By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Most UK fans who have watched any of the last two UK games realize that the Wildcats are currently struggling with their 3-point shooting. Kentucky, currently ranked No. 342 in the country in 3-point percentage, won’t win many games against good competition shooting 21.3 percent from long range. In fact, John Calipari is right when he says, “You don’t have to make them all, but you can’t miss them all either.”
So the dilemma for Coach Cal is what to do? How do you get these guys to shoot better? In my experience it seems like good 3-point shooters do three things; first, they know how to work within the offense to get a very good shot every time they shoot the ball. Some great 3-point shooters love to take a shot off the fast break, others need to be set and prefer getting a good shot out of an “inside-out” offense and some just have a feel for the moment, like Tyrese Maxey in the Michigan State game or former UK guard Aaron Harrison in several NCAA Tournament games a few seasons ago.
Each player needs to understand when they shoot the ball the best and put themselves in that position to be successful. Their teammates need to understand the same thing and ask themselves, “Where do my teammates perform the best and how can I work to get them in that situation?” After all, even though shooting the ball is an individual activity the game of basketball is a team sport. It doesn’t work if everyone on the team doesn’t work together. That seems to be where this UK team is right now, not always working together.
Secondly, great 3-point shooters trust the process and always believe the shot is going in. They have confidence in their ability; they trust that the thousands of repetitions they have put in for that same shot will cause their muscle memory to automatically perform in the right way at the right time. It’s like Tyrese Maxey said about his big 3-point shot in the Michigan State game, “I shot that shot 1,000 times in high school. I shot it 1,000 times this summer. I have confidence in myself because I put in the work.”
Confidence is the second key for any great 3-point shooter. Right now, because UK’s overall offensive process has been poor and players don’t seem to have adjusted to their teammates yet, the players don’t have confidence when they are shooting the ball. Calipari said as much in his most recent press conference. He said about UK’s recent one for twelve 3-point shooting in the Utah Valley game, “You cannot be afraid to miss, even Nate (Sestina) was pulling back. That means you’re afraid you’re going to miss. You can’t play that way.” And he is correct, confidence is critical when shooting the basketball.
Thirdly, players need to not rush their shot during the game. Several times it looked like Nate Sestina was open and rushed the shot as the defensive player ran at him. Shooting form and release are critical for accurate shooting and regardless of what form a player uses it has to be consistent every time to hit shots. When players rush their shot they tend to pull up on the release or not keep their elbow parallel to their bodies. Generally that pushes the ball to one side or the other or causes the player to not be able to shoot the ball with a soft touch. Either way the shot is not generally going to go in.
Another thing to remember about shooters also is that they play in cycles. In 2014, after 10 games, the UK guard combination of Devin Booker, Aaron Harrison and Tyler Ulis were hitting 27.7 percent of their 3-point shots. Most teams were packing the paint and playing a zone against the Cats to cut off scoring opportunities for Dakari Johnson, Karl Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein. That strategy usually left the wings open but the Kentucky guards couldn’t consistently hit the 3-point shot.
Then in the 11th game of the season against UCLA all that changed. Aaron Harrison hit his first shot, Devin Booker hit a couple more and all of a sudden guys that were known as good shooters but hadn’t hit many shots began to hit shots. Kentucky went up 24-0 that day and went on to pound the Bruins 83-42. All of a sudden Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison could shoot again.
And that’s the way it is. Good 3-point shooters are just streaky. Devin Booker said after that breakout game against UCLA in 2014, “Shooters go through slumps sometimes and you have to shoot your way out. When you have a team behind you that tells you keep shooting and a coach that tells you to keep shooting, it makes it easy for me.”
That’s exactly what the current Kentucky team should do. They are good shooters, so stick with the process; play an “inside out” offense, get some extra time in the gym putting up 3-point shots and help your teammates out. Move the ball on offense and make the extra pass.
If they do those things they will be just fine. It worked for the 2014 Wildcats and it will work just fine for this 2019 version.