Playing through David McCormack isn't so bad now that he's improved as passer
When Bill Self said ahead of his Kansas basketball team’s rivalry game against Kansas State that the struggling Jayhawks may need to put an extra emphasis on throwing the ball inside and run the offense through David McCormack more often, some may have shuddered at the thought.
That wasn’t the extent of Self’s plan, of course. And Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse McCormack proved he can be an offensive focal point without the Jayhawks playing muddled.
KU’s 6-foot-10, 250-pound big man at times this season has been too quick to settle for a jumper or a difficult attempt in the paint over too many defenders.
Self doesn’t want to play 1990s big man basketball, with McCormack looking to score on every touch, wherever he gets the ball. KU’s coach wants his team to play through McCormack by having him pass the ball, too, when that’s the proper read.
As he accumulated 18 points on 9-for-14 shooting in a much needed 74-51 victory over K-State, McCormack didn’t stubbornly force the issue and try to do more than was necessary, which tends to be one of his biggest issues when his play gets scrutinized.
The No. 23 Jayhawks (12-6 overall, 6-4 Big 12) actually can play through their veteran big man, despite the valleys he has traversed this season, if he doesn’t become a jump-shooting black hole.
His assist numbers (none against K-State) don’t always show it — the Jayhawks who catch his passes out of the post have to knock down their 3-pointers for McCormack to get credit — but the big man has been a more aware and willing passer when he catches the ball on the block for a post-up or along the baseline while facing up.
Sophomore guard Christian Braun said KU’s go-to post player has worked a lot with his teammates to add that dimension to his game.
“Dave, he found me with some great passes today,” Bruan said, “has been in practice (too). But we’re trying to help him out, talk to him, find the open spots.”
KU’s guards formed a bad habit this season, Braun added, by not helping the big guy out by moving without the ball when it goes to him.
“Dave’s been doing a really good job scoring with his back to the basket,” Braun said. “So you know the next step from there is when guys collapse on him we’ve got to be able to kick it out and hit the shot.”
When KU’s offense has fallen off a cliff for stretches this season, it usually has something to do with 3-pointers not falling or McCormack being overly assertive, to the point that it becomes a detriment.
There have been fewer instances of the big man becoming the scapegoat lately, though. So it comes as no surprise that he said after KU’s home win that passing out of the post has become a bit of a personal point of emphasis for him.
“Not only does it encourage my teammates to shoot and give them open looks,” McCormack began, “but it also makes my job easier, because when I pass out of the post and they hit shots it makes the defense spread out more and I get more space to work in the paint.”
Copacetic offense may yet be within this team’s reach. For the time being, the Jayhawks are still trying to recover from that staggering January, so it may yet take a few games before they win with McCormack and the shooters around him perfectly complementing each other.
But the offense at least looked a little better versus K-State with Braun going 4-for-9 from long range and both Ochai Agbaji and Jalen Wilson knocking down a pair (the Jayhawks shot 9-for-29 as a team from 3-point range).
KU was far from aesthetically pleasing from tip to finish in the Sunflower Showdown, making it another “we’ll take it” type of victory for Self’s team.
The Jayhawks might be on the road to recovery, though, if they can master the art of playing through McCormack, who is far better now at deciding when to attack and when to keep the ball moving.
“I thought tonight in the first half he took a couple of bad ones,” Self admitted of McCormack’s shot selection early versus the Wildcats. But the coach also pointed out a few of his teammates missed McCormack for what would’ve been some easy looks inside, too.
Ultimately, Self likes what he is seeing from his former McDonald’s All-American.
“I do think he’s feeling the defense and if help comes he’s become a very willing passer,” Self said. “I think he’s become a better passer. And I also believe he’s attacking a guy one-on-one much better and playing through him and over him as opposed to playing around him.”
KU playing an offense centered around McCormack isn’t as horrifying as some would make it out to be, now that his feel for the game and comfort as a ball mover have made possessions that go into the post less predictable.