The Chase for 180: Brett Olson and Denver’s turnaround

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Who is the best shooter in the country?

It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like efficiency and effective field goal percentage when taking all of this into account?

One number that we like to use is “180″. How do you become a 180 shooter? By shooting 50% or better from the field overall, 40% or better from three and at least 90% from the charity stripe. From this point forward we’ll track this until the end of the regular season, providing weekly updates as well as a look into how some of the nation’s best find (and connect on) their quality looks.

The Denver Pioneers had some adjustments to make after winning 22 games and a share of the WAC title in 2012-13. From a program standpoint the school was making the move from the WAC to the Summit League, meaning that there would be new opponents to scout with North Dakota State, South Dakota State and IPFW proving to be strong programs.

And from a personnel standpoint the Pioneers would be without forward Royce O’Neale, who transferred to Baylor. O’Neale was the team’s third-leading scorer, and his status as the team’s most versatile player (he led the team in rebounding and assists) meant that more would be asked of guard Brett Olson and forward Chris Udofia.

After some early season growing pains and an 0-2 start to conference play the Pioneers have won five of their last six, with Olson being one of the key reasons why. Over the last six games Olson’s averaged 17.8 points per game (scoring 30 in a win over South Dakota), shot 57.6% from the field and 56.0% from beyond the arc. Olson was a good shooter last season, making nearly 48% of his shots from the field, 43.4% from three and 95.0% from the foul line, playing more than 34 minutes per game.

But that was with Denver having three double-digit scorers. Without Neale more would be required of Olson, and to this point in the season he’s stepped up. Olson’s raised his percentage from the field (49.1%) and has remained consistent from both the three-point (43.0%) and free-throw (93.0) lines while raising his scoring average up to 15.3 ppg.

One of the factors in Olson’s improved field goal percentage is the fact that he’s attempting more shots at the rim and fewer three-pointers. According to hoop-math.com 19.5% of Olson’s shot attempts last season were at the rim, and he’s increased that percentage to 29.8% this year. As for the three-pointers, he’s attempted just 50% (down from 66.8%) of his shots from beyond the arc this season.

More plays inside of the arc have resulted in a substantially higher free throw rate, and given how well Olson shoots from the foul line while this isn’t a guaranteed two points (on shooting fouls) it’s pretty close.

Denver plays four of its last six regular season games on the road, including a game at IPFW and games at South Dakota State and North Dakota State to finish the year. And Denver looks better equipped to handle those tests now than they did to start Summit League play, with Olson’s improved production being a key reason why.

THE TOP TEN (Note: Players much be eligible to be ranked in FG%, 3PT% and FT%. And here’s a glossary that includes the stats you’ll see used in these posts. Tempo neutral numbers per kenpom.com.)

1) Matt Kennedy (Charleston Southern)
49.7% FG, 50.0% 3PT, 90.2% FT = 189.9
Shot %: 18.8
eFG %: 56.9
True shooting %: 62.1

2) Jason Calliste (Oregon)
52.3, 50.0, 86.1 = 188.4
Shot %: 17.0
eFG %: 65.0
True shooting %: 71.2

3) Riley Grabau (Wyoming)
46.4, 48.4, 92.2 = 187
Shot %: 17.8
eFG %: 65.0
True shooting %: 70.3

4) Brett Olson (Denver)
49.1, 43.0, 93.0 = 185.1
Shot %: 22.2
eFG %: 58.8
True shooting %: 65.1

5) Phil Forte III (Oklahoma State)
45.1, 46.2, 92.5 = 183.8
Shot %: 21.8
eFG %: 63.2
True shooting %: 68.3

6) Doug McDermott (Creighton)
49.9, 42.7, 89.4 = 182.0
Shot %: 37.9
eFG %: 56.9
True shooting %: 62.2

7) Austin Tillotson (Colgate)
59.0, 49.1, 73.4 = 181.5
Shot %: 18.3
eFG %: 66.5
True shooting %: 68.3

8) Billy Baron (Creighton)
46.6, 44.8, 89.8 = 181.2
Shot %: 28.1
eFG %: 56.9
True shooting %: 63.4

9) Johnny Dee (San Diego)
43.9, 44.2, 92.2 = 180.3
Shot %: 30.8
eFG %: 54.7
True shooting %: 59.9

10) Nic Moore (SMU)
49.3, 45.4, 85.5 = 180.2
Shot %: 21.6
eFG %: 60.5
True shooting %: 64.7

Five Perimeter Marksmen (25 or fewer two-point attempts)

1) Micah Mason (Duquesne)
59.7% 3PT (10-for-21 2PT)

2) Ben Cherry (Charlotte)
50.0% 3PT (9-for-22 2PT)

3) Ethan Wragge (Creighton)
49.4% 3PT (2-for-6 2PT)

4) John Gage (Stanford)
48.8% 3PT (4-for-11 2PT)

5) Luke Moyer (Campbell)
48.3% 3PT (6-for-22 2PT)

Previous Installments
November 11
December 4
December 11
December 18
January 8
January 15
January 22
January 29
February 5

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.