The Bill Self quote that will not die was first uttered last February. It came after a Big 12 road victory at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. That was the night Self explained the meaning of “Fool’s Gold.”
OK, this not quite accurate. In truth, Self has been using the “Fool’s Gold” line for years. A simple Google search shows that Self once used the line during a news conference in March 2011. There were utterances before that. There have been more uses of “Fool’s Gold” since.
But that night last February at Texas Tech? That was when Fool’s Gold hit critical mass.
“If you play a team that takes away the threes and forces you to score inside, you can’t do it,” Self said then, when asked if his team needed to become more outside-oriented. “You’ll end up going home sad.”
Self’s Kansas teams have always tended to mirror their head coach — which is to say they’ve had a pragmatic and cautious relationship with the three-point shot. The Jayhawks have used the three-ball sparingly, and they have usually used them efficiently. In 12 seasons, Self’s teams have never been higher than 181st in the country in three-point attempt percentage*. During the same span, though, the Jayhawks have ranked outside the top 100 in three-point percentage just twice.
Quick FAQ: Three-point attempt percentage is the percentage of shots a team takes from three. Last year, KU’s three-point attempt percentage was 28.4, which ranked 302nd among Division I teams.
But for the second straight year, the Jayhawks have a lineup that is pushing the limits of Self’s offensive philosophy. Led by Wayne Selden, who is shooting 60 percent from three (yes, 60 percent!), the Jayhawks have hit 46.9 percent of their three-pointers in 12 games. That’s the second-highest clip in the country, behind conference rival Oklahoma. Self, though, doesn’t sound ready to relent on his general three-point stance.
“I think we’re probably taking good shots,” Self said, “And I do think we’ve got multiple guys that can make a shot. We’ve got six good three-point shooters, in my opinion. Perry (Ellis) hasn’t made a ton of them yet, but he’s a very capable three-point shooter. That’s good. But we don’t need to just live on that. If we do that, then we won’t ever max out as a team. Because a lot of time making shots is a way to camouflage some other ills.”
Self added: “I don’t think it’s anything other than the fact we should be shooting a few more, because we have, in my opinion, a little bit better shooting team than what we’ve had.”
The Jayhawks, of course, are due for some #regression; there is little chance they will be shooting 46.9 percent from three-point range when the season ends. But this Kansas team may have a chance to set a precedent, in both three-point percentage and their usage of the three. So as the Jayhawks take the week off for finals, The Chalkboard is introducing The Three-Point Tracker.
Here are the numbers you need to know: 40.4 percent and 32.4 percent. In 2009-10, Kansas shot 40.4 percent from three, which is the highest mark of the Self era. The next year, the Jayhawks took 32.4 percent of their shots from three-point range, which is the highest rate of the last 12 years. Those are the benchmarks. Can this team measure up?
The Three-Point Tracker: Percentage
The Three-Point Tracker: Attempt percentage
Pct. of FGs from 3
Introducing: ‘Stealy Graham’
If there is one area where the Kansas defense has struggled over the last three (and arguably even eight) seasons, it can be seen in one stat: Steals.
From 2013 to 2015, the Jayhawks never cracked the top 250 nationally in defensive turnover percentage. In the previous five seasons before that, the Jayhawks were merely average in picking up steals and forcing turnovers. This, of course, was in stark contrast to 2006-08, when the backcourt of Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush wreaked havoc against opposing offenses. In 2005-06 and 2006-07, the Jayhawks ranked in the top 50 in defensive turnover percentage. In 2007-08, there were just a shade worse.
Enter sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham, who has 20 steals in nine games. Graham’s 4.0 steal percentage is on pace to be the highest by a KU guard since Chalmers (4.8) and Robinson (4.2) eclipsed that mark during 2007-08. And together with Frank Mason, the Jayhawks’ 23.2 defensive turnover percentage this season is the highest since the 2006-07 season (23.7).
Here’s how Graham’s steal percentage compares with the sophomore seasons of Robinson and Chalmers, according to numbers from KenPom.com.
Graham is still a ways behind Chalmers and Robinson. But what’s more impressive: Graham has shown an ability to rack up steals against high-quality competition. Here are three clips of Graham harassing Oregon State guard Gary Payton II:
Steal No. 1:
Steal No. 2:
Steal No. 3:
The sample size is still small, of course. We’ll see if Graham can keep up the pace once the conference season starts. But for the moment, Graham and Mason have added a new element to the Jayhawks’ man-to-man defense.