Kentucky’s win against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Jan. 27 seemed like this team’s turning point. Every good John Calipari team has a fairly definable moment that shows when it really hit its stride.
But two losses in the three games since then show that this UK team isn’t there yet, and Calipari is trying to figure out how to fix that with some lineup changes.
“Hate to do that with like six or seven games to go, but it seems like every young team in the country is struggling,” Calipari said Friday. “The veteran teams are the ones that are doing well. We’re all probably trying to do the same thing. How are we going to cross the t’s and dot the i’s and connect everything? But the kids are trying but it’s not easy.”
Calipari seems most concerned with UK’s shooting issues. In the Wildcats’ losses to Tennessee and Missouri, they shot a combined 5-of-34 from 3-point range, which comes out to 14.7 percent. For the year, UK ranks 272nd in the nation in 3-point percentage.
“This should be a good shooting team,” Calipari said. “But we’re so long and active it doesn’t need to be a great shooting team. There’s teams out there that really have to make 12, 13, 14 threes. We’re not one of them. We’re a good shooting team that’s just not making shots. And I hate to tell you, they’re open. And some of them are missed badly. And that worries me with some of these guys.”
So if shooting has to improve, what’s the answer? What can Calipari change? Perhaps we could see a set lineup meant specifically for 3-point shooting. In that regard, the best lineup would be as follows:
- Quade Green (37 percent shooter from deep)
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (36 percent shooter from deep)
- Hamidou Diallo (32 percent shooter from deep)
- Kevin Knox (34 percent shooter from deep)
- Wenyen Gabriel (36 percent shooter from deep)
My initial reaction is “that’s the best 3-point shooting lineup that UK has?” No one on the team shoots 40 percent from deep, which is problematic. The other issue is that you can’t have a lineup like this shooting 35 percent from deep as a unit. That’s not nearly enough of a payoff to give up what this team would give up in size on the other end. Gabriel simply isn’t big enough to play the five, and no one else on that list could play the five either.
So that brings us to another potential lineup. Let’s ditch UK’s worst shooter from the one above (Diallo) and bring in a big to beef up the paint a little bit. For the sake of trying to miss as few 3-pointers as possible, let’s add Nick Richards, who has not attempted a single 3-pointer this year and leads the team in blocks on the other end. Richards also has the best total shooting percentage on the team, as he’s making 62 percent of his shots, all coming from inside the 3-point line. So now we’ve got:
- Quade Green
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- Kevin Knox
- Wenyen Gabriel
- Nick Richards
With Richards not having attempted a 3-pointer this year, that unit is shooting about 36 percent, so that’s not much better, but it would make them a better defensive team.
So what’s the solution? Do you bring in Brad Calipari every game? He’s 0-for-5 from 3-point range this season and is at the bottom of the bench.
The fact of the matter is this team is just bad at shooting. And without work in the gym, which Kevin Knox says they’re getting, they aren’t going to find a lineup that better serves them as a shooting team.
“Trust me, we’re all in the gym working,” Knox said. “After practice, before practice, we’re in the gym getting up shots. Sometimes they just don’t fall but that’s something we’re really working on. Being more consistent, doing a lot of drills in practice to help us with 3-point shooting. We’ve been doing a lot of conditioning too to run and be able to shoot while we’re tired too in practice.”
Without better shooting by the end of the season, this team isn’t going to be one of those signature teams that hits its stride late and makes a run.