Robert Morris offense struggling for answers

Between losing Lucky Jones and Marcquise Reed, it wasn’t hard to predict that the Robert Morris offense was going to struggle in the early part of the season.

It was hard to put in pen what guys like point guard Kavon Stewart and power forward Elijah Minnie were going to give you on a night in, night out basis. Between that, the new additions of Isaiah Still, Matty McConnell, Billy Giles and Joe Hugley and the injury to Aaron Tate, the offense was an unknown. Rodney Pryor was the only player to count on to get buckets.

Well, it’s almost the middle of January, and a lot of things are still unknown. Tate still isn’t playing, with a comeback looking more bleak by the day. Hugley quit. Still and McConnell are still finding their way and Stewart and Minnie have been pretty inconsistent.

Fans to love to point at the defense as RMU’s biggest struggle. The 2-3 zone is a bit unconventional and not “the Robert Morris way” but there’s no denying its effectiveness. The Colonials have ranked top-three in conference defensive efficiency the past two seasons with the zone, and are on pace for that again this season.

What fans are not used to seeing is incompetent offense, which has been the case for RMU this season. Through four conference games, the Colonials efficiency numbers have actually gotten worse. RMU is currently scoring a woeful 90.7-points-per-100-possessions in NEC play, dead-last in the conference. Robert Morris ranks 321 in the country in offensive efficiency.

So yes, Robert Morris’ offense stinks, but that’s a pretty blanket statement. Anyone with a set of eyes could tell you that. What the hell is going on out there? Why is the offense unable to put the ball in the basket?

First, let’s start with the numbers. Robert Morris still can’t protect the basketball. Head coach Andy Toole has spoke in the past about “valuing the basketball”. That’s something this team doesn’t do. They turn the ball over about 23 percent of their possessions, third-worst in the NEC. The frustrating thing is, while there are a lot of “forced” turnovers, i.e. throwing the ball to the wrong team or getting your pocket picked, there seem to be a lot of unforced turnovers.

Things like travels, illegal screens and charges can all be cut down on. It takes a little more focus and discipline, but these are basketball basics. Dribble before you move your feet, guys.

This is also not a good rebounding team. It kills them on the defensive end, where opponents are rebounding about 40 percent of their misses, but it hurts even more on the offensive end. For a team that struggles to get buckets, a few more offensive putbacks could go a long way.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote this article on the stresses of offensive rebounding and transition defense in the NBA. The gist of the article is less NBA teams are sacrificing crashing the glass to get back on defense. RMU is rebounding about 25 percent of their misses, which is 297 in the country and second-worst in the NEC. I’d love to know if that’s the direction RMU is going, but my educated guess is its not. RMU isn’t a big team, and a guy like Andre Fredrick, playing around 15 minutes per game at center, is a terrible rebounder.

The core of the offensive problems is what anyone can see: there just aren’t a lot of good scorers. Rodney Pryor is excellent, but even he’s shooting just 31.3 percent from three, way down from the 40 percent he shot last season.

RMU’s second and third leading scorers, respectively, are Elijah Minnie (12.3 ppg) and Kavon Stewart (8.5 ppg). Minnie has been good this year; he scores in spurts, is reliable from three and has the size to make an impact on the glass an finish at the rim.

If there is one critique of Minnie, it might be adding that extra dimension to his game. Minnie is so good at the rim — he’s shooting 61.7 percent at the rim — but only 27 percent of his shots come at the rim, according to hoop math. Minnie is a good free throw shooter too. Even when he doesn’t finish at the rim, if he can draw a foul and get an opposing big in trouble, that’s really beneficial for the outcome of the game.

Stewart is another case. There’s definitely an 80/20 theory at case, as in people like to look at the 20 percent bad and ignore the 80 percent good. With that being said, I’m not sure a lot of people were counting on him to be the third leading scorer. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s a good thing when Stewart is scoring in bunches. What does that say about the game others are playing?

Still, this team is what it is, and Stewart needs to find something to excel at offensively. More than half (54 percent) of his shots are coming at the rim, but his field goal percentage at the rim is just 37 percent. That’s the worst mark on the team. A lot of people hoped Stewart would be able to develop finishing with both hands at the rim, but that hasn’t been the case. He’s still all-left when driving. That makes it hard to finish in traffic when you always have to finish with one hand. Right now, his 33/32/56 splits just aren’t good enough.

That really goes for everyone. McConnell and Still are both shooting around 30 percent from three, despite taking about four a game. McConnell has especially been one-dimensional, taking just 15 shots from the field. His inability, or unwillingness, to go to the rim doesn’t do anyone favors.

Also, You Gotta Make Your Free Throws. Holy shit, this is a bad free throw shooting team. As a team, they’re shooting 64.9 percent from the line. They’re free throws. They’re supposed to be free points. This team puts a bad spin on the term “charity stripe”.

Listen, we’re 17 games into the year, and Robert Morris has won just three of them. Things will probably improve, just through experience and coaching, but at some point you are who your numbers say you are. RMU has played some good teams in and out of conference play and they’re still good enough to make a run at an NEC title, but unless the Colonials can become an average offensive team, the losses will continue to pile up.

–Chris Cappella
@C_Cappella

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