Sometimes important changes can be small ones.
Kansas’ offense is on pace to be the most efficient of any under Bill Self, and a contributing factor could be an adjustment in the coach himself.
Self, who has previously been a stickler for shot selection, brought up something interesting during a weekly press conference in mid-January.
“I think I’m giving my guys a little more freedom to shoot it early, which I think sometimes is good and sometimes it’s not good,” Self said. “But the good thing is they’re playing with a freer mind.”
Self explained why he believed the approach shift was necessary. If KU had a dominant low-post scorer of the past — say, Joel Embiid — he’d be more likely to tell his guards to not force anything in transition in hopes of getting that player a touch.
With this team, though, the guards are the playmakers. Self realized the reins might need to be loosened on what he considers a good shot.
“We’ve always been a team that wants to score fast. But (outside) of scoring fast, if it’s not there, give the defense a chance to break down, because we’ve always played through our bigs,” Self said. “Now it’s more like, ‘No, go score however you can whenever you can.’ I think we’re trying to score more before defenses get set maybe than in years past.”
That philosophy, in general, is a smart move for KU considering the numbers.
The Jayhawks have scored 1.16 points per possession in transition compared to 0.94 in half-court settings, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Hoop-Math.com also shows that KU’s shooting percentages are better early in the shot clock, especially when it comes to attempts at the rim.
KU guard Frank Mason says he’s noticed a difference in Self since the end of last season.
“He trusts us a lot more and he trusts his guards to make plays early in the shot clock, and we’re thankful for that,” Mason said. “We try to take advantage of that and create easy shots for our teammates or myself.”
And the “freer minds” might be helping the Jayhawks in other ways as well.
KU’s guards, like Devonté Graham, appear to be firing away more often when they get semiguarded threes. And even if it might not seem like it, those are likely to be efficient shot attempts considering the Jayhawks’ shooting prowess; KU is fourth nationally in three-point accuracy at 41 percent.
One byproduct of more threes appears to be that the Jayhawks are attempting fewer midrange jumpers, which statistically is the least-effective shot option.
There are still times when Self can be seen snapping his head back angrily after a quick three, or throwing his hands up and looking to the bench following an attempt that might have been rushed.
For the most part, though, the coach has appeared to stopped scolding his players on shot selection, trusting that will be the best course of action over the long run.
It’s hard to argue with the results. KU is shooting fewer midrange jumpers and is getting high-quality shot attempts in transition, both of which have contributed to a more efficient offense.
Small changes, yes. But they can be important too.