After KU put up 36 threes against Iowa State, let’s talk about shot selection

Svi Mykhailiuk (10) got off to a fast start against Iowa State, scoring the Jayhawks’ first nine points on three three-pointers. He took this long jumper over the Cyclones’ Solomon Young during the first half Tuesday. | Rich Sugg | rsugg@kcstar.com

By Jesse Newell jnewell@kcstar.com

With 11:40 left against Iowa State and the shot clock running down, Svi Mykhailiuk awkwardly pulled back his dribble and brought the ball toward his chest.

From there, the Kansas senior guard rushed up a three-pointer — off balance, guarded and outside the flow of the offense.

It went in. KU later won by five.

via GIPHY

I’ve thought a lot about that shot in the last two days.

While watching basketball, we all become experts of the game in our own minds. We want to believe the sport mimics life, and that everything we hold dear on a daily basis should translate between the lines as well.

Teams that share the ball well? They should be rewarded with offensive success. Those who execute plays and create shots at the rim? They should be the most effective.

Mykhailiuk’s shot, then, is unsettling. This was bad offense by KU — at least according to what we’ve always been taught. The Jayhawks didn’t pass it well, didn’t get it inside, yet received the best possible outcome thanks to Mykhailiuk’s sheer skill.

And it’s plays like this that reopened many discussions about KU and three-pointers this week. The Jayhawks attempted 36 outside shots — including a school-record 24 in the first half — with many fans wondering if the team went too extreme with its outside-in attack.

That certainly didn’t hurt the Jayhawks on Tuesday. KU made 14 of 36 threes, and if we adjust for the extra value of those attempts, the Jayhawks actually shot better from the perimeter than they did from two-point range.

I think that would surprise a lot of people. The style was out of the ordinary, but it wasn’t ineffective.

Which leads to this: With KU, there are some stats worth publicizing that could change how fans view this particular offense.

Synergy Sports Technology, which tracks every play of the season, is a good place to start. According to its logs, KU has posted 1.06 points per possession this season, an impressive offensive total that ranks sixth nationally.

We can drill down deeper while knowing that baseline of 1.06 is average for KU. Synergy’s numbers show:

▪ In half-court settings, KU is posting 1.20 PPP on three-point attempts. That’s behind the team’s efficiency on total shots at the rim (1.31 PPP) but also well ahead of the team’s results on short jumpers (0.62 PPP) and attempts between 17 and 20 feet (0.91 PPP).

▪ Also in the half court, KU is at 1.36 PPP on “unguarded” spot-up jumpers (which includes twos and threes) but also well above average when “guarded” on those shots (1.13 PPP).

That’s a lot of numbers to digest. But the basic gist is this: It’s hard to find evidence that KU is shooting too many three-pointers, especially when compared to many other shot options.

There are, of course, limits to this. Getting the ball to Azubuike (1.32 PPP himself) should remain a focus considering how well he’s shot it around the basket. And KU should still work to get open threes, which are statistically better than their guarded counterparts; in other words, no one is advising Mykhailuk to jack it up every time he can see the rim.

The main point, though, is that it doesn’t appear that KU’s players are abusing Self’s green light. The Jayhawks’ numbers remain strong in all three-point areas, and even with more of the offensive load being shifted to the perimeter, those attempts have continued to be among the team’s most efficient ways of scoring.

KU is seeing other benefits from its “shoot-it-up” style as well. A three is not a turnover, so there’s at least a chance of getting points. That adds up over time, as KU ranks 27th nationally in turnover rate when no previous Self team has been better than 60th. The Jayhawks also hypothetically have a chance at the offensive rebound on a missed shot, even if that’s not this particular team’s strength.

KU’s new three-point focus also has helped it avoid inefficient mid-range shots. According to Hoop-Math.com, only 21 percent of KU’s shots have been in that in-between area — five percentage points lower than any other Self season since the site’s launch seven years ago.

I’ve always admired certain programs who discard aesthetics when trying to create the most successful basketball team. Virginia plays a slow pace that many casual fans complain about, yet it’s an identity that has helped the team to a top-five ranking. West Virginia’s pressing style increases fouls, free throws and physicality, yet it’s allowed coach Bob Huggins to field top-15-type teams each of the last three seasons without elite recruiting classes.

KU has always had the best of both worlds. The Jayhawks, under Self, have played fast and free and shared it and done all that while remaining efficient offensively, winning with a style that was both effective and visually pleasing.

That might change at times this year. Mykhailiuk will put up more guarded threes at some point. There will be other instances when stunted offense leads to outside attempts that don’t fit the standard definition of a good shot.

Just know this when watching: The emotionless numbers are on the Jayhawks’ side.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell


More from this section