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How EJ Montgomery’s conditioning should help him play to his strengths in the paint

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Montgomery is at his best when he isn’t taking jump shots.

Jeremy Chisenhall - Sea of Blue

EJ Montgomery came into Kentucky as a five-star recruit, and one that seemed to have a complete game for a big man. His range didn’t extend to the 3-point line, but he had the mid-range jumper in his arsenal.

However, he hasn’t had success with the jumper at UK, and after seeing his success inside against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, it’s time for Montgomery to retire the jumper and live at the rim. His efficiency between his shots 10 feet and in compared to his efficiency on all other shots shows a night-and-day difference.

With quality scoring and rebounding production from Montgomery against a Mississippi State team that had won five straight SEC games, it’s safe to say Montgomery was at his best Tuesday. Here’s what his shot chart from the win shows:

Shot chart via ESPN.

This is one of his most-populated shot charts this year; his 11 shot attempts were his third-most this season. But aside from that, you’ll see that Montgomery was at his best deep in the paint. He didn’t make any anything from mid range or beyond. He missed just one of his shots from deep in the paint.

His sample size in other games is much smaller, but the shot charts from some of his most underwhelming games show this same phenomenon: jump shots are not Montgomery’s forte.

Below is Montgomery’s shot chart from when the Wildcats beat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Shot chart via ESPN.

You’ll notice that he didn’t take a single shot from deep within the paint, and his 0 for 4 reflects that.

Here’s his shot chart from the Wildcats’ 71-59 win over the Missouri Tigers:

Shot chart via ESPN.

You’ll notice again that he was 0 for 3 on shots any more than 10 feet from the basket. He only took two shots from in close, but he made them both. Montgomery has never been a good 3-point shooter, so it’s shocking that he had an attempt from beyond the arc in this one.

His shot chart in UK’s loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks shows the same thing, as he went 0-of-2 on shots outside the paint and 2-of-3 on shots inside the paint.

Shot chart via ESPN.

Montgomery is capable of living up to his five-star recruit status when he gets deep in the paint. That should make sense, since he’s 6-foot-10-inches, 228 pounds. So why doesn’t he get there more often? Why does he take as many jump shots as he does?

It could be because he’s still developing strength. Calipari has made note of Montgomery’s improvement in conditioning.

“The conditioning is starting to pay off,” Calipari said of Montgomery. “Now he’s got to step on the gas and even go farther.”

It’s not until recently that he’s been strong enough to consistently take the ball inside. But whatever it is, Calipari made it clear Tuesday that he wants Montgomery at the rim — not taking jumpers.

“What EJ did is what my vision for him is,” Calipari said Tuesday. “Notice he didn’t take many jump shots, and the one’s he did… anybody watch the game? He missed. But everything else was at the rim, at the rim, at the rim. He squared up and drove the ball. And what’s all we’ve been trying to get him to do. Play through bumps. Want to get hit. Go in once.”

UK already has a legitimate conference player of the year candidate down low with Nick Richards. Montgomery can complement him well if he can play to his strengths. But if he’s going to do that, it’s time for him to abandon the jumper.