There’s no question that Kansas coach Bill Self is happy with the recent play of his team’s 3-point specialist, Isaiah Moss.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Self said Friday, when asked about the surging senior marksman, who helped No. 3 Kansas stay unbeaten in Big 12 road games, with a 58-49 win at No. 14 West Virginia.
Self didn’t share his specific feelings about the recent 3-point accuracy — or lack thereof — from the rest of the Jayhawks. But KU’s coach did mention his team made exactly four 3-pointers in each of its two road wins this past week.
“He’s made six of them,” Self pointed out of Moss, a 38.8% career 3-point shooter over the course of three seasons at Iowa and 23 games at KU.
The past couple of games in particular, Moss has proven to be the exact version of himself KU needs offensively — 3-for-8 from long range at TCU and 3-for-5 at WVU.
He could clearly use some help. While Moss was fulfilling his role in two impressive, defense-first road victories for the Jayhawks, the rest of the team combined to shoot 2-for-14 in the past week.
In the two games prior to those, KU went 4-for-13 against Texas Tech and 2-for-12 versus Texas. No single Jayhawk made more than one 3-pointer in either of those home wins.
“It’s ridiculously poor how we’ve shot the ball beyond the arc,” Self remarked. “But also you can look at it like thank goodness we’ve got (Moss).”
With the end of the regular season now just three weeks away, KU is shooting 34.2% on 3-pointers as a team this year (131st nationally as of Friday). However, the Jayhawks are making only 31.9% of their 3-pointers in Big 12 play, placing them fifth in the conference entering this weekend’s slate of games.
KU’s lack of consistent shooting has been an ongoing discussion this season, and when those conversations are happening Moss isn’t the only player considered a reliable option. Freshman Christian Braun needs to be a good shooter for the Jayhawks, too, as Self doesn’t mind bringing up.
If Braun’s more assertive on catch-and-shoot chances, following Moss’s lead, it will bolster KU’s scoring and offensive spacing.
Braun didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer in KU’s two wins at TCU and WVU, while playing a combined 36 minutes. He also went 0-for-2 against Texas and last connected on a 3-pointer during a game on Feb. 1, going 1-for-2 versus Texas Tech.
Yet Braun is responsible for some of KU’s most eye-popping 3-point displays this season, going 6-for-10 versus Kansas State and 4-for-8 at Oklahoma State.
So far during his freshman year, Braun can boast 41.8% 3-point accuracy. In Big 12 games, no Jayhawk has been as on the mark from long range as Braun, who is 14-for-29 (48.3%).
The Jayhawks need Moss and Braun firing because they’re easily the best shooters in the rotation.
Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson hasn’t hit more than one 3-pointer in a game since KU played at Iowa State on Jan. 8. WVU strategically left him open earlier this week, as Dotson went 1-for-5 while playing through some right knee soreness that had kept him out of practices the previous few days, Self shared.
In the nine games Dotson has played since going 2-for-5 on 3-pointers at ISU, he has shot 7-for-34 (20.6%) from deep. And he’s just a 27.7% 3-point shooter on the season.
Junior guard Marcus Garrett will take 3-pointers when the defense leaves him wide open and the shot makes sense in the moment. But he hasn’t buried a 3 since KU’s Jan. 14 win at Oklahoma. Garrett didn’t put up a single 3-pointer in four outings of that eight-game stretch, during which he was 0-for-7.
A 26.4% career 3-point shooter, Garrett has connected on 28.6% of his 35 tries during his junior season. He’s just 3-for-15 (20%) in Big 12 games this year.
Sophomore Ochai Agbaji gets hot from behind the arc occasionally. But since a 3-for-7 afternoon in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge against Tennessee on Jan. 25, Agbaji has gone 4-for-18 (22.2%) over his most recent five games.
Agbaji enters Saturday’s rematch with OU shooting 34.6% from downtown as a sophomore, but that number dips to 25.6% in KU’s 11 Big 12 games to date.
Moss is KU’s green-light shooter, and Self thinks the graduate transfer understands that. But the Jayhawks will need Braun to adopt a little bit of that same mentality and wait for Dotson and Agbaji to shoot their way out of their slumps before the offense is able to peak.
KU has gotten away with being a mediocre to poor 3-point shooting team this season because the Jayhawks are playing elite defense (No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com). But if they’re somehow able to pair that defense with some consistency from outside, they would become a dominant team.
The key will be confident shooting from Moss and Braun, paired with Dotson (a good free-throw shooter, at 80.6% this season) and Agbaji improving for the stretch run.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self was in the middle of describing how his team, now ranked No. 1 in the country, needed to improve in “a lot” of areas when he raised eyebrows with a statistical tidbit.
“We're leading the league in 3-point field goal percentage,” Self disclosed.
Wait a minute. What?
No, Self didn’t misspeak. Nor was he attempting to speak into existence some implausible goal for his team.
The very same Jayhawks who have connected on four or fewer 3-pointers in four of their 10 games so far and shot below 35% from long range in two other outings are the Big 12’s most consistent shooting team — at least as of mid-December.
KU (9-1) is shooting 37.3% from behind the arc to date, not an impressive number by any means. Self’s recent teams hit better than 40% from 3-point range three seasons in a row during Devonte’ Graham’s sophomore through senior years, for example.
As of games played on Sunday, KU ranked 51st nationally in 3-point percentage. Good. Just not great. And, most of all, surprising. Maybe it’s just the hangover from KU’s 35% 3-point shooting season a year ago, but this year’s KU team doesn’t seem like one that can deep-six opponents with deep 3’s.
The Jayhawks’ strength would appear to be its still improving defense, which is limiting opponents to 38% shooting overall (33rd nationally) and 29.9% on 3-pointers (74th). KenPom.com ranks KU as the No. 9 team in the country in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency.
So what if, on top of that and the presence of 7-foot Udoka Azubuike, who is making 83.1% of his shot attempts in the paint, KU also can maintain its spot as the best 3-point shooting team in the Big 12?
Well, for one thing this won’t be much of a race for the conference title. That’s one significant “what if,” though. Every Big 12 team except for West Virginia is attempting more 3-pointers a game than KU’s 20.1. And the Jayhawks are averaging 7.5 made 3-pointers per outing, trailing TCU (9.4), Texas (9.1) and Baylor (8.8) in that category.
KU could separate itself from the rest of the conference quickly by getting rid of the long-range shooting discrepancies that have characterized its first 10 games on the schedule. After KU’s drubbing of Kansas City on Saturday, Self only referred to KU’s current standing as the Big 12’s best 3-point shooting team to bring up that the Jayhawks actually need to be better.
“You've got to be able to stretch the defense in order for this team to be as good as we can be. And we’re so inconsistent,” Self said.
While the Jayhawks made 10-plus 3-pointers against four outmatched opponents — UNC Greensboro, Monmouth, Chaminade and Milwaukee — against three of their toughest foes to date, they were 4-for-9 in a loss to Duke, 4-for-11 against Dayton and 6-for-13 versus Colorado. They also easily survived a 1-for-14 performance against East Tennessee State and a 4-for-18 night versus BYU.
“We have to be the most inconsistent 3-point field goal percentage team around,” Self said. “And so we’ve got to get more consistent in that area.”
The Jayhawks need that stability in their outside scoring, as Self knows, because they haven’t even played a true road game yet, and they won’t be able to clank their way to wins at No. 18 Villanova (8-2) or Stanford (9-1) in the next couple of weeks, nor in Big 12 arenas in January and February.
KU’s best 3-point shooter, graduate transfer Isaiah Moss, is making 1.8 of his 4.2 3-point tries per game. The Jayhawks need to be creating even more catch-and-shoot opportunities for the 6-foot-5 Moss, their ultimate floor spacer, in his 22.6 minutes per game.
Hitting 42.1% from distance in his nine games, Moss (16-for-38) as a sixth man has the potential to be as effective in his role as the Big 12’s current batch of gunners: Baylor’s Jared Butler (28-for-63, 44.4%), Oklahoma State’s Thomas Dziagwa (25-for-62, 40.3%) and Texas’ Jase Febres (30-for-78, 38.5%).
When Ochai Agbaji (21-for-51, 41.2%) is locked in and taking rhythm 3-pointers, he’s a reliable second option, as well. And Devon Dotson (14-for-44, 31.8%) only gets himself in trouble when he forces the issue from downtown.
The whole point of any season is finding ways to maximize your team’s potential, and KU becoming a steady 3-point shooting team — with the help of some more shots for Moss — would allow the Jayhawks to play to their offensive ceiling.
They don’t have to rely upon 3-pointers as much as some other Big 12 teams this year, but the Jayhawks can make their games away from Allen Fieldhouse a little more manageable by knocking down a high enough percentage from outside that defenders can’t afford to pack the paint.
Big 12 3-point shooting numbers
(Through games played on Monday)
Kansas (9-1): 75-for-201, 37.3%; 7.5 makes per game on 20.1 attempts
Baylor (8-1): 79-for-220, 35.9%; 8.8 makes per game on 24.4 attempts
TCU (8-2): 94-for-274, 34.3%; 9.4 makes per game on 27.4 attempts
Texas (9-1): 91-for-267, 34.1%; 9.1 makes per game on 26.7 attempts
Oklahoma (7-2): 64-for-190, 33.7%; 7.1 makes per game on 21.1 attempts
Texas Tech (7-3): 69-for-213, 32.4%; 6.9 makes per game on 21.3 attempts
Kansas State (6-4): 70-for-216, 32.4%; 7.0 makes per game on 21.6 attempts
West Virginia (9-1): 55-for-176, 31.3%; 5.5 makes per game on 17.6 attempts
Oklahoma State (8-2): 66-for-214, 30.8%; 6.6 makes per game on 21.4 attempts
Iowa State (6-4): 72-for-246, 29.3%; 7.2 makes per game on 24.6 attempts
Dedric Lawson’s late 3-pointer a reminder of his overall potential and significance for KU’s offense
For all of his offensive prowess, University of Kansas big Dedric Lawson, the most skilled player on the roster, isn’t necessarily known as a long-range threat.
Picture the 6-foot-9 forward with the ball in his hands, and your mind goes straight to a layup, a jump-hook, a spin move or some type of impressive footwork display in the paint.
Yet, in crunch time of a tight Big Monday game against Iowa State, Lawson confidently drained a shot from behind the arc that gave the Jayhawks some pivotal breathing room, a 5-point lead, in the final 30 seconds of what proved to be an 80-76 KU victory.
Entering the primetime rematch with the Cyclones, Lawson had gone three full games — a span of 13 days — without making a 3-pointer in a game, having attempted just one during KU’s Saturday loss at West Virginia. Even though Lawson walked into Allen Fieldhouse on Monday as a 20.7 percent 3-point shooter on the season, with a career 29.1 percent mark from deep, his ability to step up and deliver the largest shot of the night versus a relentless ISU team aiming to sweep KU came down to some pretty simple factors.
As tends to be the case for any player with a hot hand, the moment didn’t feel too onerous, because Lawson was playing with comfort and confidence. He already had connected on 12 of his 16 shot attempts before coming through with a crucial 3-pointer, and he had already seen the ball go in from deep during the first half on his only other long-range attempt of the win.
Following his 29-point, 15-rebound show, which helped keep KU (16-3 overall, 5-2) at the top of the Big 12 standings, Lawson shared that the hours leading up to one of his best individual performances of the season were just as important.
“I put pressure on myself to get in the gym early before the game today, just to get a better rhythm before the game started,” Lawson said, adding he would have spent even more time doing so, but ISU was on the court longer than he expected.
Kansas head coach Bill Self, too, noticed Lawson working on his jumper on Monday, long before the star’s “great night.” During the team’s shootaround, Self said, the Jayhawks had to wait at one point to move on to the next item on the agenda, because Lawson was finishing up a shooting routine that wouldn’t conclude until he missed. And the big man kept going because he kept right on draining them — somewhere around 14 in a row.
That rhythm hadn’t left his body hours later, when KU needed a last-minute basket to bury Iowa State (14-5, 4-3). As the shot clock neared 10 seconds, Lawson began moving up from his spot on the right block to set a screen for freshman point guard Devon Dotson.
As Lawson came up on the right wing, he remembered Dotson had been going left “most of the time,” and the forward began positioning himself for a pick that would allow Dotson to head that direction again.
“And this particular play, I set it going left, but he rejected it and went right,” Lawson recalled afterward.
Dotson’s improvisation affected all three defenders on that half of the floor. Lindell Wigginton had to try and stay with the driving point guard. Michael Jacobson, who was guarding Lawson, was forced to drop toward the paint to cut off Dotson’s angle to the rim, too. Marial Shayok helped down toward Dotson from the corner, off of Marcus Garrett, as well.
“And Devon made a great read, threw it back, and I knew I was fixing to shoot it,” Lawson said, noting the six seconds remaining on the shot clock as he squared up dictated his decision to fire. “No need to try to scramble and get a bad shot. That was the best shot we were going to get that possession. So I just stepped into it with confidence and knocked it down.”
The attempt from downtown even pleased Self, who just two days earlier had not been too enthused by a couple of last-minute 3-point attempts under different circumstances in the Jayhawks’ loss at West Virginia.
“I was happy it went in. Yeah, I was really happy,” a smirking Self said of Lawson’s late-game 3. “But, you know what? He’s a good shooter.”
Lawson’s 3-point look, unlike the two last-minute, one-on-one attempts missed by Lagerald Vick at WVU in a loss, came off guard penetration, making it a solid shot — even if it was leaving the hands of a man who now has connected on only 8 of 31 3-pointers (25.8 percent) this season.
KU needs for Lawson to have the ball as often as possible when games are tight. That didn’t happen at WVU, when Lawson went from the 3:04 mark of the second half until the game’s final second without a shot attempt.
“I touched it once at the top of the key when I drove and threw it to Lagerald, but that was the only time,” Lawson recalled of KU’s late drought in Morgantown, W.Va., upon being asked how it felt to actually get the ball in position to score late in the game against ISU. “I think touching it will free up other guys, because a lot of teams draw a lot of attention on me. So if I post, take a dribble, they collapse, I kick — things like that. It’s easy when shots come that way.”
Maybe his timely 3-pointer against ISU will double as a reminder of that fact moving forward.
Lawson isn’t perfect offensively. His 2.4 turnovers per game are the second-most for KU (Vick averages 2.8). And Lawson gave the ball away a team-worst four times versus Iowa State. But none of those slip-ups came in the game’s final 12 minutes.
High-tension games should feel a little less painless for the Jayhawks if they can keep Lawson involved, because his feel and smarts mean that he won’t force the issue. He’ll just take the shots that he can sense are right for a particular moment, like he did to beat Iowa State.
Here’s something to keep an eye on, as well, with KU’s go-to scorer. In the 10 games this season that Udoka Azubuike has missed, Lawson has far more aesthetically pleasing 3-point numbers as the one and only focal point of the offense. It’s a small sample size, for sure, but Lawson is 7 for 17 (41.2 percent) beyond the arc as the lone big in a four-guard lineup.
As Bill Self directs Kansas toward what he hopes will be the basketball program’s 13th consecutive Big 12 title, it has become clear this isn’t one of his typical teams, and not just because he doesn’t have as much frontcourt depth as he would like and is forced to play four-guard lineups much of the time.
Those perimeter-oriented combinations Self puts on the floor work so well because every guard and wing isn’t one-dimensional when the ball reaches his hands. The Jayhawks have drivers and shooters outside, and wouldn’t be ranked No. 2 in the country or riding a 15-game winning streak without the power of the 3-pointer.
Down nine at the half on the road Tuesday night at Oklahoma, KU recovered for an 81-70 victory by harnessing one of its biggest offensive strengths. A 3-for-11 first-half display from behind the arc influenced a putrid showing early against the worst team in the Big 12. But the Jayhawks and senior leader Frank Mason III proved, on most nights, opponents just aren’t going to be able to stop them from creating high-percentage 3-pointers and cashing in on the best of those looks.
Mason couldn’t miss from long range during the second-half KU rally, knocking in all four of his 3-point tries. When Mason takes over, his teammates follow. With juniors Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham joining the barrage, Kansas shot 9-for-16 from long range in the final 20 minutes.
Mykhailiuk, whose 3 just after intermission helped ignite a 54-point second half, said Mason, per usual, made everything easier for his teammates on offense.
“Oh, yeah, because he is a really good driver,” said Mykhailiuk, who scored all nine of his points on 3’s in the closing half. “I think nobody can guard him. He’s just beating his guy and the other guy gotta help, and that’s what (creates) open (shots).”
During his 28-point outing, the 5-foot-11 Mason only missed one of six 3-point attempts, bringing his percentage on the year to an astounding 54.9%. Mason, following his ninth game of 20-plus points this season, said it was just his night.
“The first shot I missed even felt good, but you know I was just in rhythm on every shot and I think all them 3’s I made were pretty good shot selections,” Mason said after knocking down at least five from deep for the third time in his spectacular senior season. “So I hope that continue to happen movin' forward.”
Before the Jayhawks (15-1 overall, 4-0 Big 12) get too excited about ranking fourth in the nation in 3-point accuracy (42.2%), though, their coach will remind them not all of their looks from downtown have been ideal.
“I thought they came pretty out of rhythm and I thought a lot of them came in transition and in the open court,” Self said on the subject of KU’s nine successful 3-pointers in the second half at OU (6-9, 0-4).
“You know, there was a really big play where Frank makes a terrible play, late clock, and they steal it and the kid (one of the Sooners) tries to throw it from his back, I think, up the court and we steal it back and make a 3,” Self gave as an example. “Plays like that, that could’ve been a five-point swing right there. So we were pretty fortunate on some plays like that.”
Even though Self previously has been a noted skeptic of trusting the 3-pointer, know that he says these types of things as a way to keep his players from settling, instead of working for a better shot. He knows this Kansas team has the shooters to capitalize from long range, but he wants them to do so on open looks off of ball movement or drive-and-kick situations whenever possible.
“But I thought we took pretty good looks,” Self admitted of a decisive second-half run when KU assisted on six of its nine 3’s.
Sixteen games into the season, Mason (39-for-71 from deep) has proven to be KU’s best from distance, but he also has help. Graham is shooting 38% (38 of 100), while both Mykhailiuk (36-for-81) and sophomore sub Lagerald Vick (20-for-45) are connecting on 44% of their 3’s. Among the guards, only freshman Jackson (9-for-35) has struggled, at 26%.
“When (Mason) and Devonte’ and Svi are shootin’ the ball,” Self said, “and Lagerald, too, although Lagerald didn’t (at OU, 1-for-2 on 3’s, 1-for-6 from the floor) — but when those guys are shootin' the ball well from the perimeter it makes it pretty hard to guard.”
KU has shot 40% or better from 3-point range in nine games now, and while an off night or a slump could come at some point, the Jayhawks won’t abandon the weapon they’ll need to get this team where it wants to go.
Said Mykhailiuk: “We’re shooting pretty good. You know, everybody can shoot on our team: Frank, Devonte’, me, Josh, Lagerald. So we’re just driving the ball real aggressive and when the defense sucks in we just throw it to the 3-point line. It’s an open shot.”
A little less than three weeks into the season, the No. 4-ranked Kansas basketball team has shot just 35.5% from 3-point range. Dozens of games remain to be played and it’s a small sample size, but that rate of success marks a noticeable dip from last year, when the Jayhawks had more shooting threats on the roster and hit 41.8% from downtown.
As many likely expected, three KU players have emerged as the top long-range shooters for the 2016-17 campaign: senior Frank Mason III and juniors Devonté Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk — the three top returning shooters for a program that lost Wayne Selden Jr., Perry Ellis and Brannen Greene as outside options.
So who will emerge as the top marksman on the Jayhawks’ perimeter? Depends on whom you ask.
“Obviously everybody can shoot,” Mykhailiuk responded. “You know, last game Frank was five-for-five from three, 100 percent. Every game’s a different game and different guys hit shots.”
As the wing from Ukraine referenced, Mason couldn’t miss in the rout of UNC Asheville on Friday, improving his accuracy from beyond the arc to 48% thus far.
So is Mason the Jayhawks’ top sharpshooter? That Bill Self character probably has an opinion on the matter.
“Yeah, Frank’s shooting it really well,” Self said. “But you guys get so hung up on what happens in one game against North Carolina Asheville. I mean, in the big scheme of things that really doesn’t matter. I’d rather see what happens consistently over a seven- or 10-day period. And certainly I think we’ve got multiple guys capable of having big nights like Frank did the other night.”
OK, the head coach doesn’t want to single one guy out. So what does surging sophomore guard Lagerald Vick think?
“Svi. Hands down,” Vick said without hesitation.
“Even on bad days he still is a good shooter,” Vick replied. “Coach always get on him when he’s not jumpin’ on his shot. You know he can make shots. I watch him shoot a lot. I get techniques from him. He’s definitely the best shooter on the team.”
Mykhailiuk has knocked down 11 treys, one fewer than Mason’s team-best 12 to this point. But it’s hard to ignore Graham as a top option. Even though he’s off to a slow start (32.4% from deep), Graham led Kansas in 2015-16 with 75 3’s on the season while draining 44.1%.
As far as Self is concerned, any number of his players are capable of being considered the best 3-point shooter in crimson and blue.
“I would say if we were having a HORSE contest, I’d say Svi. But depending on game situations and things like that, then Frank’s pretty good,” Self added. “But Devonté’s good, too. I won’t quite put Lagerald (Vick) and Josh (Jackson) in that group, but I think they could become, at any particular game, could be our best shooter in the game.”
Vick and Jackson have only made seven 3-pointers between them this year, so they definitely can’t lay a claim to KU’s unofficial shooting crown.
Still, Vick considers joining that conversation one of his goals. He noticed upon reviewing game footage earlier this season a tendency to fade backward some on his jumpers. So Vick has made a point since to stay straight up and down when he rises up for a release.
“I’ve been stayin’ in the gym, just workin' on my jumpshot, lookin’ at the film and stuff,” Vick said, “so that should help me catch up with those guys.”
Personally, I’d cast my vote for Mykhailiuk as the best Jayhawk from deep. He shoots with the form Vick is trying to mimic and has that feathery touch on his release that convinces you the ball will fall through the net each time it leaves his hands. Plus, at 6-foot-8, he doesn’t have to always put so much of his body into his longest attempts.
What’s more, Mykhailiuk, who shot 37-for-92 (40.2%) while playing just 12.8 minutes a game as a sophomore, said he feels good about his shot and thinks he’s better this year.
“I think I’m more confident,” he said, “and I get more open looks.”
— Below is a look at how each of KU’s rotation guards has shot from 3-point range through six games.
Mason: 12-for-25, 48%
1-for-5 vs. Indiana
0-for-1 vs. Duke
1-for-4 vs. Siena
3-for-6 vs. UAB
2-for-4 vs. Georgia
5-for-5 vs. UNC Asheville
Mykhailiuk 11-for-27, 40.7%
2-for-5 vs. Indiana
0-for-3 vs. Duke
2-for-4 vs. Siena
4-for-5 vs. UAB
1-for-6 vs. Georgia
2-for-4 vs. UNC Asheville
Graham 12-for-37, 32.4%
- 2-for-6 vs. Indiana
-1-for-6 vs. Duke
0-for-3 vs. Siena
4-for-9 vs. UAB
3-for-9 vs. Georgia
2-for-4 vs. UNC Asheville
Jackson 3-for-12, 25%
1-for-3 vs. Indiana
1-for-2 vs. Duke
0-for-0 vs. Siena
1-for-4 vs. UAB
0-for-0 vs. Georgia
0-for-3 UNC Asheville
Vick 4-for-17, 23.5%
1-for-3 vs. Indiana
0-for-4 vs. Duke
0-for-1 vs. Siena
0-for-3 vs. UAB
0-for-2 vs. Georgia
3-for-4 vs. UNC Asheville