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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: On Shot Selection

One of the things I really like about this year's team is shot selection. I know I complained about that a bit in the postmortem the other day after the North Carolina game, but that was confined to the first half. The second half, Kentucky made almost zero shot attempts that anyone could rationally characterize as "bad."

A funny thing about this Kentucky team is that in every game they have played so far this year, it has been easier to criticize the Wildcats' shot selection in the first half than in the second. It could be that some of that is due to something Calipari told them, or an idiosyncrasy of the particular player. For example, have you noticed that Anthony Davis almost always takes a 3-point shot early in the game? Yes, I know he can make that shot (even though I don't recall him making more than maybe one this year), but it continues to puzzle me -- why does he take them at all?

As a small forward, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can be forgiven for the occasional 3-point attempt. He has an awkward release, but he can make that shot and has several times this year. For him, the question becomes a matter of when. Taking it down the stretch, early in the clock in a close game would be a bad shot in my book. He shoots an okay percentage out there at 36%, but his shot is a little eccentric for anybody but him to feel confident about a 20' look under pressure.

Then there is Terrence Jones. Jones has had remarkable success from the perimeter this year, up until this most recent game when he made 1-5, but he is still shooting a stout 50% from the arc. I have been skeptical of his ability from outside, but he has repeatedly made wide open 3-pointers, and I have come to be fairly confident in his ability from the arc as long as the shot isn't challenged.

Where Jones takes bad shots is trying to power the ball to the rim. If you have no clear advantage on your defender, and you are facing a very good defender, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Would you rather have a wide-open 12-footer or a hotly-contested 5-foot jump-hook attempt? It depends on the situation and how you are playing, but all things being equal, it's usually better to dish rather than trying to muscle in a basket against good defense.

The point of this article is that despite some miscues, this UK team seems really good at finding good shots and staying away from bad ones, and for a team this young, that is truly a remarkable thing to say. I don't know how many times last year we complained about bad shots out of Jones or Knight and even Miller -- a bunch, I know -- but this year's team seems to be so much more willing to wait for a good shot to develop.

Contrast that with North Carolina. The are, without a doubt, the most impatient quality team I have ever seen. The fact that they were hot from three on Saturday was the only thing that saved them from a double-digit loss, and it has nothing at all to do with their talent. In my mind, North Carolina's execution on offense has been highly suspect all year. If they don't get a basket in transition or early in the shot clock, they take the first look they can get. I only imagine this is because they are trying to speed the game up, but for me, it just isn't good basketball.

When I said the other day that this Kentucky team is pace-agnostic, what I meant was that unlike North Carolina, Kentucky never tries to speed the game up. When UK gets into the half court, they execute their offense as long as it takes to get a good look, and if they are well-defended, they will shoot a late three. The problem is, it's just about impossible to guard our half-court offense for 35 seconds.

North Carolina found that out in the second half of the game, and try as they did to speed the game up, the game was played at 65 possessions -- slower than the UK average overall.. An interesting statistic is that North Carolina has struggled in both games they have played where the pace was under 70 -- a very narrow win over the Wisconsin Badgers in Chapel Hill and a loss to UK in Lexington.

Pace is not why Carolina lost, though. They lost because we executed our half-court offense far better than they did in the second half, and we defended far better. Only some unconscious 3-point shooting made this game close, and UNC can't feel confident about those bombs falling all year long. They have work to do on their half-court execution, mostly in the form of patience.

The bottom line -- Kentucky's shot selection, as well as great defense in the paint, were large parts of this big win. They have both been a hallmark of the team this season, and are a big part of the reason why UK will contend for all the marbles this year.