Jayhawks need some surefire 3-point shooters to surround their deep front court
Topeka — Between Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot, manning the paint should be a non-issue for next season’s Kansas basketball team.
There’s no doubt the Jayhawks’ bulky frontline of 6-foot-8 to 7-footers will be one of the team’s substantial strengths.
But who among their KU teammates are capable of providing the team with reliable 3-point shooting in 2019-20?
It’s a question that might not totally be answered until some of the program’s newest members prove themselves worthy of playing time.
This past season, 3-point shooting was more of a mixed bag for Kansas than a dependable source of offense. KU shot 260-for-743 on 3-pointers (35%, ranking 143rd in the nation) over the course of its 26-10 campaign. What’s more, this coming season, with the 3-point line moving back to 22 feet, 1.75 inches for Division I play, KU will be without its three most productive shooters from the 2018-19 roster.
Lagerald Vick, who only played in 23 games before leaving KU in early February, made a team-best 66 3-pointers on 145 attempts (44.5%). Quentin Grimes shot 54-for-159 (34%) and Dedric Lawson was 35-for-89 (39.3%). Of course, Grimes, after testing the NBA Draft waters this spring, withdrew his name from professional consideration and entered it into the NCAA’s transfer portal, while Lawson, as expected, decided to stay in the draft following his redshirt junior season.
Taking a stab in June at which Jayhawks will be asked to carry the 3-point load in November through March, the list of candidates is both obvious and alarmingly succinct: Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji.
Dotson, who connected on 33 of 91 3’s (36.3%) as a freshman, becomes the de facto top returning shooter for the Jayhawks. Agabaji, who played in only 22 games in his debut season, wasn’t too far behind, knocking down 23 of 75 3’s (30.7%).
Kansas may need much more 3-point production from both guards during their upcoming sophomore seasons. Agbaji said while speaking with reporters at Brett Ballard’s Washburn University basketball camp this week that measures already are being taken with that in mind.
“Our coaches really emphasize how much we’re in the gym shooting,” Agbaji said. “And when we go to workouts later, that’s what we’ll be doing, just getting shots up — bigs, too — and all of that. Shooting’s definitely something we’re going to focus on in this offseason.”
Good thing, too. Beyond Dotson and Agbaji, the Jayhawks don’t have much proven fire power in place for the 2019-20 season. Dotson and Agbaji account for 56 of the combined 72 made 3-pointers among KU’s returning players.
This past season, Marcus Garrett shot 12-for-49 (24.5%), Lightfoot converted 2 of his 10 3-point tries (20%) and walk-on Chris Teahan went 2-for-5 (40%). Neither McCormack nor Azubuike as much as attempted a 3. Nor are those two bigs expected to transform into 3-point shooters between now and November.
So from whose hands might some additional 3-pointers originate?
“Right now it’s so early you can’t really tell,” Teahan admitted. “Everybody’s going to be working hard, and I think everybody’s going to be getting their shots up and we’ll continue to progress. But if I need be out there to shoot, then I’m going to be ready for it.”
All three incoming freshmen in KU’s 2019 recruiting class have a chance to contribute in this area of need. And while 6-9 forward Tristan Enaruna, 6-6 wing Christian Braun and 6-foot guard Issac McBride all arrived on campus earlier this week, they’re still miles away right now from demonstrating they can make up for KU’s dearth of shooters.
“I think they all can stroke it,” Teahan said of the trio of freshmen. “I think it just depends on whose day it is and if they can shoot consistently.”
Agbaji also pointed to Braun and McBride in particular as potential 3-point threats in the season ahead.
“I would hope to see that Marcus has developed a little bit some moving forward,” Agbaji added of Garrett, a career 25.5% 3-point shooter 69 games into his college career.
Even teams capable of dominating inside need some trustworthy shooters to space the floor. Perhaps Braun, McBride and/or Enaruna can emerge in that role. Or maybe head coach Bill Self and his staff will fill one or more of the team’s current three open scholarship spots with someone who can knock down shots on the perimeter.
At this stage of the offseason, though, only two Jayhawks could be considered sound options from downtown.
“You haven’t really seen any in-game competition stuff,” Teahan said, when asked to identify KU’s surefire shooters, “so that’s kind of hard to say. But I trust Devon and I trust Ochai, because I’ve seen them shoot the ball.”
Even so, will KU have enough shooting overall?
“Yeah, yeah, I think so,” Agbaji contended. “I’m confident in all my teammates to hit shots and all of that. I think we’ll improve and we’ll definitely be better.”