University of Kansas

Take your eye off the ball to appreciate KU’s best offensive trait

Kansas guard Devonte Graham (right) has made it a big part of his game to get out ahead on the fastbreak.
Kansas guard Devonte Graham (right) has made it a big part of his game to get out ahead on the fastbreak. TNS

When Josh Jackson secured a defensive rebound early in the second half against Oklahoma on Tuesday night, Devonté Graham had already taken two steps toward the other end of the court.

It all happens fast, but it’s part of the secret to Kansas’ offensive success this year: The Jayhawks oftentimes start their offense while still playing defense.

After a dribble, Jackson pushed a pass ahead to Graham beyond midcourt. Frank Mason, who was once shoulder-to-shoulder with Oklahoma’s Kameron McGusty, outhustled McGusty and moved four steps ahead.

KU had the numbers it wanted with a 2-on-1. Graham took a dribble, then lofted a one-handed lob to Mason for a layup.

If we’re going to be critical of the Jayhawks’ defense, we also need to be ready to embrace the positive that comes from the same four-guard look on the other end: This is likely coach Bill Self’s best transition team in his 14 seasons at KU.

Hoop-Math.com’s breakdown gives the best look. In transition situations — shots that take place in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock — Kansas has risen to become the best shooting team in the nation.

More than anything, KU has drastically improved its production after opponents’ missed shots. Following defensive rebounds, Kansas is shooting 77 percent on shots at the rim and 51 percent on three-point attempts in transition.

Kansas showed its effectiveness in this scenario a few seconds after Mason’s alley-oop layup. Svi Mykhailiuk secured a missed three, and after a dribble, he pushed ahead to Mason.

Landen Lucas posted in the lane to draw a defender, which left Graham wide open in the left corner for a three-pointer.

When asked about his team’s transition success, Self believed it was more about his player’s individual strengths and less about KU’s “small ball” lineup.

“We have four good players that you can pitch ahead,” Self said, “and they can all go make plays.”

There are nuances that make this work too. After securing a defensive rebound, Lucas says his first look is always up the court. He also credits Mason and Graham for moving forward to take outlet passes near halfcourt, which speeds up the Jayhawks’ attack.

“We can get better,” Lucas said, “but with four guards, we definitely have an advantage there.”

Be sure to watch those guards the next time Kansas secures a defensive rebound.

It’s their first steps — and instincts — that are key to the Jayhawks scoring over the next few seconds.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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