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Kentucky Basketball: Kyle Wiltjer's 3-point Shooting Is Hurting Kentucky

In every year but one during Calipari's tenure, Kentucky has had at least one excellent 3-point shooter. This year, Kyle Wiltjer was supposed to be that guy, but it hasn't worked out that way.

Kyle Wiltjer needs to find the stroke that was so deadly last year.
Kyle Wiltjer needs to find the stroke that was so deadly last year.
Andy Lyons

If there was one thing you could almost always count on from Kyle Wiltjer last year, especially from mid-season on, it's that if he was in the game, he was going to make at least one 3-point shot.

Despite a slow start last year, Wiltjer wound up shooting 43.2% from the arc, and made the third most 3-pointers on the team (33) despite only playing a total of 434 minutes the whole season. Per 40 minutes, Kyle Wiltjer averaged nearly 17 points.

This year, Wiltjer is shooting over 8 percentage points worse from three point range. Wiltjer has made more than 1 three point shot only twice so far this year, 3-4 against the Maryland Terrapins and 7-11 against the Lafayette Leopards. In all other games, Wiltjer has made 1 or less 3-point shots. If not for the two excellent games, Wiltjer's 3-point percentage would doubtless be in the mid-20% range.

As Kentucky gets deeper into the schedule and plays tougher teams, Wiltjer's 3-point shooting is going to become more and more critical. While it is true that the Wildcats don't take many 3-point shots, they need to be efficient from the arc, and right now, they simply aren't. Their 37.8% average right now is somewhat deceptive because of a couple of good shooting games from distance versus some weak teams.

In 3 out of their last 4 games, the Wildcats have shot under 30% from 3-point range, and have shot 30% or under 4 games already this year out of 9 games played (44%) Last year, UK only shot 30% or less from three 14 times all year out of 40 games played (35%).

This is a trend that is badly in need of reversal, and Kyle Wiltjer's shooting right now is a primary contributor to this statistic. One of the good things we saw in the Portland game was significantly improved defensive effort, which was job #1 for Calipari after 5.5 poor defensive games out of 9 (Samford's first half was good, but the second bad). Now, Kentucky needs to improve its offensive efficiency, and while that may not begin with the 3-point shot, that is an area that this team is struggling with early, primarily because of Kyle Wiltjer.

The one good thing to come out of this is that Wiltjer is learning to contribute in other ways. Despite his poor shooting from range, Wiltjer is still reasonably efficient at putting the ball in the basket with an offensive rating of 114.5, second-best on the team among starters. It's important for Wiltjer to discover the rest of his game, but if it continues to come at the expense of his bread-and-butter shot, that's going to be a real problem for Kentucky going forward.