Bill Self has 600 career wins, a string of success built from a simple philosophy he’s held during 24 years as a head coach.
“I just think basketball can be summed up very easily,” Self said in 2014. “If you’re good, you get easy baskets and don’t give them up.”
It might be natural, then, to worry about this year’s Kansas team. The Jayhawks don’t have gifted low-post scorers like so many years past, so will they be able to have continued success even when those easy baskets aren’t as simple?
Looking at it through that lens, it turns out, is viewing things from the wrong perspective.
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The Jayhawks, while playing four-guard “small ball” a majority of the time, actually are getting more close shots than they did in recent seasons. Not only that, they’ve been more successful converting those attempts.
KU has been able to do this while not getting much out of its big men next to the rim, proving that there’s more than one way to get those easy baskets that Self desires.
Before we go further, the numbers: According to Hoop-Math.com, the Jayhawks are shooting 42 percent of their shots at the rim, compared to 37 percent a year ago. KU also has made 67 percent of those tries, up from 64 percent last year.
Those numbers are likely to come down some once KU gets into Big 12 play, but so far, the biggest difference has been transition.
KU is playing significantly faster according to offensive pace numbers, and the Jayhawks also are getting many more opportunities at the rim while running.
So what makes a good transition team? Self discussed this Thursday, saying that good defensive rebounding and playing multiple ball-handlers were two of the keys.
He also said something else interesting: Usually the best teams he had in transition had rosters with big men who could run.
And this is where talented freshman Josh Jackson comes in.
The likely one-and-done has primarily played the 4 position for KU this year, giving the Jayhawks another person who can quickly bring the ball up following opponents’ missed shots.
He’s also helped in less obvious ways, as Self referenced. By sprinting down the floor in transition, he’s forced other teams to guard him, which has left openings for teammates. An example came midway through the second half against UMKC when Jackson’s hustle drew defender Grant Leach away from the basket, which cleared Frank Mason for a layup.
Both Mason and Devonté Graham are shooting better at the rim this season. Mason’s field-goal percentage there has gone from 50 percent to 69 percent this year, while Devonté Graham has improved from 56 to 73 percent. Jackson also has been superb on close shots with 73 percent accuracy overall and 79 percent on fast breaks.
The result is that KU is thriving at the rim ... like most other years. The Jayhawks are averaging 13 more points in the paint than their opponents, and that’s without having a reliable scoring big man like Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson or Perry Ellis.
Though Self has often leaned on big men to carry his team inside, he’s found a different formula for success this season.
In the end, the 2016-17 Jayhawks might just prove to be an exception — while also continuing to follow their coach’s golden rule.