Kentucky's preseason shot charts are hot
Plus: What if NCAA Tournament expansion wasn't so bad after all?
It is not often you can watch, in real time, as an entire fan base angrily rubs its own temples, but that has been the experience of the neutral observing the online UK fandom the past few seasons. Everyone seems sort of exasperated. And if you asked Kentucky fans to lay out their current quibbles with John Calipari, shot selection would the easy No. 1 on their list. Whatever issues UK partisans have with Calipari on the margins — certain players Kentucky did or didn’t land, rotation choices, the Shaedon Sharpe thing, Cal’s habit of going a little wacky in press conferences (which can grate at the best of times) —what has driven them most crazy in the past few seasons is Kentucky’s steady, and steadily inefficient, diet of long 2s.
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The numbers bear it out: A year ago, Kentucky took 36.3 percent of all of its field goals from midrange, per Hoop-Math.com. The year before that — when Oscar Tshiebwe was at the peak of his powers — the Wildcats took 38.5 percent of their shots from this area of the floor. They did not shoot particularly high percentages from these areas, certainly not enough to justify the balance of field goal attempts; they just YOLO’d it and took a bunch of bad ideas. You would have been exasperated too.
The notion of avoiding these sorts of attempts wasn’t exactly a recent breakthrough, either; the inefficiency of long 2s and the importance of 3s and layups had long since become a mandatory tactical baseline for NBA offenses. Meanwhile, Kentucky fans watched in envy as Alabama hyper-optimized its stylistic approach. As Calipari dumped the ball into the post and ran needlessly slow-developing old-school off-ball sets — with Kellan Grady maniacally skittering around pindowns like Detroit Pistons-era Rip Hamilton — Nate Oats’ Crimson Tide (who took 12.2 percent of their shots from the midrange last season!) were playing fast, in the open floor, with a simple but state of the art system.
It was easy to assume Calipari had lost his fastball. He’d gotten complacent, stubborn. A coach once renowned for his willingness to adapt a forward-thinking system — the dribble drive motion, which was very weird for its time but perfect for a guy recruiting all of the best 18-year-olds in the country — had become calcified in self-belief. Kentucky fans are not known for their patience. If Cal didn’t revolutionize his entire approach to offense, how much longer could this go on?
Here’s a twist: In the matter of one spring, it looks like Cal has, indeed, revolutionized his entire approach to offense.
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