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Kansas Jayhawks Basketball and David’s Stat Corner: Is Bill Self Freeing the Three?

The Jayhawks still aren’t shooting a lot of threes, but this year I don’t care.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas vs Davidson Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In a way, the Jayhawks are letting the fool’s gold fly at a rate never before seen under Bill Self. As of today, 33.4% of KU’s shots have been from behind the arc. If KU were to finish the season with that three point rate (percentage of overall field goals taken from three point range), it would be the highest of Self’s tenure in Lawrence, beating out last year’s 32.8% and 2010-11’s 32.4%.

However, while the Jayhawks are attempting more threes, so is everyone else. Actually, overall, the rest of D1 is increasing their three point volume by even more than Kansas. When KU put up just over 32% of their shots from behind the perimeter in 2011, their three point rate ranked 181st in the country, the highest rank a Self team had achieved in that category. However, last year, when KU’s three point rate was even higher, nearly 33%, their rank was just 238th. Right now, their 33.4% rate ranks even lower, at 246th.

So yes, Kansas is shooting more threes, but they’re still lagging behind the rest of the sport in doing so. Some of you may remember my conversation last spring with ESPN’s John Gasaway in which I defended the practice of shooting fewer threes (to some extent) when a team is especially effective at creating high-percentage two point shots near the basket. While it’s noteworthy that KU is shooting 41.3% from three, ranking 10th nationally, it’s just as noteworthy that this year’s team is shooting 57% on their twos, good for 14th nationally. This means that, on average, ten three-point shots for Kansas are worth 12.4 points. Ten two-point shots are worth 11.4 points.

So, Kansas should be shooting more threes, right? Not necessarily. Last spring, I also discussed how more threes don’t necessarily equal more points. Yes, on their own, each three-point attempt has been worth about a tenth of a point more than each two-point attempt for Kansas. However, there are other factors to consider.

Self has pointed out in the past that he loves guards who get to the rim, because even when they miss, it’s more likely to generate an offensive rebound than a jumper. Plenty of data exists to support his philosophy. It’s also a given that shots around the basket result in far more free throws than jump shots, particularly three-point jump shots. As long as Kansas is making twos at such a fantastic rate, there’s really no reason to shoot more threes. As long as Kansas averages more than one made free throw (or one additional basket off an offensive rebound) per ten two-point attempts compared to ten three-point attempts, KU’s twos are more valuable than their threes.

It’s not true for every team, and I’m not arguing against the benefits of increased three point shooting, but as of right now, KU probably doesn’t need to be taking more threes. No, threes aren’t fools gold, and I want Graham, Mason, Svi and Vick putting up a three any time they have an open look. But with that said, this season does not appear to be headed for another #FreeTheThree crossroads. For now.