Even without Lagerald Vick, Jayhawks capable of producing from 3-point range
At no point in the past couple of weeks did Bill Self give his team a directive to shoot more 3-pointers.
But since the calendar flipped to February, the Jayhawks have definitely been more ready and likely to fire away from beyond the arc.
On the season, KU is averaging 20.7 3-point attempts per game with a 35.9% success rate. Through 12 Big 12 games, the Jayhawks are averaging 21.4 3-point tries and hitting 35.8%. But in the past four games, KU is hoisting 27.3 per game from downtown and connecting on 36.7% of those looks.
The upward trend began after Kansas only took 18 3-pointers in its double-digit loss at Texas. As Self pointed out during his weekly press conference on Thursday, the escalation in attempts wasn’t as much a shift in philosophy as it was a byproduct of another type of adjustment.
“We will shoot more 3’s if Dedric plays away from the basket,” Self said, “because that’s another guy that can shoot a 3 away from the basket. We’ve shot more. But I do believe that Dedric has contributed to that, because he’s probably shooting four or five a game himself, where he was probably averaging one a game before that. That could be it.”
Indeed, since Self tweaked the offense to relocate Lawson to the perimeter, the redshirt junior big man has shot 9 for 19 from 3-point range in the past four games. In the 21 games before that Lawson went a combined 11 for 39, attempting only 1.9 3-pointers a game.
With Lawson providing No. 14 Kansas (19-6 overall, 8-4 Big 12) with a new offensive wrinkle, the Jayhawks made a season-high 13 from deep in beating Texas Tech, and with 11 makes against Oklahoma State, KU hit double figures in 3-pointers for just the fifth time this season.
Obviously Lawson hasn’t done this all by himself. As the Jayhawks also have adjusted to playing without Marcus Garrett (injured ankle) and Lagerald Vick (leave of absence), Lawson and three oh his teammates have put up between four and five 3-pointers apiece during the past four games:
Lawson, 9 for 19
Ochai Agbaji, 8 for 19
Devon Dotson, 8 for 17
Quentin Grimes, 7 for 21
Rest of the team, 8 for 33
Self isn’t complaining about his team’s increased reliance on the 3-point arc. Even though freshman guard Grimes, as KU’s coach put it, “hasn’t really gotten on a roll yet offensively,” Grimes took a team-high eight 3-pointers at TCU earlier this week.
It was the second-most long-range attempts in a game for Grimes this season, a campaign that began with him going 6 for 10 against Michigan State.
“But they were good looks,” Self said of Grimes’ 1-for-8 night at TCU. “They were open.”
In that same Big Monday victory, Dotson delivered a career-high four 3-pointers on a career-high seven attempts. And the third freshman guard in the starting lineup, Agbaji, went 2 for 6.
Overall, KU went 9 for 30 from distance in Fort Worth, Texas. It was just the second time this season the Jayhawks attempted 30 3-pointers, and the other came three games earlier, in a home win over Texas Tech (13 for 30).
“Maybe confidence with the young guys is probably a reason why,” Self hypothesized of another factor in KU’s 3-point attempts being on the rise. “But I also think Dedric playing away from the basket.”
Perhaps the Jayhawks are just riding the wave created by a pre-game video message from Devonte’ Graham, who told them before the Texas Tech win something along the lines of, “I don’t care what coach says. Shoot the ball.”
Whatever it is, it seems to be working for these Jayhawks. As they head into the home stretch of the regular season, while they’ll need to connect at a better clip than the 30% that they shot in their win at TCU, the absence of their best 3-point shooter, Vick (66 for 145), hasn’t led to a noticeable dropoff in productivity in that category.
In part, that’s because KU’s other 3-point threats are more likely to take open looks now than they were earlier in the season.
“I feel like everybody’s getting a lot more comfortable with the offense,” Grimes said, “and what we can do out there from a standpoint of what coach wants, and then from an individual standpoint of what we can do out there on the court.”
Grimes, who is 33 for 100 on the season and 17 for 53 in Big 12 play, said the Jayhawks just need to take good shots. That means not rushing their 3-pointers, or taking them early in the shot clock, or when two defenders are closing and an extra pass is available.
“I feel like all the shots that we’ve been taking have been pretty good shots, even if they’re misses,” Grimes said of KU’s recent 3-point shot selection.
His teammates have said all season that Grimes is one of the best shooters on the team. And he may in fact prove himself to be one in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, with no timetable for Vick’s return in place, it is becoming clear that KU has other reliable shooters. As Nick Schwerdt, host of KLWN’s “Rock Chalk Sports Talk” recently pointed out, Vick isn’t the only Jayhawk ranked among the Big 12 leaders in 3-point shooting during conference play.
Three active Jayhawks, in fact, are shooting 40% or better in league games:
Dotson, 13 for 30 (43.3%)
Agbaji, 14 for 33 (42.4%)
Lawson, 14 for 35 (40%)
With or without Vick, Kansas has capable 3-point shooters. And, more importantly, they are more comfortable and confident in taking those shots now.
When Dotson, Agbaji and Lawson are open beyond the arc, consider it a successful offensive possession every time they shoot.
And remember: open 3-pointers for Grimes are good shots, too. KU needs to get the freshman into a groove sooner rather than later, and he’s never going to get there without being assertive.
The Jayhawks are going to need 3-pointers to peak offensively, so they may as well embrace the concept of taking them when they’re open.