University of Kansas

This Bill Self comment about threes shows his evolution as a coach and KU's as a team

Bill Self made the comment in passing, and to the reporters around him, it didn't sound out of place at all.

In the minutes after his team's victory over Clemson on Friday, Self was asked about playing a zone defense in his team's upcoming Elite Eight game Sunday.

"I know one thing: I'm going to tell my guys to let it fly," Self said, "because whoever we're playing, you know we're going to have to shoot 30 threes."

Perhaps no statement could better reflect the new reality with KU basketball — and also the evolution of the team's coach.

In today's world, Self saying his team is likely to shoot 30 threes doesn't make headlines. Yet a history lesson shows how crazy the comment actually is.

Can you guess how many times KU shot 30 threes or more in his first season at KU? The answer, as you might guess, is zero.

How about in his second and third seasons? Again, zero and zero.

Keep going. Fourth, fifth, sixth seasons? Those combined for none as well.

It all leads to this: In Self's first 13 seasons, his team attempted 30 threes or more once: in a 2009 game against Alcorn State.

KU finally did that a second time last season ... in Self's 500th game at KU. The Jayhawks shot exactly 30 threes (making 10) in an 85-82 loss to TCU in the 2017 Big 12 Tournament.

This was only the beginning of KU shifting further to a perimeter-based offense.

The Jayhawks, this season, have put up 30-plus three-pointers seven different times.

"We've probably been more of an outside-in team than and inside-out team over the last couple years," assistant coach Norm Roberts said, "but that's just tribute to Coach that he changed and did what's best for the team."

Ask Self why he's shifted his three-point thoughts so quickly, and he starts by talking about personnel. Last year's team shot more threes because KU played a four-guard lineup, yet Josh Jackson's strength was slashing more than it was shooting.

This year, KU had to go even smaller. The team traded Jackson for Lagerald Vick in the starting lineup, and because Vick is more of a perimeter shooter, it only made sense that the Jayhawks' three-point attempts would increase.

"I've always said a perimeter 4 man is the hardest thing to guard," Self said. "We're just doing it a little different, because our perimeter 4 man is a true guard."

There was more to it, though.

Self has always been a coach who was put great value on getting close shots, whether that meant throwing it inside or attacking the paint off the bounce.

The point-per-possession numbers Self looked at, though, showed KU was efficient when it took threes. It led to a moment, he said, where accepted the notion that 40 percent of his team's shots this season needed to be from the outside (KU is at 41 percent heading into Sunday's game against Duke).

"We've got good shooters," Self said. "We wouldn't be shooting a lot of threes if we didn't have good shooters."

The greener light has been a big reason for KU's success this season, with the team putting up a greater volume without losing efficiency.

According to Synergy's logs, KU scores 1.49 points per possession when it gets an unguarded, spot-up attempt in the half-court. That ranks No. 1 in the nation among 351 Division I teams.

When it comes to all three-pointers, KU is at 1.19 PPP — the 20th-best mark nationally.

"For the most part, we're taking good shots. And for the most part, the right guys are taking the shots," Roberts said. "So when you do that, you're hopefully going to shoot a good percentage."

KU's outside shooting also been relatively consistent. The Jayhawks have made at least 39 percent of their threes in all six postseason games, upping their season accuracy to 41 percent (10th-best nationally).

Roberts sees it this way: Self has certain non-negotiables. His teams are going to emphasize defense, rebounding, taking care of the basketball and having the open man take the open shot.

As far as offensive style goes, though? That can shift from season to season, and this year's team is built to run.

KU's lineup is usually smaller than its opponent. The Jayhawks usually aren't as strong physically.

So KU needs to get out in transition more to put up shots against unset defenses. It needs to play more to ball-screen actions and also have proper spacing to clear room for center Udoka Azubuike inside.

And, as part of this, the Jayhawks also need to fire away from deep more than they ever have.

Roberts understands how different this is. He's asked what he would have thought five years ago if he was told Self said KU needed to shoot 30 threes in an Elite Eight game.

"I would think you were talking about Duke and it was going the other way," Roberts said. "But you know something? Things change."

That's certainly the case with this KU offense, and also a Hall of Fame coach who molded himself to fit these players best.