By now, you have probably read plenty on Kansas’ offensive issues, from their uncharacteristically low shooting percentage inside the three-point line, to the potential aftershocks of Devonte’ Graham’s “turf toe” injury.
So let’s start with a couple numbers:
1. You might know that the Jayhawks are now shooting 43.1 percent inside the three-point line, which would be lowest mark of the Bill Self era. You might also know that even if you remove the Kentucky line (a forgettable eight-for-41 performance) Kansas is still making just 46.5 percent of its two-pointers, the lowest since shooting 50.8 percent in 2005-06.
2. The Jayhawks, according to numbers compiled at Hoop-Math.com, are also shooting just 50.3 percent at the rim. This is an incredibly low number for a team that is 8-1 and ranked in the top 10. In fact, no other team in the top 10 is even shooting worse than 61 percent at the rim.
FG% at the rim*
The Jayhawks are 8-1, have won seven straight, and the non-conference schedule softens considerably from here on out. If KU can notch a victory against Temple in Philly on Dec. 22 — and barring a home flop — the Jayhawks should be in good shape to finish the non-conference season with a 12-1 record — which, frankly, few saw coming after the Kentucky debacle.
And yet, it’s still Redefine Time in Lawrence as Self searches for ways to bolster an offense that, through nine games at least, has been like no offense he’s had at Kansas.
So what’s the answer? One remedy that seems simple — but is slightly more complicated: The Jayhawks need to shoot more threes. After making six of 11 from three-point range against Utah, Kansas is now shooting 37.3 percent from three-point range on the year, which ranks 68th in the country. Before the season, Self said this would be a better outside shooting team, and for now, that prediction is holding up. The percentage could dip, of course, but the last time Kansas shot better than 37 percent from three? 2011 (38.2 percent).
For now, though, just 29.1 percent of Kansas’ field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc, which ranks 286th. Self’s teams have never been content to bomb away from three-point range. In the last 11 seasons, only four Kansas teams have taken more than 30 percent of their field goals from three-point range. The most three-reliant Kansas team of the Self era came in 2010-11, when the Jayhawks often played five players (Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Tyshawn Taylor) who could shoot from deep.
The theory is simple: If Kansas isn’t going to receive its standard rate of production in the paint, then it stands to reason they will need to find more points from the outside.
After the Jayhawks’ victory over Utah on Saturday, I asked Self about this — albeit probably in a slightly inarticulate manner.
Can you simply coach your team to take more threes?
Self’s initial response was yes, sure, but here’s where it gets slightly more complicated. He delved into an interesting answer about the way Utah guarded Kansas on the perimeter; the hedged really hard on a lot of ball screens, taking away driving lanes, and they denied pretty heavy on the perimeter.
In Self’s view, it’s not simply that Kansas must shoot more threes. Instead, they have to create the conditions that could lead to more open looks. One answer:
“We’ve got to do some things to try to create driving lanes and things like that,” Self said, “and we don’t have an unbelievable driving team, but Wayne (Selden) and Frank (Mason) should be able to get in there a little bit better.”
To explore this idea little more, The Chalkboard studied the game film from the Utah game and charted every single one of Kansas’ drives — and how many points were created off the drives. A quick disclaimer: This is a slightly thorny endeavor. For example: There are some drive attempts that get cut off fairly quickly — with the ballhandler barely even getting a foot in the paint — and there are some half-hearted drives that look like more designed dribble handoffs to initiate offense. But the following numbers are pretty close.
The rough estimate: Kansas attempted 31 drives against Utah, and those drives created 24 of Kansas’ 61 points. More interesting: Those drives created just three of Kansas’ 11 three-point attempts. The Jayhawks were two of three from three when the shot was set up by some form of penetration.
Here are the raw numbers:
▪ First half: 14 drives, 16 points, two of three on three-point attempts
▪ Second half: 17 drives, eight points, zero three-point attempts
Pehaps it’s no surprise that Frank Mason accounted for more than 38 percent of Kansas’ drives. The rest of the backcourt, though, accounted for just 35 percent of the drives, and the rest belonged to Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor, who can be quite effective in putting the ball on the floor from the wing or elbow.
Let’s take a look at some of the offense that worked in the first half. In the first clip, Ellis catches on the wing, drives left, draws a helping defender, and kicks out to Selden for an open three-pointer.
In the second half, while Utah came back from 21 points down, the Jayhawks didn’t create a single three-point opportunity off penetration. After going five of eight from three-point range in the first half, they shot just three three-pointers in the final 20 minutes. Some of the credit can go to Utah, which did a fantastic job of stopping Mason on the perimeter. Here’s one example:
Some of the wounds, though, were self-inflicted. In this clip, Mason creates a perfect opportunity for sophomore forward Landen Lucas, who isn’t quick enough to capitalize. It’s a nice defensive play from Utah freshman center Jakob Poeltl, but that’s a scoring opportunity a vintage Kansas team would probably capitalize on.
Finally, here’s a look at how Kansas managed to take a 57-55 lead in the final minutes. The scoring chance comes off some three-man weave action on the perimeter, where Mason gives Ellis an opportunity to find a driving lane to the basket. When playing against bigger opponents, this is where Ellis can be dangerous.
For now, Self says he doesn’t expect any drastic changes with Kansas’ offense. Part of the mission, Self says, is proving to his players that the plays and offense will work. But it’s clear that Self wants to create more driving angles for his guards, and that players like Selden and Kelly Oubre will have to capitalize on those opportunities. And, of course, from a pure numbers and efficiency perspective, it would probably benefit Kansas if some of those driving angles lead to more open three-pointers.
The moment of the game
It happened early in the second half, but if you missed it, here is Jamari Traylor’s chase-down block in transition. After a one-game suspension, welcome back Traylor.
The player of the game
Sophomore guard Wayne Selden
Upon a second viewing of the game, one player whose impact was probably overlooked was Selden, who finished with eight points on three-of-eight shooting. Selden, though, hit two three-pointers and delivered a nice assist to Traylor in the opening minutes of the second half, helping the Jayhawks take a 42-21 lead. More often than not, Selden was often in the right spot on defense. His second half performance was a little empty, but the Jayhawks were in position to win because Selden was pretty good for half the game on Saturday.
45-109: The Jayhawks are shooting 41 percent from three-point range during their seven-game winning streak.