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BYU Basketball: The Bench Problem

A dive into BYU’s bench problems and injury impact

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

What happened to BYU’s bench? In the WCC tournament game against LMU, BYU’s starters scored 88 points. The team scored 89 points. The bench scored in single digits ten times this year.

Villanova, a team which is similar to BYU in terms of bench, has only two-three regular bench players. Villanova’s bench scores about 16 points per game.

In conference play, BYU averaged under 14 points per game from the bench. During the WCC Tournament, BYU got 9 points in the 2 games played. Adding to the frustration is that BYU’s starters score at a similar pace as UCLA’s starters. BYU finished 32nd in scoring offense; UCLA finished 1st. The main difference? UCLA’s bench scored about 7 points per game more than BYU’s. The season started with so much promise and high expectations. What happened?

One answer is that injuries happened, and a lack of depth past the top 7 or 8 players hurt BYU. The Cougars did not play a single game with a full roster available to them. The team had a total of 71 missed games due to injuries (and Kaufusi playing with the football team). 42 of those games were missed by starters or rotation players. That is a sizable hole for any team to fill.

To start the year, BYU’s starting lineup was Mika, Davis, Emery, Haws, and Rose, with a main bench rotation of Bryant and Childs. The unfortunate injuries to Kyle Davis and LJ Rose, though providing opportunities for Childs and Bryant to play more and grow with the rest of their young teammates, messed with team chemistry and the leadership hierarchy. Each successive injury hurt the team and the bench’s ability to contribute. For the 5 games BYU played with a healthy roster, the bench played 33% of all minutes and scored 31% of all points. On the defensive side, the bench had a defensive efficiency rating of 93.3 (slightly below league average but not bad. League average: 91.6 Team season value: 86.5). Looking at win shares (an approximation of how many games a player, or in this case set of players, helped win, as opposed to what a perfectly average player would have done), the healthy bench won 1.8 games. This is the only part of the season that this value is positive.

The first injury the team faced was Elijah Bryant’s injury only five games into the season. In his healthy games off the bench, Bryant averaged 9.4 points per game. The first game he missed was against Utah Valley. With Rose and Haws shooting a combined 2/16 in that game, and the backup guards shooting a combined 2/6. Without a doubt, a healthy Elijah Bryant would have been a significant help in that game. During Bryant’s injury, the bench played 30.2% of the minutes but scoring dropped to 18.5% of the total. The bench’s defensive rating also suffered, rising to 95.9. Win shares dropped to just below 0 (essentially meaning that the bench performed as an average NCAA player would have).

The next major injury sustained by the team was to Kyle Davis. Though Childs is more talented and has more potential, removing that depth hurt significantly. Davis produced .48 points per minute. The committee that replaced his minutes (Kaufusi, Aytes, Shaw, Dastrup, and Guinn in small ball lineups) scored .23 points per minute. Mika scores .70 and Childs scores .37 points per minute for some perspective. Losing Davis resulted in a massive drop off in frontcourt offensive production. Davis played in 3 minutes in the loss to Illinois before being done for the season. After Davis’ injury, the bench played 28.5% of minutes and scored 17.6% of the team’s points. Again, the defense also suffered, with the defensive rating jumping to 97.0. Without Davis, the bench cost the team 2 wins if they had been average.

The third major injury suffered by the team was to LJ Rose. The resulting move of Bryant into the starting lineup removed the highest scorer off the bench. Even though Bryant is a much better scorer than Rose, Rose is the team leader in assists, despite not playing in the last 8 games. Rose also leads the team in assist-to-turnover ratio, free throw percentage, and foul rate (fewest fouls per minute). He is also the team’s 3rd leading rebounder – again, without playing in the last 8 games. Just like with Bryant, the team struggled in the first game played without Rose, losing to Pepperdine. Since Rose’s injury, the bench has played 26% of the minutes available and scored only 8.3% of all points. Before the injury, the bench took 25.5% of all shots. After, they collectively took 12.7% of all shots. As for defense, (you guessed it) the defensive rating rose up to 97.1. Win shares dropped to 2.2 losses.

There was a lot of overlap with the injuries. The team lost Bryant and Davis within 3 weeks of each other. It’s hard to establish a rhythm as a team when you lose 2 out of 7 main contributors in a 3-week span, especially when that leaves only 1 (out of the 7 person rotation) player remaining from the previous season. After the 3 injuries, bench production went from 33% of minutes and 31% of points down to 26% of minutes and 8.3% of points. BYU this season is a perfect example of what happens to a team that can’t stay healthy.

With Bryant once again out, Davin Guinn will be stepping into the starting lineup. Since Rose’s injury, Guinn has produced 30% of the points, 50% of the assists and steals, and 26% of the rebounds produced by the bench. A shallow bench lost much of what little depth was remaining.