can just put Perry in at 3 and play one of our bigs at 4, or recruit an OAD 4. Of course, the chances are we will recruit an OAD 3 instead, and Perry will have play stretch 4 again. But regardless, he really cut loose and showed what he could do putting it on the deck vs. TCU.

    Why did Self choose to reveal Perry vs. TCU? They were thick and a bit slow, so it was a good opponent for a coming out party for Perry. Further, it adds to the difficulty of preparing for KU, and Self wants Weber and Fred to have a lot to think about.

    The thing for fans to get juiced about regarding this show of Perry’s MBMAP effectiveness is this: when Parry puts it on the deck on a 45 angle from outside, either from the wing, or from the high post floated out toward the ring, this is really going to make the defense collapse to stop his penetration. And what will the Designer do when stopped? Kick it back out to KU’s wide open trifectates. It is an ingenious way to start to use Perry. Basically, it uses very good driving ability to clear out the wing behind him, where one of KU’s actual wings will fill for the open look trey. Its like a drag play with a wide receiver running into the center of zone coverage and a slot back running into the open space. Great stuff.

    But here I have gotten geeked up about Perry and gotten away from my main point here.

    Self certainly plays the averages.

    But I think what he is really trying to do distill rather simply (and elegantly) to building leads, or keeping it close and then building leads, and then defending leads. I wrote at length about building leads and defending leads late last week and it was a little too lugubrious for many to wade through.

    But the key is that some first halves, usually against weaker teams in a 2 in 3 format, it is more important to play lots of bodies than it is to build leads that first half. You are trying to save up your guys energy for the second game. When he plays lots of bodies the first half, he is just hoping to keep it close the first half. The second half he comes out and at some point early or late tries to build a lead. Once the lead is built, then he goes into lead-defending mode. Lead defending mode is reducing the number of remaining possessions in the game. It involves running the stuff, or stretching it into four corners, to get drives to iron and fouls with FTs.

    Sometimes against the good teams, if he thinks he has an advantage outside, or an advantage inside, he will concentrate attack where he thinks he holds advantage, and try to build the lead ASAP. If he thinks he can keep snowballing the lead, he does, up to 15-20, then goes into defend-the-lead mode. If he feels the momentum wear off after only 10 points, he chooses to defend the lead down to 5, then crank it up again, or other times he chooses to keep trying to widen the lead.

    This set of menu options is why Self is so tough for other coaches to anticipate and so outmaneuver. You just don’t know what he is liable to do, and even if you guess right, he may change up on you.

    Build a lead.

    If you can’t build a lead, then keep it close for a while till you get to some time in the game when they are fouled up and you can build a lead.

    Then Defend a lead.

    It is Self’s strategic way.

    You can do whatever you damned please, if he gets to build his lead, and then defend it.

  • Nice to hear some well measured comments on speculation why we almost blew an 11 point lead with 3 minutes left. I think we let down our guard. If we had run what we had run at Texas, we would’ve won by 30. Maybe he is trying to motivate the team not to coast, and he made the game closer to keep them on their toes. The one thing I do know is he didn’t employ his strategy because he was stupid, or can’t coach. I think this is the game Jaybate would say he held the team back, and I agree.

  • I’m striving to envision precisely how BIll Self might respond to this particular thread. In all due respect to the spectacular depth of hypotheses presented by very serious thoughtprovoking fans, I hear him declaring, “Bullcrap! Situation: 6 days, 3 games. First game, TCU, one of 2 current Big 12 bottomfeeders. Send my 'hawks out to play, no specific hype, just a stern warning regarding huge upset loss in Fort Worth a couple of years ago. Gotta start a freshman with the flu, baby another freshman with a throbbing sternum, cope with a junior starter who can’t get away with early multiple fouling, then manage apoplexy over a harum-scarum sophomore gunner who can’t find a means to get himself open. Toss into that mix another cold shooting night from my 2 guard, and HELL, what can people expect, at least on the offensive side of the charts? Call a few timely time-outs and DEMAND that remaining active troops at least play standard 21st century Jayhawk Defense. Bite down the bile over having to ride the dominance of my starting point guard for another 35 minutes, then pray for the best. We limp from the court with a win, carve another notch, then rev the engines for Saturday invasion of that gapingmouth undertaker at AFH! Ya SATISFIED???”

  • @jaybate-1.0 “it is more important to play lots of bodies than it is to build leads that first half. You are trying to save up your guys energy for the second game.” That is first game in a tournament strategy too. Pacing a set of games from within the game through rotation and depth.

    Indeed, the future is NOT 100% predictable. It’s good to develop tactics, keep running drills. The strategies are off of intel so this has me wondering about the under world of scouting future opponents. There is definitely process and systems that create the intel for those scouting reports. Bill certainly chats to the media about the players playing to the scouting report and it is praise when they do like they did against Texas.

  • @REHawk

    I do believe he would say that…same as I do believe he would not report Selden’s knee all last season! 😄

    Yes, I am leeeeeetle satisfied, but not too. 😇

    But what I AM hand wringing about is Oubre’s bug spreading to the rest of the team! And hitting Saturday or Monday!!

    My guys need their health to win out! 😎

  • @jaybate-1.0 A very serious concern, the spread of that flu bug. Man O Man, I came down with a serious bout of the worst of that stuff early Dec., and am still coughing up phlegm. My aging system certainly could not have engaged in strenuous physical activity for a week and a half from the outset. Difficult to imagine Oubre’s getting back to full strength by Monday. Also, difficult to imagine remainder of squad not being affected by spread of that bug. 23 of our family members dined together Thanksgiving Day. 17 came down with the flu within the next week. Of 6 who did not, five had gotten earlier flu shots; none of the 17 had received shots.

  • @REHawk

    Amazing stat! And glad you got better!

  • @KJD You struck soundly the key chord from that TCU concert: saving bodies by inserting so many subs. But for Mason, our starters should be rested and raring to go at 1 pm Saturday. Mason’s wheels represent a huge concern. That kid drew upon maximum energy Wed. night, and, again, was forced to play at least 5 too many minutes. How long can his body hold up to those demands? Is certainly time for teammates to dig a little deeper in order to lessen the load being toted by their point guard. And coaching staff has to find ways and means to rest him. Frank is a relentless warrior. Those two missed freethrows toward the close? Before he shot them, I told the wife that he would be lucky to get the ball to the rim! His legs had to be spent.

  • @REHawk

    sarcasm on/ …but…don’t you know that Coach Self cannot really coach or even come up with game plan and he is the only obstacle standing between this team and a National Championship??? /sarcasm off

    But seriously, excellent post. 🙂

  • My question is this: Is Oubre’s flu a true respiratory flu (influenza) like REHawk is describing or is/was it the stomach flu (gastroenteritis) that people think is the flu they’re immunized for??

    From what I’ve heard and seen the flu vaccine is/was pretty ineffective this flu season. 23% effectiveness roughly. It varies with the age of the patient.

  • @Kip_McSmithers

    Spot on. My elderly father caught influenza last winter and ended up in the hospital. I caught the stomach flu from the grand kids last week and after one night of “hugging the marble throne” it was pretty much gone the next day.

  • @JayHawkFanToo Oubre is young and an athlete in prime shape. The staff will get him all better with IV fluids and rehydration and whatever else he needs.

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