David Riley coached an elite offense at EWU. How did he do it?

Let's break down the film with guest author Bryce Hendricks.

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In this newsletter

A special guest!

Folks, I’m super excited to be sending out this newsletter. I have a handful of strengths as a writer, but breaking down film is not one of them.

Enter my friend, Bryce Hendricks. He’s here to give you the most detailed breakdown of the EWU offense David Riley brings to Pullman that you’ll find, anywhere.

Those of you who are avid CougCenter readers will likely remember Bryce’s breakdowns over there. They are accessible even for non-coaches like me, and they’re loaded with video. They’ll make you a smarter fan.

As a bonus, Bryce is going to hang around the members-only Slack for a little while on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. PT for an AMA-style session. You can join us if you upgrade your subscription before then.


— Jeff

From skeptic to believer in David Riley

By Bryce Hendricks
Guest Author

In terms of proximity and lower-level success, former Eastern Washington men’s basketball coach David Riley feels like an obvious fit at WSU. That said, it is a bit odd to see a program that has had so much of its (limited) success with defense-first coaches go with a coach who slants strongly toward the other end of the floor. 

My reaction was immediate — and negative. I thought going for another defense-first coach was the only way to build a consistent winner in Pullman. However, upon further examination of just what made Riley so effective as an offensive coach, my view has shifted.

Let’s breakdown what it is that makes Riley’s offenses so potent and how that might translate 67 miles south down US-195. 

Nerd Ball still lives

The biggest part of Eastern’s offensive success over Riley’s tenure — an extension of their success under previous EWU and now-fellow WCC coach Shantay Legens (Portland) — has to do with the types of high-quality shots they consistently generate.

Some quick statistical observations:

  • Quality shots: Per Synergy, the rate of EWU’s catch-and-shoot looks this season ranked in the 99th percentile, and the rate of shots at the rim ranked in the 65th percentile. In general, these are the best shots an offense can take because they provide the best return on a point-per-shot basis.

  • FAST: Per kenpom.com, Eastern ranked 28th in average offensive possession length last season and were top 100 in Riley’s other two seasons. They manufacture efficient shots whenever possible and they have determined — rightly — that it is easiest to do that early in the clock. It is interesting that they have managed to manufacture that pace while hardly forcing turnovers (just 226th in takeaway rate) which points to a strong ability to get the ball out and up the floor after rebounds and made shots. 

  • Happy helpers: EWU ranked 9th nationally in assists per field goal, 6th in 2-point percentage and 28th in free throw rate. That kind of stat profile typically suggests a lot of pick-and-roll action with a guard getting downhill on the defense, but Eastern did all that while ranking in just the 1st percentile of those actions. (WSU, by contrast, was in the 53rd percentile in pick-and-roll frequency last season.) The Eagles were consistently able manufacture paint touches and put the defense in compromising positions without playing a guard who manufactured the lion’s share of those downhill opportunities.

  • Playing big: Ellis Magnuson was their only rotation player below 6-foot-6 and they used 6-6 Casey Jones as their Kymany Houinsou-esque backup PG. They also were in the 98th percentile in post-up scoring. This seems antithetical to such a modern, analytics based offense, but they space well around the post and use that to help generate looks early in offense.

This all gives an interesting lens through which to view the actual actions and functions of the scheme. Let’s check out some video.

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