KU, at first glance, should shoot a lot of three-pointers next season. Here’s a look at the Jayhawks’ returning players and the stats from their most recent seasons.
The NCAA average for three-point shooting is 35 percent, so having five returners comfortably above that should be a luxury. Not only that, players like Graham, Mykhailiuk and Newman have been able to keep up their accuracy with a high number of attempts.
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There’s a problem, though, and it’s one that doesn’t become evident until one takes a closer look at KU’s roster construction. For all the three-point shooters the Jayhawks have, they might have some issues getting those guys open shots.
Making threes is a valuable skill, but it’s also still one that is highly dependent on help from a teammate. Last season, 77 percent of KU’s three-pointers were assisted, according to Hoop-Math.com, and stats have shown year after year that spot-up attempts are more successful than threes taken off the dribble.
One can see where this might be an issue considering the players KU lost in the offseason. Two of the team’s best at creating and kicking to others — Frank Mason and Josh Jackson — are off to the NBA, and this season’s roster doesn’t appear to have the same type of playmakers that can fill in that role.
The one natural fit is Graham. His assist rate was in the top 500 nationally last season, and while many are expecting him to take a bigger scoring load this season, his more important role might once again be deferring to others, as Newman and Mykhailiuk in particular will benefit from someone getting them shots on the perimeter.
Newman, meanwhile, could improve here, though a big leap isn’t likely. He had an OK assist rate of 14 percent his freshman year, with DraftExpress’ Mike Schmitz saying Newman “isn’t a natural distributor” but still is “capable of distributing” in separate scouting videos on the site.
As I mentioned in last week’s blog, Mykhailiuk has not shown much of a passing ability yet, and neither has Vick, whose 6.2 percent assist rate was worst among KU’s guards a year ago.
Which all means this could be a tough puzzle to figure out.
There is the potential that KU’s big men could help, especially with the Jayhawks likely to play less “small ball.” In the past, the Jayhawks offense has centered around throwing it into the post, then once the defense collapses, kicking it out for three-pointers.
This seemingly would put the most pressure on center Udoka Azubuike, who had just two assists in his injury-shortened season ago (though his passing was making some progress in the early months according to coach Bill Self).
Perimeter shots were a huge part of the team’s success last season. KU’s offense posted 1.21 points per possession when shooting non-transition threes, according to Synergy Sports logs, a number that ranked in the 98th percentile nationally.
It’s a tricky dilemma for sure. Playing two bigs makes sense given KU’s roster composition, but if that moves the Jayhawks away from shooting threes, it likely would be a mistake given the team’s potential shooting prowess.
A few months after solving KU’s biggest offensive riddle last season, Self and staff likely will need to tap into their creativity once again. The success of the 2017-18 season could be largely determined by the team playing to its shooting strength — a feat that promises to be more difficult moving forward than it was in the past.