When it comes to three-point shooting, you have to go back to when Eddie Sutton was coach to find a Kentucky team so unarmed from beyond the arc.
Kentucky has made an average of 4.3 three-point shots through eight games. That’s on pace to be the lowest average since Sutton’s last UK team made 3.4 per game in 1988-89. The current Cats’ average of 12.4 three-point attempts is the lowest since 9.4 in 1988-89.
Stats maven Ken Pomeroy said Kentucky ranks last among Division I teams in three-point shot attempts and next to last in percentage of points coming via the three-pointer.
So, no great surprise when John Calipari said this on his weekly radio show Monday: “Right now, our numbers are not where they need to be.”
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In recent public comments, Calipari has set a standard of anywhere from 15 to 20 three-point shots per game, and six or seven three-point baskets per game.
“Some games a little less, maybe some games a little bit more,” the UK coach said after the Cats beat UIC on Nov. 26. “But not much more with this team.”
In other words, the current Cats are not going to be a rebirth of Pitino’s Bombinos. That UK team in 1989-90 averaged 28.9 three-point shots and 10 three-point baskets per game.
But, of course, Calipari has not asked the current Cats to play like the Bombinos, who were short and without depth. The current Cats are tall and blessed with depth.
“They’re not the Golden State Warriors, but they can be better …,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said of UK’s three-point shooting so far this season. “They don’t have as many good shooters as they’ve had in the past. They have guys who can make shots. But I wouldn’t say they have a bunch of great shooters.”
Tony Delk, UK’s career leader in three-point baskets (283), echoed that sentiment and expanded it to other areas.
“We’ve been spoiled by some of the shooters (of the past) and some of the post players and some of the athleticism that we’ve seen,” he said.
When asked how difficult it was for a shooter to improve markedly, Delk cited the example of Michael Jordan. “Of course, these guys are not Michael Jordan,” he added.
But the point is Jordan made only 17.3 percent of his NBA-length three-point shots as a rookie in 1984-85. He made only nine of 52 shots from three-point range. His shooting cratered three seasons later when he made only 13.2 percent of his three-point shots (seven of 53).
Over time, Jordan improved enough as a three-point shooter to raise his career accuracy to 32.7 percent.
The secret to such improvement?
“It’s a matter of getting up reps,” Delk said.
Delk said he would shoot anywhere from 400 to 500 extra shots per day.
“I tell guys it might take an hour, but that hour is going to make you a better shooter,” he said.
At various times, Calipari has identified which UK players should be shooting the 15 to 20 three-point shots he’d like per game. He said Quade Green should shoot “at least four” and maybe five or six threes per game. “Quade is as good a three-point shooter as there is in the country,” the UK coach said on his Nov. 21 radio show.
As for other UK players and three-pointers, Calipari said Kevin Knox should shoot three or four in a game; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, anywhere from two to four; Hamidou Diallo, two or three; and Wenyen Gabriel, two or three.
So far this season, Green has made eight of 18 three-point shots. Knox 13 of 38. Diallo five of 17. Gilgeous-Alexander three of eight. Gabriel five of 15.
In Calipari’s previous eight seasons UK coach, the mark for fewest three-point shots came in 2014-15 and 2011-12. Each of those supremely successful teams – winners of 38 straight games and a national championship, respectively – averaged 14.9 three-point shots.
The current 34.4-percent accuracy from beyond the arc is on pace to be the third-worst of the Calipari era. The teams in 2009-10 and 2013-14 shot 33.1 and 33.2 percent, respectively.
It might seem illogical to seek to shoot more three-pointers. But Bilas said that goal makes perfect sense.
“It’s a high-volume shot,” he said of the three-pointer. “It’s like (asking), why would you want more touchdowns than field goals?”
Delk pointed out that opponents will try to insist that Kentucky shoot more three-pointers.
“Teams are smart,” he said. “(The Cats) are being scouted. And if they’re not making threes, you know what they’re going to do. They’re going to make them shoot more threes because they’re just going to pack the paint and force them to take those outside shots.”
Fun in NYC
The UK Alumni Club will host several events in New York City in conjunction with Saturday’s noon game against Monmouth in Madison Square Garden. All events will be at Jack Dempsey’s, 36 West 33rd Street.
On Friday, Kentucky Sports Radio will broadcast live from 10 a.m. to noon. At 4 p.m., there will be a Long Island Spirits tasting. At 5 p.m., there will be a “UK Happy Hour and Pep Rally.”
On Saturday, there will be a biscuits and gravy brunch at 9 a.m.. Then on Sunday, there will be a send-off brunch.
No. 8 Kentucky vs. Monmouth
Noon Saturday in Citi Hoops Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York (ESPNU)