Earlier this week, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self mentioned the possibility of using senior Michael Jankovich in the rotation this season to bolster KU’s three-point shooting.
It makes sense considering Jankovich’s best skill is and always has been the ability to shoot the ball from the outside. But it also underscores the situation the Jayhawks face from beyond the arc entering the season.
Self has said repeatedly that he thinks the 2022-23 Jayhawks will be a team that needs to make leaps and bounds to be successful, mainly because he’s not sure how good this group will be at getting easy baskets, either in transition or to the post office. .
“It’s going to be imperative for this team to become a good three-point shooting team because I think we’re going to carry a lot,” Self said last week at Big 12 media day in Kansas City, Missouri.
How much is a lot?
“This team should shoot more 3-pointers than last year’s team,” Self said this week at KU’s own media day in Lawrence. “He should. And if we do that, then (we have to) make 35% as a team or 36% to play efficiently enough to play fast and shoot early.”
Self’s most recent title team attempted 792 3-pointers last season, good for 33% of the team’s total shots. That was 129 more than the 2020-21 team, 214 more than the 2019-20 team and the most by a KU team since the 2017-18 Final Four team’s attempt of 974.
Like most years, Self said he wants this year’s team to play as fast as possible. Run when it’s there, pick up the pace on marks and misses, and pick up the pace with defensive intensity.
The theory is that this style will lead to easy baskets and take at least some of the pressure off Kansas to score through half-court sets.
“We want to play fast,” Self said Tuesday. “We have to score before the defense sets up. But how well we shoot it will probably determine how fast we play.”
Which brings us back to Jankovich and why he’s being talked about as an option off the bench.
The Jayhawks enter the 2022-23 season looking to replace a whopping 75.9% of their 3-point field goals from last season.
That’s 103 three-pointers by Ochai Agbaji, 51 more by Christian Braun — both of whom are in the NBA right now — 30 by Jalen Coleman-Lands and 29 more by Remy Martin.
In all, Kansas missed 217 of the 286 three-pointers it made as a team en route to the national title.
This is a big number, both in terms of total marks and percentage. And it paints a clear picture of why Self has emphasized this team’s outside shooting so often this preseason.
“I think the big key to our team is just shooting,” he said.
Jalen Wilson is KU’s leading 3-point shooter in terms of makes (30 of 114 last season), and it was also made clear how important an improved shooting season from Wilson is to him and the team.
After that, it’s Dajuan Harris Jr. and his 20 shots on 62 attempts and Joe Yesufu and his 11 on 42 attempts are the leading scorers returning with Wilson from a season ago.
The Jayhawks will ask Harris to be even more aggressive as a scorer this season, and Self has said repeatedly that Yesufu’s role on the 2022-23 team will be to score. If either of them can do that consistently from the outside, it will help this team answer the 3-point shooting question.
But while both are great, KU will need more.
Freshman Gradey Dick has a chance to start and could get plenty of three-point looks.
Outside shooting is one of Dick’s best skills, and coaches and teammates said his 6-foot-8 frame and high release make his shot nearly impossible to block. Now he just has to show how fast he can dial it in and how consistent he can be.
The last KU freshman to start as a true gunner was Quentin Grimes in 2018-19. He made 54 of 159 three-point attempts in 27.4 minutes per game that season, but was limited elsewhere, limiting his impact.
Before that, you have to go back to Ben McLemore’s first season as a redshirt freshman in 2012-13 to find a true 3-point shooter who took as many shots as Dick has this season. McLemore made 73 of 174 three-point attempts for the Jayhawks that season.
Until then, the only KU freshmen to make a season-best 34 3-pointers were Andrew Wiggins (43-for-126) and Wayne Selden Jr. (42-for-128) in 2013-14, but none of those players were considered true 3-point shooters.
There’s more to Dick’s game than shooting the ball from distance, but there’s no doubt that his most important role during his first season will be knocking in shots.
Other than that, it’s really more shooting when you’re open-but-you-don’t-need-to-do-something.
Sophomore big man Zach Clemence is a great outside shooter, but we still don’t know how big his role will be. Bobby Pettiford, Kevin McCullar Jr., MJ Rice, and even KJ Adams can shoot from distance, but they aren’t likely to make 3-point plays.
Jankovich would. But how often he gets that opportunity — if at all — will really depend on how the other guys on this roster shoot the ball first.