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How Good is the Offense?


For Bill Self's tenure, the defense has gotten much more of the attention than the offense. For good reason too, as it has been ranked in the top 10 every year since 2006. The offense, meanwhile, as been much more up and down. It has never been bad, but it would probably be a stretch to say that Kansas has been an elite program offensively. They have had a top 25 offense all but three years of the Bill Self era, but have been in the top 10 only three times under Self.

One of the fun things about November is that it is still early enough in the season where it's possible to make them anything we want. Do you want to argue they will be an elite offense? Go for it. They sure have the talent. Do you want to argue they will be below Bill Self's standards, or even merely an average offense this year? They're young and have to blend in a lot of new guys into new roles, so be my guest.

Starting behind the arc, if the season ended today Kansas would have taken more threes (proportionally) than any KU team under Self. Currently they are attempting 32.5% of their shots from three, slightly more than in 2011 when they attempted 32.4% of their field goals from three. To say it has not been going well would be an understatement. Currently the Jayhawks are shooting just 31.1% from three, which would be by far their worst under Self, and presents an even bigger problem this year because of the lack of a true post option.

However, there are reasons to believe that shooting threes isn't a bad idea. First of all, the best offenses under Bill Self have been the ones that shot the most threes. That 2011 offense ranked 6th in the nation. The next most three point dependent team, 2010, ended the season ranked 2nd in the nation offensively (to be fair, tied with the 2009 team that finished 26th) and while the national championship team did not attempt a lot of threes compared to that season, they did compared to other Bill Self teams.

Secondly, there is probably reason to believe that the three point shooting will improve. Elijah Johnson has taken the most threes, and has shot 36%, but Ben McLemore is only shooting 33% from beyond the arc and Travis Releford is at just 28.6%. From all we have heard about McLemore's shooting ability I expect that number to go up, especially once opposing coaches realize how well he can get to the basket, and while Releford probably isn't a great three point shooter he shot 32.5% last year in 80 attempts and 38% in 37 attempts the year before. The percentage will further go up, I assume, if Andrew White gets more playing time. He is 2-5 on the year, but he doesn't really do anything other than shoot well, so he has only played in 14 total minutes.

The Jayhawks have been fairly poor on the offensive glass this year, grabbing just under 32% of their misses. There is a decent relationship between shooting a lot of threes and poor offensive rebounding*, but that applies mostly to teams who shoot a lot more threes than Kansas does. Kansas doesn't have a lot of good offensive rebounders. Jeff Withey isn't enough of a bruiser and Perry Ellis probably won't be able to keep his percentage up against good teams. I do expect Kevin Young's percentage to pick up again given how he finished last year and Ben McLemore has been pretty good for a guard, but it remains that Kansas won't exactly be Pitt on the offensive glass. Because they are already not very good on the offensive boards it probably wouldn't hurt Kansas to shoot even more threes, rebounds be damned.

*Not to pull a Posnanski here, but to go on a mini tangent: The preceding does not really mesh with an intuitive understanding of basketball. A team that shoots a lot of threes probably isn't going to have a lot of people underneath the basket, sure, but a lot of three pointers go for long rebounds. I'm not saying teams who shoot a lot of threes should own the glass, but they shouldn't be that bad, right?

To get a little more optimistic, Kansas has done a really good job of taking care of the ball this year. They're turning it over on just 18% of their possessions, which would be Bill Self's stingiest Kansas team. It's obviously going to get a bit worse given the quality of competition will improve, but how much?

Elijah Johnson has seen his turnover rate rise from about 19% last year to 23% this year. He is playing fewer minutes, but is having to take on a much bigger role in the offense. No longer is he just a guy bringing the ball up and passing to Tyshawn Taylor or Thomas Robinson; he now has to initiate the offense and create the offense, which you can see by his assist rate rising almost 10% over what it has been for his career so far.

I have been pleasantly surprised about a pair of other guards in terms of taking care of the ball. Ben McLemore is wildly talented, but he is still a Freshman and one who gets the ball a lot. Yet he only has a 12.5% turnover rate so far this year. And while I am more on the Naadir Tharpe bandwagon than anybody, even I wouldn't have predicted a turnover rate as low as 10.6% (especially when paired with a 25.4% assist rate).

It's early enough to where we could say the offense could be anything from elite to below average and be able to make a good argument for it being correct. If one of Tharpe or Releford's three point shooting picks up that will go a long way to making the strategy of shooting more threes than any other Bill Self team a good one, and it will help open things up inside.

Of course, if things don't work out they can always lean on having one of the best defenses in the country, just like every other year.