Yesterday I remarked on twitter that I had a theory that the end of the 2011 season broke Bill Self. Later that day, RCT contributor Chris Stone expanded on my point further. I would like to do the same.
A lot has been said about Bill Self these last couple seasons. A tougher nonconference schedule has meant more losses than Kansas fans have been accustomed to, but also has meant more questioning of Bill Self. Some of it, I think, is earned, but some probably isn't.
Self has never been a fantastic Xs and Os coach offensively. Defensively he is great, and even when the talent isn't really there I trust Kansas to at least have a good defense.
Offensively has been a different story. After finishing inside the top 10 three times in a four year period starting in 2008, Kansas hasn't been back since. Starting with 2012, Kansas has finished 28, 34, 14, 36 on offense in the final KenPom ratings. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at for most programs, but for a program that can recruit the type of talent Kansas can, it is a bit of a problem.
Let's flash back to 2011. Kansas had one of the nation's best offenses built around Big 12 player of the year Marcus Morris, his twin brother, and a pair of sharpshooters from Kansas. Tyrel Reed was certainly a good athlete and Brady Morningstar did things other than shoot, but for the most part the two weren't what you think of when you think Big 12 basketball player. Still, each shot more than 100 threes and each shot 38 percent from deep for the Jayhawks. Combine that with Tyshawn Taylor shooting 38 percent on 50 attempts, the Morri shooting 42 and 34 percent on 59 and 76 attempts, and even Josh Selby shooting 36 percent on 94 attempts, the Jayhawks built the 7th best offense in the country on the most 3 point oriented attack Bill Self has had at Kansas. The Jayhawks attempted nearly a third of their shots from three and made 38 percent of them, good for 24th nationally. That threat from behind the arc opened things up inside, and let the Jayhawks lead the nation in 2-point shooting as well.
Things were going great for the Jayhawks, and they looked set to win their second title in four years, until that fateful March 27th when they met the luckiest team in basketball history. I won't rehash the game entirely, but Kansas shot just 9.5 percent behind the arc, making 2-21 from deep. Tyrel Reed was 1-7 and Brady Morningstar missed all 3 of his. Kansas shot roughly 48 percent on twos in the game, which isn't fantastic, but certainly good enough to win without a horrible day behind the arc.
From here on out I am engaging in mostly speculation, but I think it's a worthwhile exercise. In 2011, the Jayhawks attempted 32.4 percent of its field goals behind the arc. That is the highest mark the Jayhawks have had under Bill Self. It wasn't a ton, as that number was good for just 181st in the country, but it is a decent amount for a major conference team that can score inside well. Since then, however, Kansas has attempted 29.6, 29, 28.6, and 28.4 percent of its shots behind the arc, which is good for 247th, 281st, 272nd, and 302nd nationally.
Yesterday I took a look at Kansas's 3PA/FGA per game in 2015 and the first two games of this season and correlated it to the points per possession scored in those games (note: I did not factor in makes, only attempts). I found the correlation was slightly less than .5, which is not terribly strong, but is stronger than getting to the free throw line and similar to offensive rebounding.
I'd also like to take a look at how the season long AdjO rankings correlate with the 3PA/FGA statistic:
Again, that's not terribly strong, but roughly as important as getting to the free throw line.
Obviously there are roster concerns to worry about. A team with Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed should take more threes than one who has less capable shooters in the backcourt. And a team with Joel Embiid on it should absolutely get it inside as often as possible.
The big problem comes when Self doesn't want to use his roster effectively. Kansas shot just 56 percent at the rim last year, which was in the bottom 100 nationally. Perry Ellis shot 58 percent, Landen Lucas shot 59 percent, and Jamari Traylor shot 55 percent. For comparison's sake, Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski shot 67 percent at the rim for Arizona.
This season Kansas has two excellent shooters in Svi Mykhailiuk and Brannen Greene. Mykhailiuk requires a bit of projection to say he's an excellent shooter, but even acknowledging I am biased in his favor, I think he will be a threat from deep this season. Greene's accuracy, meanwhile, is inarguable. Assuming health, he might be the best in game 3-point shooter in the country. His height allows him room to get off his shot, and when healthy his release is nearly identical each time. Before his hip flared up last season, Greene looked like a threat to break 50 percent behind the arc, which is absolutely insane.
Like Reed and Morningtar, having Svi and Greene (as well as Mason, Selden, and Graham, who can all shoot threes decently to well) opens things up inside. Perry Ellis dominated inside on Tuesday night until the Jayhawks went away from him, and if Kansas never shoots them it's hard to say their threat opens things up inside. And in fact it might open things up inside. Hoop-math only has data going back to 2012, but the correlation between FG% at the rim and 3PA/FGA is .45, which again is not strong but stronger than I would expect. Given the sample size, however, I'm hesitant to read too much into it.
I have no problem with Kansas getting the ball inside often. The worst shooting team at the rim last season shot the same percentage as the best shooting team on mid range jumpers. But Kansas is giving away free points behind the arc, and the lack of that threat might be giving away points inside as well. The Jayhawks shot 10 percent worse at the rim in 2015 than they did in 2014, and by continuing to attempt to ram a square peg into a round hole, Kansas may be unnecessarily hindering itself.