It’s interesting, then, that one phrase completely disappeared from his vernacular this year ... according to my memory and also a quick Google search.
Self, as far as I can tell, did not refer to three-pointers one time publicly this season as “fool’s gold.”
That’s just part of a major shift when it comes to KU’s offensive philosophy. Just two years ago, ESPN’s John Gasaway found that out of the 38 major-conference coaches who had been with their programs for five years, Self ranked No. 1 in “three-point stylistic consistency.”
“Come what may Kansas will devote 30 percent of its shots to tries from beyond the arc. No more, no less,” Gasaway wrote.
Self had spoken to this exact number in a February 2015 article from Rustin Dodd.
“Based on our history and the success that we’ve had with our shot selection over the years, I think 30 percent (of shots attempts from three) is a pretty good number for us,” Self said.
The coach made sure his team followed the formula. Year after year, KU shot about 30 percent of its shots from three, never wavering more than a few percentage points.
That was ... until the last two seasons.
Take a look.
The shift started last year when KU increased its three-point rate by more than 4 percentage points. It continued this season, as KU’s 35.9 percent mark was, by far, the highest in Self’s 14 seasons.
This reflects a noticeable change in the coach. He spoke publicly this year about giving his guys more freedom to shoot it early in the shot clock, and he also has been more open to listening to players’ suggestions, which included a Devonté Graham halftime idea helping the Jayhawks against Purdue.
One fear with additional threes could be that by taking more, the Jayhawks might attempt worse ones, which potentially could hurt efficiency. That doesn’t appear to have happened either, though.
KU shot almost exactly the same from three this season (40.4 percent) and it did a year ago (41.3 percent) even with the additional tries.
Synergy Sports Technology gives us another look. KU posted 1.21 points per possession on three-point attempts in half-court settings, which ranked 10th nationally.
It wasn’t just open shots that were profitable, either. Synergy logs “guarded” and “unguarded” spot-ups, which includes two- and three-point attempts. The Jayhawks were at 1.33 PPP on unguarded shots (18th nationally) and 1.09 PPP on guarded ones (68th nationally).
The final result? KU’s additional threes were part of an offense that ranked fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency — the best mark for the Jayhawks in the last six seasons.
We all know how this ended. KU went cold at the worst time, making 5 of 25 threes in a season-ending loss to Oregon. The Jayhawks, according to Synergy, were 0 for 8 on “guarded” spot-up attempts after previously making 37 percent of those shots this season. Though Oregon’s defense deserves credit, one could also view that as a bit of bad sequencing for KU at the wrong time.
The tendency is to overreact to the final loss of a season, but it appears Self would be best to stick to his new offensive approach. The three-pointer remains an efficient option (mostly because the line is too close and likely will be moved back soon), so teams not shooting a lot of threes run the risk of missing out on one of the game’s best ways to score.
KU won’t return all of its shooters from last season; Frank Mason is graduating, and Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk also still have NBA decisions to make. If those two return, though, the pieces are there for KU to once again play up to its perimeter strengths.
The three-pointers were one of the big reasons for KU’s offensive improvement this season, and Self deserves credit for adjusting his personal philosophy to push his team towards its offensive ceiling.
Despite a tough loss, he’d be best to hold firm and have some faith in those changes. Thirty-six games of success deserve greater weight than one at the end — as bitter of a loss as that might be.