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#freethethree Revisited

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NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When Udoka Azubuike was ruled out for the year, it changed the complexion of this Jayhawks team. Kansas was forced to play smaller, and it has taken time to adjust. The last two years, Bill Self’s squads have had the shooting necessary to click with a 4-out-1-in look, boasting three point machines like Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk. As a result, KU found a great deal of success with only one big man on the court, a strategy few saw coming from Self, known for offenses running through talented post players.

However, this year’s team lacks that composition. Quentin Grimes’ shot has been erratic. Devon Dotson has shot well, but has very carefully picked his opportunities. Dedric Lawson and Charlie Moore had shown the ability to hit from outside in the past, but weren’t showing it this year. And of course, Marcus Garrett has never been billed as a shooter. Fortunately, Lagerald Vick was still in Lawrence, knocking down 46% of his 145 attempts from deep.

However, now that Vick is out indefinitely with a personal issue, and no set timetable for return, does it make sense for Kansas to bomb away from deep? The Jayhawks have played two games since Vick’s leave of absence was announced, with mixed results. Against Oklahoma State, KU hit 11 of 29 attempts for a respectable 37.9%. Against TCU, they took a step back and hit just 9 of 30 (30%).

If you’re familiar with my posts, you know there are more numbers coming. Using KenPom, I put together the shooting numbers in Big 12 play for the team, sans Azubuike and Vick. The three point shooting is certainly lacking, with the remaining players combining to go 65 of 193 (33.7%).

However, this includes KJ Lawson, Mitch Lightfoot and Charlie Moore, who are a combined 4 of 33 (a horrifying 12.1%). The starters (which I’m labeling as Dotson, Grimes, Garrett, Agbaji and Dedric Lawson) are shooting 61 of 160 from deep, a very respectable 38.1%. Given the small sample size for the bench players, and the fact that all three are much better than their current numbers across their career, we can reasonably assume that their 12.1% will increase with more time, buoying that 33.7% number for the team.

That on its own doesn’t say a lot about whether Kansas should be shooting a bunch of threes in Vick’s absence. However, their two point shooting numbers say much more. The team without Vick and Azubuike is shooting 53.1% from two in conference play. The starters in isolation are nearly identical, at 53.2%.

This allows us to compare the efficiency of two and three point shots. Looking at the starters’ numbers, every 100 two-point shots have been worth 106.4 points, or 1.064 points per shot. Their three-point shots have been worth 114.3 (1.143 per shot). On average, when any of these five players has hoisted a three, it has been a more effective shot than their twos.

It seems strange to take a team not known for their outside shooting, take away their best marksman, and say that they need to be shooting more threes. But the three point shot has, until recently, been overlooked in terms of its value, and most teams (including Kansas) still don’t fully utilize it. This Kansas team, without those shooters from the last few years I mentioned earlier, is still more dangerous with a healthy number of shots flying from behind the three point arc. Fortunately, Bill Self knows much more about basketball than myself, and has already realized this. Against TCU Kansas shot 44% of their field goals from outside, and 47% against Oklahoma State. In Big 12 games overall, KU is shooting 37% of their shots from deep.

The three has been freed. Let it fly!