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Film Analysis: Terrance Ferguson

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Ferguson had a down year but there is a lot of room for growth

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Terrance Ferguson was an interesting pick by the Thunder back in 2017. Ferguson had spent a year abroad in Australia and flashed promise as a 3&D wing. Ferguson has gone some way to meeting those expectations, Terrance worked nicely alongside Russell Westbrook last season. However, this season has been a different story.

Terrance Ferguson started the season as the Thunder’s starting small forward. When the season went on hiatus, Ferguson was coming off the bench behind Luguentz Dort, a rookie wing out of Arizona State. Ferguson has regressed hugely this season.

The reasons for Ferguson’s down year are wide-ranging and not everything can be related back to his play on the court. Ferguson had a lot of things going on in his personal life regarding his daughter. That can be a lot to deal with for a young man in his early twenties.

Moreover, Ferguson’s role has been entirely different compared to previous seasons. Last season, Ferguson could rely on receiving a steady stream of kick-out passes from Russell Westbrook, Westbrook attacked off the drive and found Ferguson sitting in the corner frequently.

The Thunder’s offense is different this season. Oklahoma City move the ball around more and those corner looks do not come about with the same regularity. Ball movement and shot creation is needed from everybody in this system, one person does not conduct the offense.

Finally, Terrance Ferguson has had to adapt to a reduced role on the Thunder; Ferguson is usually benched in crunch time. Billy Donovan trusts the three guard lineup in the closing moments of a tight game. It does not seem like Coach Donovan trusts Ferguson to the same degree. That decision can knock the confidence of a young player.

All of these factors have contributed to Ferguson’s regression this season but his regression has been fuelled by a reluctance to shoot the ball on offense. Ferguson’s role as a 3&D wing is to take open threes and play rugged defense. Ferguson refusing to shoot deep looks means the Thunder play with four people on offense rather than five.

Defenses do not respect Ferguson’s ability to score the ball and sag off him. This means that a player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gets doubled and has to navigate additional traffic on offense.

It is difficult to be a defensive specialist at a wing position in today’s NBA. There is need for wing players to be able to space the floor or create offense for others. Jimmy Butler is an excellent wing stopper who is not great at shooting the ball from deep, Butler is at 24.8% from the season from three. However, defenses respect Butler’s play-making and they have to guard him for this reason.

Ferguson does not make plays for teammates and he does not knock down 3-point shots at a strong volume. This is the key reason why Ferguson has played less minutes this season, his value to the Thunder on the court is significantly less. Terrance’s defense may be elite but he has to contribute on the other end of the floor.

I did not predict a regression on the part of Terrance Ferguson. I believed Ferguson would take a leap in his development which is customary for a lot of players in their third year.

Ferguson’s raw statistics are not all that impressive. Ferguson averages 4.2 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.5 steals per game. These are pedestrian numbers even when it is considered that Ferguson is a low-usage player. Terrance Ferguson rarely handles the ball as the Thunder’s offense runs through SGA, Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder.

The 3-point percentage is bleak reading. Ferguson is shooting 29.7% on 3.1 3PA per game. The shooting percentage from this zone is similar to a wing like Jarrett Culver, a rookie who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Ferguson’s shot profile indicates that he is a 3&D wing but this kind of player is usually a proficient shooter from deep.

Danny Green and Wes Matthews are prototypical 3&D wings. Both players play that role to perfection on their respective teams. Matthews and Green are north of 36% on shots from behind the arc. Ferguson’s efficiency on 3-point shots is low and his shooting from this area of the floor is inefficient.

The other issue with Ferguson’s shooting numbers is that his volume of 3-point shots attempted is low compared to other 3&D wings. Ferguson only takes 3.1 3PA per game, a volume which does not draw defensive attention at all. Most 3&D guys take around six threes a game; these players look to maximise their impact on the game from within their role.

Gravity is a term that is often thrown around when it comes to describing floor-spacing and the attention that a single player can command. It is used when describing the attention that an exceptional shooter like Stephen Curry or JJ Redick commands when they are flying around the perimeter. It is hard to achieve gravity but ‘tethering’ is possible.

Tethering was a term that was first used by Ben Taylor, a basketball writer who wrote ‘Thinking Basketball’. The basic concept of tethering is that the defensive player feels that they cannot sag off their assignment in the event that this player knocks down a jumper.

It is an effect that is noticeable across basketball. It is rare to see JJ Redick or Joe Harris get easy, uncontested shots from deep. Defenses are aware of the threat that they present and stay attached to the shooter.

This effect can be achieved through efficiency from deep or volume. At this moment in time, Ferguson does not satisfy either condition. Ferguson has to scale up the volume to have any value on the offensive end of the floor.

Ferguson’s shooting has dropped off hugely compared to the previous season. Terrance Ferguson shot 36.6% from outside on 3.9 3PA per game last season. The decrease did not make sense to me so I took a look at Ferguson’s shot chart.

2018-19 Shot Chart
2019-20 Shot Chart

The shot charts from both seasons are interesting. Ferguson is efficient from the right corner but he takes more attempts from the left corner. The shots from the left corner are knocked down at a mark that is below league average. This is the reason why Ferguson’s shooting has taken a huge dip, the strong shooting from the right corner cannot sustain the inefficiencies in other areas.

The other noticeable data point is that Ferguson’s percentage from above the break on the right hand side of the court has fallen off a cliff. Last season, Ferguson knocked down 39.1% of looks from this shooting zone. This is a strong return when league average is considered. That shooting percentage has slumped to just 22.2% from this area of the floor in the current season.

The numbers do indicate that Ferguson can be an efficient shooter from deep but there needs to be a lot of work from the Thunder coaching staff and Ferguson himself. The coaching staff need to get Ferguson in the right corner more consistently during the game, this is his most efficient shooting zone.

Ferguson needs to work on diversifying his scoring arsenal. It is easy to defend the right corner and take away good looks for a competent defense. Ferguson needs to become a more proficient shooter from other shooting zones. It would be wise for Ferguson to spend long hours in the gym during the off-season developing his shot.

There are other unexplored avenues of Ferguson’s skill-set that need to be grown. Ferguson’s athleticism and explosiveness means that he could be a good slasher if Terrance can develop a reliable handle. Ferguson would benefit from having the ability to get inside; defenses would have to play him honestly on the perimeter.

Until Terrance can improve these aspects of his game, his advanced statistics will make grim reading. Ferguson’s net rating of -3.0 is the third lowest on the Thunder. Ferguson’s win shares are also minimal at just 0.027 WS/48. These numbers indicate that Ferguson does not currently hold much value for the Thunder.

Ferguson brings excellent defense but he has no value on offense. Terrance is reticent to shoot the ball on offense. Ferguson cannot create his own shot and the ball stops with him on possessions. These are all huge concerns for the Thunder going forward.

The second part of my analysis focused on video study. The numbers provide fairly reliable indicators about a player but it is film that provides context and causation. I wanted to try and understand why Ferguson was such a poor shooter this season.

Shai bursts out of the corner and gets the ball to Adams. Oklahoma City get into the hand-off action. Steven runs the hand-off action excellently; Adams makes an accurate pass to SGA. Steven screens Westbrook out of the play and Shai is free to attack the interior.

The drive draws two defenders. Capela switches onto Shai as Russell is in no position to guard. Westbrook does not make the rotation to the corner and continues to chase Shai. Westbrook’s decision means Adams is free to roll to the rim without interference.

Tucker realises that Adams is open and makes the rotation to the paint to cover Adams’ roll. Tucker’s help defense means that Ferguson is left wide open in the corner. There is no defender anywhere near Ferguson.

Defenses have sat off Ferguson this season. The defense do not respect Ferguson’s shot and focus their attention elsewhere. In this example, Shai is crowded by the defense and has to dish the ball.

Ferguson anticipates the pass nicely. His hands are in a good position to catch the ball and go up with the shot. The base is solid but I would like to see Ferguson’s base become slightly narrower. When Ferguson receives the ball, he has to spend time getting his base right before shooting the ball. Ferguson would save this time if his base was narrower.

The release point on the shot is clean and technically sound. The release is directly within Ferguson’s line of sight which means it is easy for Ferguson to line the shot up. I also like the snap on Ferguson’s wrist upon release on the shot.

When you watch the footage at a granular level, you will see Ferguson’s arm spring forward after the shot. This little detail indicates the coiled momentum behnd the shot. The benefit of this type of release is that the elevation can be small and controlled. Ferguson does not need to leap into the air to get enough thrust on the attempt.

However, Ferguson’s hand placement unnecessarily complicates the shot’s motion. In the moments prior to the release, Ferguson’s guide hand slides up the ball. Ferguson applies the guide hand heavily which is not always a good idea.

The guide hand being applied heavily can influence the flight of the ball upon release. This can mean that repeatability on the shot is difficult to achieve. A shooter must be able to repeat the shooting form consistently in order to become efficient from the corner. I would like to see Ferguson use his guide hand more loosely.

Ferguson reads the play well on this possession. Terrance anticipates the kick-out pass but he does not start setting up the shot until he receives the ball. Ferguson preloading will speed the shot and make it harder for the defense to contest.

The Houston Rockets can occasionally be an effective team on defense. The switch everything system can be devastating if every player is engaged. However, there are a lot of occasions where the Rockets do not expend energy on defense. The lack of intensity means the defense falls apart against a motion offense.

The Rockets struggle with perimeter rotations, James Harden and Russell Westbrook do not consistently make the right decision. The failure to stop the opposing team on the perimeter means that the other team gets good opportunities all across the court.

The Thunder run their offense to perfection on this possession. The ball zips around the perimeter and defenders are dragged out of position. Openings are created by the pass. OKC do not settle for slow, lazy sideways passes in this action. The ball moves with purpose.

Adams’ roll to the rim draws defensive attention. Russell Westbrooks helps on Adams which leaves Shai open in the corner. Adams kicks the ball out and SGA is in plenty of space to make a play. House Jr makes the corner rotation to cover Shai which leaves Gallinari open on the perimeter.

Gallinari gets the ball from Shai. The rotations from the Rockets are ragged and desperate. Capela sprints out to prevent the three; Gallinari coolly drops the ball to Paul. The defense is completely broken once Chris gets the ball. Harden is too far away to make the rotation and play effective help defense.

Paul uses the time and space well in this instance. Chris recognises that he can create a good look for himself but a dish to Ferguson would create a great look. It is the right call from the point guard as it keeps everybody engaged with offense.

Ferguson prepares for the shot well. His knees are bent slightly which means that he can shoot quickly once he receives the ball. The base is narrower compared to the previous example. The adjustment means that Ferguson can control the shot’s thrust effectively.

However, the same issue materialises. The guide hand compromises the shot. The hand is placed on top of the ball which creates top spin on the basketball. The top spin means the ball carries additional momentum during flight. The added momentum means that the shot rims out.

I would like to see Ferguson working to correct this issue during the off-season. It would be a good idea for the Thunder coaching staff to focus on shooting drills that prioritise the shooting hand. Ferguson learning how to aim and shoot one-handed deep shots will improve his control and refine the mechanics. The process will unlearn Ferguson’s guide hand issue.

For all of Ferguson’s faults on offense, he is an exceptional defender in man to man situations. Ferguson is very good at using his athleticism and lateral quickness to stay in front of attacking players.

The reactive style does work well for Ferguson but I would like to see him develop into being a proactive defensive player. This kind of player directs the course of the action and drives the attacking player away from their favoured spots. Ferguson having this ability in his arsenal would make him an elite defensive player.

There have been a few proactive defensive players in the league but a personal favourite of mine would be Shane Battier. Battier was an excellent player due to his intelligence. Battier studied his assignment closely and learned their tendencies. The mental aspect of the game meant Battier was able to play effective defense despite being a marginal athlete.

Roberson was another player who used his length and speed to smother attacking players. Andre was able to use his strength to get to spots on defense where he could stifle the attacking team and force inefficient looks.

Ferguson is not Battier or Roberson. Ferguson’s physical profile is very different to the players listed above. However, Ferguson has the physical tools to learn another defensive style. Ferguson’s speed and energy allows him to play swarming defense that makes attacking players feel uncomfortable.

On this possession, Ferguson is assigned to James Harden. James Harden is an excellent scorer and one of the few players who averages over thirty points per night. Harden’s scoring arsenal is varied but Harden’s two main tools are the stepback jumper and free throws.

Harden is very good at using his frame to his advantage. Harden bullies his way inside for looks at the rim due to a combination of size and ball-handling. Harden is excellent at using his body to create contact and draw fouls.

Ferguson is effective defending Harden as Terrance makes his body small. Ferguson does not leave stray arms in Harden’s vicinity. Ferguson recognises that Harden will create contact by jumping into the arm if the opportunity presents itself.

Harden loves to draw contact as it creates easy points for the former MVP. Ferguson tucks his arms inwards; there is no appendage for Harden to create contact with. The probability that Harden can walk to the line for easy foul shots falls with Ferguson’s style of defense.

The Rockets run a pistol action with Harden and Capela. Capela screens Ferguson but the screen does not do its job. Ferguson slides around the screen and is able to stick with Harden. Ferguson’s turn of pace and acceleration is useful on this possession. Terrance is able to stay attached to Harden and the defensive pressure applied by Ferguson does not relent.

Harden’s dribble draws defensive attention. Mike Muscala rotates into the middle and defends the rim. It is a strong play by Muscala and the rotation means Harden has to take the shot early. Harden going all the way to the rim is not an efficient shot, the floater becomes the most efficient look for Harden in this action.

Harden gathers his step and sets up the floater. Harden takes a long step with his lead leg and decelerates quickly. Ferguson does not slow down to match Harden’s pace. Ferguson continues with the same forward momentum which allows Terrance to close the gap.

Ferguson’s speed means that he is able to slap the ball away from the rim. The block is clean and Ferguson’s sense of timing is very good. Terrance does not to try to block the ball until the shot is released. Ferguson does not give Harden a chance to draw foul shots.

Marcus Smart attacks Paul off the drive. Smart is a good ball-handler who can create off the drive effectively. However, the Thunder do an excellent job of directing the drive into a crowded area. The team traps Smart and it is difficult for the Celtics’ guard to escape from the maze of bodies.

Steven Adams makes a smart rotation towards the rim. The rotation cuts off Smart and takes away the easy drive. Paul’s pestering defense forces Smart towards the mid-range area. Smart cannot stop and look for the pass with Paul attached to him. Paul is very good at swiping the ball away from an unaware opponent.

The sheer amount of bodies in a tight space means that Smart cannot get a moment to think and run the offense. The pressure placed on Smart is too much for Marcus to deal with. Smart attempts to dribble out to the perimeter and get the Celtics into a new action. Ferguson and Dort anticipates Smart’s course of movement and place themselves in a position to steal the ball.

Ferguson’s defensive awareness deserves a lot of credit on this possession. Ferguson guards Gordon Hayward but he does not get tunnel vision. Terrance is scanning the floor to work out how the Celtics will run their offense. This is an invaluable skill for a basketball player; it is easier to anticipate the flow of the offense with better information.

Ferguson’s discipline is also impressive when Smart drifts into steal range. I have seen a lot of players hunt steals in this scenario and it can backfire hugely. Double teaming the ball-handler will leave perimeter shooters open. This would be a costly mistake against a team like the Celtics.

Ferguson maintains situational awareness. On this possession, Ferguson is constantly looking around the court for any off-ball movement. Kemba Walker is a prime option on the perimeter who is left unguarded; Walker would knock down a jumper if he got open from the arc.

The last glance at Walker reassures Ferguson. Ferguson realises that Walker does not present a threat to the defense. Terrance is free to focus on trapping Smart and forcing the mistake.

The steal on Smart is the ideal example of Ferguson’s effectiveness on defense. Ferguson’s contribution of athletic ability, defensive instincts and discipline means that he is able to come up with the steal easily.

Terrance Ferguson is a good defensive player but there are a lot of areas in his game that need refinement. I would like to see Ferguson stretch defenses out with his shooting. At the moment, defenses do not respect his shot. This has to change for Terrance Ferguson to become a positive on offense.

JJ Redick is one of the best shooters in the league. Redick’s efficiency is high but it is the type of shots that Redick takes that makes him a difficult cover for defenses. Redick’s ability to navigate through screens or curl around screens into jumpers is valuable for an offense. This kind of movement is challenging for a defense to deal with.

Ferguson’s 3-point shooting does not challenge a defense enough at the moment. It is relatively easy to defend Ferguson’s corner three. Defenses know what Ferguson will do and that predictability means that the defense can make the right play every single time.

Andre Roberson is an obvious example of a defensive player that Ferguson should study. Roberson’s ability to direct star scorers into inefficient shooting nights is hugely impressive. Roberson read the game incredibly well and his anticipation was second to none. Ferguson has to spend time picking Roberson’s brain.