How Travis Releford became the best shooter in the nation

With his 5-for-5 shooting effort against Temple on Sunday, Kansas guard Travis Releford moved to the top spot nationally in the two best advanced shooting statistics.

The first is effective field goal percentage, which appropriately gives a player 1.5 times the credit for three-pointers (because they are worth 1.5 times the points compared to twos).

Rk Player Class Season Pos School eFG%
1 Travis Releford SR 2012-13 G Kansas .727
2 Victor Oladipo JR 2012-13 G Indiana .720
3 Logan Aronhalt SR 2012-13 G Maryland .714
4 T.J. Warren FR 2012-13 F North Carolina State .714
5 Kristijan Krajina JR 2012-13 F Mount St. Mary's .712
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2013.

The second is true shooting percentage, which weighs free throw shooting into the equation along with twos and threes.

Rk Player Class Season Pos School TS%
1 Travis Releford SR 2012-13 G Kansas .756
2 Kelly Olynyk JR 2012-13 F Gonzaga .721
3 Victor Oladipo JR 2012-13 G Indiana .718
4 Nik Stauskas FR 2012-13 G Michigan .712
5 Myles Mack SO 2012-13 G Rutgers .711
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2013.

It's quite a leap for the senior, who ranked 244th in eFG% and 306th in TS% a year ago.

So what has changed for Releford?

Let's take a closer look at the numbers to see where he's most improved from a year ago.

The following statistics are from Releford's data was missing the KU-Towson game from 2011, so I added those shots into the final total.

Releford close shots.

Releford close shots. by Jesse Newell

Releford has always been good at finishing close shots (dunks, layups and tipins), but this year, he's been on another level. Not only is he shooting more close shots this year, he's making a lot more of them, shooting a remarkable 77 percent on those tries. The senior has a knack for avoiding blocks when shooting layups in transition, and it appears he's only gotten better with that skill over time.

Releford two-point jumper.

Releford two-point jumper. by Jesse Newell

Being a high-percentage shooter isn't just about making shots; it's also about avoiding bad shots. Two-point jumpshots are statistically the worst shot a player can take, and Releford has basically eliminated this shot from his game, putting up only nine two-point jumpers this season. He's actually been well above the NCAA average on two-point Js the last two years but still hasn't felt the need to force them.

Releford three-pointers.

Releford three-pointers. by Jesse Newell

Releford has significantly increased his three-point percentage while also increasing the percentage of threes he's taken this year. Remember also that the senior started the season 0-for-11 from three, meaning he's made up ground quickly to get to 47 percent. In his last five games, Releford is 11-for-13 from three-point range (84.6 percent).

Releford free throws.

Releford free throws. by Jesse Newell

It's hard to remember this now, but Releford actually was a poor free throw shooter his first two years, making 17 of 32 free throws his freshman year (53.1 percent) and 16 of 25 his sophomore year (64 percent). Releford hasn't gotten to the line as frequently this year (as evidenced by his lower free throw rate, which compares a player's free throw attempts to his field goal attempts), but going from 65 percent to 88 percent is still a significant jump.

I wanted to end by giving Releford's shooting some historical perspective, showing KU's top eFG and TS percentages since 1998-99 — the start of Basketball-Reference's records.

Rk Player Class Season Pos eFG%
1 Travis Releford SR 2012-13 G .727
2 Tyrel Reed JR 2009-10 G .669
3 Wayne Simien SO 2002-03 F .646
4 Mario Chalmers JR 2007-08 G .631
5 Kirk Hinrich JR 2001-02 G .631
6 Darnell Jackson SR 2007-08 F .630
7 Markieff Morris JR 2010-11 C .627
8 Jeff Boschee SR 2001-02 G .623
9 Jeff Graves SR 2003-04 F .622
10 Kirk Hinrich SO 2000-01 G .619
11 Sasha Kaun SR 2007-08 C .619
12 Nick Collison SO 2000-01 F .601
13 Marcus Morris JR 2010-11 F .601
14 Thomas Robinson SO 2010-11 F .601
15 J.R. Giddens FR 2003-04 G .599
16 Markieff Morris SO 2009-10 C .599
17 Cole Aldrich SO 2008-09 C .598
18 Kenny Gregory SR 2000-01 G/F .597
19 Nick Collison JR 2001-02 F .595
20 Brady Morningstar SR 2010-11 G .592
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2013.
Rk Player Class Season TS%
1 Travis Releford SR 2012-13 .756
2 Tyrel Reed JR 2009-10 .682
3 Kirk Hinrich SO 2000-01 .667
4 Wayne Simien SO 2002-03 .658
5 Kirk Hinrich JR 2001-02 .657
6 Mario Chalmers JR 2007-08 .656
7 Darnell Jackson SR 2007-08 .650
8 Markieff Morris JR 2010-11 .642
9 Cole Aldrich SO 2008-09 .640
10 Jeff Boschee SR 2001-02 .638
11 Jeff Graves SR 2003-04 .632
12 Marcus Morris JR 2010-11 .625
13 Wayne Simien SR 2004-05 .616
14 Mario Chalmers SO 2006-07 .614
15 Jeff Withey JR 2011-12 .614
16 Michael Lee SO 2002-03 .612
17 Markieff Morris SO 2009-10 .612
18 Aaron Miles SR 2004-05 .611
19 Nick Collison SO 2000-01 .610
20 Ben McLemore FR 2012-13 .610
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/8/2013.

With better shot selection, an elite ability to finish at the rim and improvements behind the line and arc, Releford has taken his shooting efficiency to a new level — one that is unmatched in recent KU history.



SouthMarylandJayhawk 1 year, 3 months ago

Shhhhhh. No need to share these wonderful stats outside Lawrence. Keep up the great work Travis!


Bill Skeet 1 year, 3 months ago

So, it seems there is strong agreement that Travis is one of the best defensive players in the country.

The metrics show that he's the best offensive player in the country.

The pundits say he's underrated.

So why is he not in the discussion for All-America team?

And since when is a college player who is one of the best in defense and offense NOT considered an NBA first rounder? Is there some other category he needs to improve?

I think Travis is officially our secret weapon, hidden in plain sight. But I think the veil is being lifted...


Scott Smetana 1 year, 3 months ago

It seems Travis's biggest weakness is Travis. He seems to question himself and have shaky confidence. HOWEVER, it seems he was worked things out! I hope he can keep it up!


William Blake 1 year, 3 months ago

Very impressive! However... if this was the NBA, the coach's head would be on the block for having a player with these numbers and only scoring 13.4 ppg.

Travis is a deadly weapon, that largely hides in a sheath.

As impressive as these numbers appear, you actually want players on the top % end to shoot more to score more points at the cost of percentages (to some degree). Travis should be taking as many shots as it takes to start bringing his %s down. I realize that may sound illogical, but in the real world basketball is a game where point totals determine wins and losses.... not %s.

The one risk in pushing Travis to score more is the risk of taking him out of his game. I believe the way to accomplish that is to ease Travis in to taking more shots. Designing more plays to end with a Travis shot is one way to get his numbers up without compromising his flow.

Speaking of flow.... maybe Travis read my post about "flow out" a while back because that guy knows flow out. His treys flow so well they almost look like he's stuffing the ball.


DDDHawk 1 year, 3 months ago

Wow! Way to go, Travis! And thanks for the breakdown, Jesse!


Danny Hernandez 1 year, 3 months ago

Everyone talks about an nba elite defender, who in the nba is an elite defender? Travis is an elite defender and would be one in the nba


justanotherfan 1 year, 3 months ago

One thing that isn't captured here is that Releford is benefitting from finally playing opposite another dynamic wing scorer in McLemore, and no dominant post scorers. Releford's game is slashing to the basket and shooting wide open threes.

How do you get those shots consistently? Well, one way is to get out in transition, which is part of what Travis has done. The other part is getting some help from your teammates. With a strong post player, drives to the basket are often clogged up by post defenders. With the Morris twins, TRob, etc. there was always someone on the low block, and they often commanded a double team. That took away a lot of Travis' driving lanes, or at least impeded them. This year with Young, Ellis, Withey, et. al., they aren't drawing those defenders into the paint as often, which opens the driving lanes for Travis off curls and weaves.

The open threes is where BMac comes in. His scoring ability forces the defense to shade his way, which means when Travis sets up on the weak side, the defense is giving him an extra step, which, as sleepy33 noted, is when he has been most effective. When he has that extra space, he knocks down the 3. When the defense closes out, he attacks off the dribble, getting him to the rim for layups and dunks.

Does all of this make Travis Releford an NBA player? Maybe. He's a role player that seems to really understand what his best skills are and has gotten better and better at staying within his role. That is a huge plus when looking to catch on with a team. The downside for Travis is that he is not elite in any category. He is a very good defender, but I don't know that he is an elite NBA level defender. He's not an elite shooter, ball handler, or passer. He's an adequate wing rebounder, but not elite there, either.

I'd tend to agree with texashawk, here. He's a very good college player, but the lack of an elite skill may keep him from snagging a bench spot in favor of having a specialist. His age also works against him because his athleticism is likely near its plateau. However, a couple of years in the D-league may allow him to snag a couple 10 day contracts and that could play itself into a longer deal if he's successful. My guess is Travis gets a shot at the NBA, but will probably take a couple of years to have a chance to stick in the League. However, he may opt for Europe where he can snag larger (and steadier) contracts.


Jeffery Barrett 1 year, 3 months ago

WOW! Thanks, Jesse, for the great article and stats! I knew he has improved but not that much. Definitely the most underrated player in the nation and one of the most underrated ever at KU. If he continues this pace of improvement I cannot wait to see what he does in March! Go TRel!


texashawk10 1 year, 3 months ago

I don't care if I catch flack for this, but Travis Releford is not an NBA player. He is a good college player, but a good college player doesn't translate to an NBA draft pick. His defense will get him summer league tryouts, but his future in pro basketball is overseas because that's where his game is better suited for Euroball than it is in the NBA. Releford is a top 5 defender in college, but elite on-ball defenders are a dying breed in the NBA game. Let's also look at Releford's career trajectory so far. He was ranked in the 70's coming out if high school and played very sparingly his freshman season, was redshirted because Self figured he would need Releford down the road and that he could mold him into an elite defender. His RS sophomore season was spent mostly honing that craft in practice and playing a few minutes a game against live competition to see how his defense was progressing. Last year, Bill Self was finally able to unleash Releford on people and Releford focused almost exclusively on his defense and pretty much neglecting his ability to create a shot with the exception of a couple of games. I do think without McLemore we would see Releford handle a biggerscoring load, but Self doesn't need Releford to be a scorer this season to because of McLemore. All that sa id, Releford's career has pretty much played out as expected for a recruit ranked where he was ranked at a school like KU.


sleepy33 1 year, 3 months ago

Releford has always been most successful shooting the 3 when he has enough open space/time to set his feet and very deliberately go through his shooting motion. I have very seldom if ever seen him miss from 3 when he has those extra seconds to implement his 'shooting practice' form (however unconventional/ugly it may be). It looks to me like the difference has been that, here lately, I have only seen him make a 3-point attempt when he has that extra setup time; he has given up on trying to shoot them in transition, with only positive results. Another aspect of his 'old man game' that I love: shoot the shots you can make.


Chris Shaw 1 year, 3 months ago

Some other interestesting statistics for you Releford fans. There are always posters out there who question why a kid like Releford doesn't play early in his career or for that fact Freshman don't play early in their career, but.......get that opportunity when they are juniors and seniors.

In 527 minutes of playing (225 min his Freshman year and 302 min 2 years later during his red-shirt sophomore year) Relly committed a combined 37 turnovers. In the 1206 minutes that Relly played during last years season he committed a total of 37 turnovers. Wow! Talk about finally "Getting It". And, this year Really has committed a total of 21 turnovers. Simply remarkable!


BucknellJayhawk3 1 year, 3 months ago

Great article Jesse.

Jaybate- you mentioned that you think Travis needs to become a better shooter to move up on the draft boatds. I'm still surprised that his name doesn't even appear in the top 100 prospects (the big draft boatd on I think he should be getting a little more attention, despite the fact that he's a late bloomer in his collegiate career. I def. don't see him as a lottery pick, but could see him squeak into the second round perhaps. After all, the guy can play great defense and score efficiently.


Chris Shaw 1 year, 3 months ago

Relly currently has 700 career points. Man, I want to see that kid get 300 more points and become a 1000 point scorer.


KGphoto 1 year, 3 months ago

I'm probably missing some qualifier here, but...

Kevin Young's eFG% is .593, putting him in the 20th slot ahead of Brady Morningstar. His .611 TS% should also put him tied with Miles at 19th, right above McLemore and Collison.

While we're at it Evan Manning is blowing up with a .625 in eFG% and TS% which puts him at 8th and 12th respectively since '98. Well done Evan. :-)


stm62 1 year, 3 months ago

Releford is another player, like Withey, who has IMPROVED far beyond my expectations.


Steve Kubler 1 year, 3 months ago

If I remember correctly there were some that predicted Travis would be playing in a backup role by now. He has proven a lot of doubters wrong and is likely working his way in to a job with the NBA. Always loved his D and now that he has found his stroke he is making the opposing D play him honest opening up things for everyone else.


REHawk 1 year, 3 months ago

Congratulations, Travis. What a joy for fans and your coaching staff! Thanks for taking that red shirt, sticking around for the fifth season. Investment of time and effort is paying huge dividends.


clevelandjayhawker 1 year, 3 months ago

would be even higher if he hadnt gone so cold shooting the 3 to start the season.


Reuben_J_Cogburn 1 year, 3 months ago

Interesting. Good stuff, Releford.


VancouverHawk 1 year, 3 months ago

Remarkable. Let's hope he keeps it up for the rest of the season.


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