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Kansas' 3-Point Shooting: Finding A Middle Ground

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Many analysts and Kansas basketball fans want to see this Jayhawk team take more 3-point shots. Meanwhile, Bill Self is committed to playing inside-out. I propose that we find a middle ground that revolves around taking what the opponent gives you be that 3-point shots or looks in the paint.

Brannen Greene celebrates a 3-pointer against Kansas State.
Brannen Greene celebrates a 3-pointer against Kansas State.
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The story goes like this. Back in November, Bill Self made a comment at a luncheon in Topeka saying that this year's Kansas team was likely to shoot more 3-pointers than any team he's had. The roster, packed with good shooters, would have the green light to pull up from deep. As the numbers came in, though, it became clear that Self's team wasn't actually shooting more 3s.

The result was a series of tweets and blog posts by The Topeka Capital-Journal's Jesse Newell in which he started a movement to #Freethe3. The argument is simple--Kansas is a great 3-point shooting team and in order to play up to their offensive potential, the Jayhawks should shoot more from behind the arc. There are other factors like turnovers and offensive rebounding, but that's the gist it. Kansas is currently the fifth best 3-point shooting team in the country at 40.9 percent, but only 30.1 percent of their field goal attempts are 3s.

The #Freethe3 movement has run into one huge road block recently: Bill Self. Self is comfortable with the number of 3s Kansas is taking. It's a number that's been successful for him as he's racked up 10 straight Big 12 championships. Things boiled over this past Tuesday when the Jayhawks attempted 40.8 percent of their field goals from deep in a win against Texas Tech. You can read Self's full comments here, but suffice it to say, he didn't like the high number of 3-point attempts. Jesse wrote one final post responding to Self's thoughts while admitting that despite the obvious value of shooting more 3s, it's not likely to happen for this Kansas team.

I'd like to propose a middle ground, one that Self himself has endorsed. About a week ago, the coach said the following, "I think game situations determine how many 3s you shoot. Sometimes teams take away things, sometimes they don't...I think a lot of it depends on the game." Kansas needs to be flexible. When the opportunity presents itself, this team should let fly from deep and when possible the Jayhawks can work the ball inside by driving the ball or working through freshman Cliff Alexander.

Self's comments about the Texas Tech game struck a chord because it seemed like Kansas was getting their 3-point attempts within the flow of the offense when the Red Raiders were taking away the 2-point shot. To confirm, I went back and watched how the Jayhawks came to attempt so many 3s. In short, the Red Raiders were often daring Kansas to shoot, and the Jayhawks took advantage.

Here's a good example. In the following clip, Cliff Alexander sets a screen for Frank Mason III. Mason's defender responds by trying to go under the screen and Norense Odiase (#32) stays back to defend the paint. Mason is left with a wide open, in rhythm 3-point shot.

Mason's options here are limited. Texas Tech has opted to take away the drive and Alexander's roll to the basket. His best option is pull up from behind the arc where he is a 44.1 percent shooter this season.

Our next example revolves around ball movement, or what Self calls getting the ball to the third side. It's what makes for a good possession in the Kansas offense. "Getting the ball to the third side, and once you do that, give the defense a chance to break down," Brannen Greene said. "That’s when they’re most vulnerable, and we can attack from there."

In this clip, Kansas begins the possession with a simple pass to the left side of the floor against a zone defense. Wayne Selden kicks it back to Mason who sends it to the other side. Two passes later, the ball is back on the left side--the third side--and Selden has a wide open look.

Selden, a 43.0 percent 3-point shooter, has become a really good catch-and-shoot guy for the Jayhawks. Certainly the sophomore could drive the ball into the lane, but he's only making 32.7 percent of his 2s this season. This shot is a high percentage shot for Selden and once again comes within the flow of the offense.

Finally, Self ought to give his tallest wing players a bit of leeway. Both Kelly Oubre and Brannen Greene stand 6-foot-7. Their size gives them the ability to simply shoot over their opponents even when the defender is able to close out on their 3-point attempt. Here's a great example of one such attempt from Oubre on Tuesday.

Oubre is a 35.4 percent 3-point shooter and his release point in this photo is substantially higher than the closeout. The same is also often true for Greene who is the team's best shooter at 52.3 percent.

Nobody is suggesting that Kansas chuck up as many 3s as possible in any given game. Rather, I think that there are merits to both arguments. Jesse is right that Kansas would be served well by shooting more 3-pointers. They struggle to score inside the arc and have the ability to knock down jumpers. Self is also right. When a team comes to rely too heavily on the 3-point shot, they leave some things up to chance come March. It's nice to have a reliable way to get easy baskets.

The problem for the Jayhawks is that they don't have a reliable post presence yet. Self's insertion of Cliff Alexander into the starting lineup is an attempt to give Kansas just that. Whether that will succeed remains to be seen. It's worth noting that shooting 3s will also open up the paint as defenses are forced to extend themselves to guard the Jayhawks' shooters, creating passing lanes into the post and driving lanes for players like Mason and Selden.

What we do know at this point is that the large number of 3-point attempts has made Self uncomfortable. It shouldn't, especially when they come within the flow of the offense. Like Self said, sometimes a team is going to take away specific shots (or you may lack an inside presence). Stanford did it last season by packing the paint against the Jayhawks. Just as Jesse has accepted that Kansas is unlikely to shoot as many 3s as it probably should, Self should recognize that when Kansas does shoot a high number of 3s they're coming as a result of game situations.

Finally, don't fret Jayhawk fans. Shooting more 3s doesn't equate to an early exit in March. 12 of the last 20 Final Four teams shot a higher percentage of their shots from behind the arc than this Kansas team. It's ok to #Freethe3 when the situation presents itself, and Self should be happy with that given his team's ability.