Las Vegas -- Dave Rice has talked a lot about assists through preseason practice. Creating quality shots is one of Rice’s keys to the 2013-14 season.
"Our first season (2011-12), we were second in the country in assists. Our second year (2012-13), we were ninth in the country in assists, and last year (2013-14) we dipped to about 125th in the country in assists," Rice said. "And assists aren’t the end all, but I think it’s a symptom that we just didn’t play quite as well together as we needed too. Cody Doolin and Jelan Kendrick, two of the best things they do is make plays for others."
Actually, UNLV was third in assists per game in 2011-12, 10th in 2012-13 and 122nd last season. But Rice’s point remains, good assist numbers equates to a better team, and for Rice’s tenure at UNLV, an NCAA Tournament appearance.
But in college basketball, per game stats are misleading due to the variety of pace. For example, UNLV played at 49th fastest pace in 2011-12 averaging 70.3 possessions per game; last season, the Runnin’ Rebels were only 181st in the country at 67.3 possessions per game.
So comparing per game assists isn’t a fair comparison. Instead we’ll use assist percentage, which is the amount of made UNLV field goals that were assisted. Essentially a higher assist percentage means less isolation buckets and the more ball movement.
In Rice’s first two seasons at UNLV, the Rebels were top 12 in the country in assist percentage, at over 64 percent each season. But last year the assist percentage fell off significantly to 54.2 percent.
These assists are essential to winning. In those first two season where UNLV was among the leaders in assist percentage, the Rebels were 32-6 (.842) when posting an assist percentage above 60 percent; that left UNLV at 19-13 (.594) when their assist percentage was under 60.
But last year UNLV was 6-3 with an assist percentage over 60, and 14-10 when under 60. That’s only nine games with a good assist percentage mark after averaging 19 in the first two Rice years.
Assist percentage can often be tied directly to one player, and that has been true for Rice and UNLV. In 2011-12 Oscar Bellfield had an individual assist percentage – amount of teammates' made field goals that he assisted while on the floor – of 30.4. The next season Anthony Marshall posted a 32.9 assist percentage. But last season Bryce Dejean-Jones led the Rebels at 23.8. Point guards Deville Smith (21.7) and Kendall Smith (19.9) had low assist percentages for players running the offense.
Insert San Francisco transfer point guard Cody Doolin.
"Thrilled to have Cody Doolin here. He’s a pass-first, pass-second, pass-third pass-fourth (player), if I let him. He told me early in the recruiting process, ‘Coach, I take a lot of pride in not ever having to shoot if I don’t have to,’" Rice said.
Doolin posted a tremendous 34.3 assist percentage in his last full season at San Francisco in 2012-13. That’s better than any player Rice has had at UNLV.
Doolin’s most impressive game was a win over St. John’s where San Francisco made 20 field goals when Doolin was on the court; Doolin assisted on 14 of those.
San Francisco took advantage of spotty St. John’s defense. But Doolin – and his teammates ability to knock down shots – made St. John’s pay.
On the opening possession St. John’s came out in a 3-2 zone. So late in the shot clock Doolin got a high ball screen, got into the lane and kicked to an open shooter in the corner.
Later, Doolin does the same thing against a man defense. This time he went away from the screen.
San Francisco was 9 of 16 on threes, mostly because they were getting wide-open shots. Imagine Dantley Walker is in the corner for UNLV. Defenses will likely pay a heavy price if they leave Walker.
Which is the adjustment St. John’s made. Tired of giving up wide-open threes, the help defender doesn’t slide to the block in order to cut off Doolin. So the point guard makes the right read and goes to basket and scores.
Compare the difference in the defenders.
That’s when Doolin will have to shoot, when defenses take away other options and try to make Doolin beat them.
Another area that Doolin and UNLV can have success is through horns sets.
This looks like an accidental horns set, but ultimately Doolin’s pick and roll draws three defenders, which leaves a shooter for Doolin to pitch it to.
UNLV can use this type of set repeatedly, especially when UNLV plays small ball with Jelan Kendrick, Jordan Cornish or Patrick McCaw as a stretch four. Even if the four isn’t a shooter, players like Christian Wood can catch and attack the basket from this set.
"I just try to make the right play every time, whether that’s passing the ball or taking the shot myself," Doolin said.
And that’s really all it will take for Doolin to set his teammates up for success on offense. But most of the time Doolin can only create the opportunity, his teammates will have to knock down shots or be able to get to the rim efficiently. Otherwise, Doolin’s ability will go for naught.
Cody Doolin is the piece to correct UNLV’s assist woes from a year ago.