Kansas coach Bill Self has a simple formula for evaluating his team’s three-point shooting numbers: Thirty percent from three equals good offense.
The 30 percent, in this instance, of course, is not the percentage of made baskets. It’s the percentage of shots taken from behind the arc. If 30 percent of KU’s shots are coming from behind the arc, that’s a number that Self can live with.
“Based on our history and the success that we’ve had with our shot selection over the years,” Self said on Thursday, “I think 30 percent is a pretty good number for us.”
Start with the history. For the better part of 12 seasons, Self’s Kansas teams have played inside-out, relying on a high-low offense that emphasizes easy baskets at the rim. There is more to the high-low than simply pounding the ball into the paint — and at times, the Jayhawks have simply used the offense as a framework — but the philosophy has remained the same.
So even as the Jayhawks have struggled to find consistent post scoring this season, and even as his team has made close to 40 percent from three-point range, Self isn’t ready to change gears and start launching from deep.
“I think game situations determine how many threes you shoot,” Self said. “Sometimes teams take away things; sometimes they want to trap the post and take away your bigs and that could open up some things. Sometimes there are a lot of offensive rebounds, which create more three-point opportunities or transition, which creates more threes.”
This season, the Jayhawks are hitting 39.6 percent from three-point range, which ranks 19th in the country. But after 22 games, the Jayhawks have taken just 29.4 percent of their shots from behind the three-point line. That ranks 289th in the country and is just slightly more than last season (28.6 percent). In conference play, the number has increased only marginally, to 29.9 percent, which aligns close to the 30 percent mark that Self feels comfortable with.
“Usually we play inside out,” Self said. “And that’s how I want to play.”
Philosophies on outside shooting vary from team to team, and coach to coach. No. 1 Kentucky, for example, takes three-pointers on 30 percent of its field-goal attempts, while Wisconsin, the nation’s most efficient offense, hoists threes on 36 percent of its shots.
Self knows the numbers, knows that most teams clip off more three-point attempts than his teams do. That’s fine, he says. In practices, Self will spend most days hammering home a point about ball movement, emphasizing that his team get the ball to the “third side” of the court. In translation: If Kansas can reverse the ball threes times in a possession, Self believes they’ll be in better position to take advantage of an opposing defense.
“That’s his big thing,” said sophomore Brannen Greene, who is shooting 50.9 percent from three-point range this season. “(It’s) getting the ball to the third side. Once you do that, it gives the defense a chance to break down, and that’s when they’re most vulnerable and we can attack from there.”
In the this modern era of basketball, more and more NBA and college teams, buoyed by advanced metrics and efficiency numbers, have increased their three-point rate. But even as his team makes close to 40 percent from three, Self appears content to stick with a formula that has led to 10 straight Big 12 titles. The Jayhawks will take what the defense gives them. They will move the ball to the third side. And by season’s end, if Kansas has taken 30 percent of its shot from three-point range, Self will consider it just about right.
“I think a lot of it depends on the game,” Self said. “But historically, 30 percent of our shots historically have been threes. I think we’re close to being right on that again this year.”
Kansas’ three-point shooting percentages
** Percentage of Kansas’ field-goal attempts from behind the three-point line