Free throw shooting is up but Jayhawks still can do better

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett puts up a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Kansas guard Marcus Garrett puts up a free throw during the second half against Stanford, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. by Nick Krug

For a team that has struggled to get to the free throw line for most of the 2017-18 season, seeing a single player get to the stripe 13 times in one game certainly qualifies as noteworthy.

The fact that Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham made all 13 of his trips to the free throw line was an added bonus. But KU coach Bill Self is not fully convinced that the Jayhawks’ team free throw woes are fixed because of Graham’s high-volume game.

“He did great,” Self said at his weekly press conference on Thursday. “The things that Devonte' did really good are things he needs to do the entire game. To me, it's too much pressure on him to be the only one to do it, though.”

Self then pointed out how Lagerald Vick and Marcus Garrett both could do much more in that department and how Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman, could as well, even though those two are known more as shooters than guys who drive the ball to the rim.

Regardless of who’s doing it and who’s not, what Self would like to see most is those free throw attempts come from his team’s offensive sets, not just from a senior trying to make a play to bring his team back from a big deficit.

“Somebody asked a question the other day, 'Were you happy getting to the line 23 times?' The answer is, ‘Yes, we're happier doing that,’” Self said. “But it wasn't real. It was in a comeback effort where you just drive it, put your head down and drive it. You're not running good offense. I'd like to see us be able to do that in the first half as well as the second half.”

Through the first 14 games of the season, Graham leads the team with 57 trips to the free throw line. That’s as many as the second and third-place free throw shooters on the roster combined. So, clearly, Graham needs help.

And one of the better candidates to do more in the way of getting to the free throw line is 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike, who ranks second on the team with 33 free throw attempts thus far. Lagerald Vick is third with 24.

One of the biggest issues with Azubuike and the free throw line is his percentage. The sophomore big man is shooting just .424 from the line this season and has missed the front end of several one-and-one attempts that not only cost the Jayhawks an extra shot but also points.

That exact scenario unfolded early in Tuesday’s loss to Texas Tech and Self explained Thursday how Azubuike’s issues at the line impacted the team after a perfectly executed half-court set that got him the ball down low and put him on the line.

“ You're struggling,” he said. “Even though it's early, 5-0, you're struggling, you get the ball right where you want it, you come away empty. Is it deflating? Yeah. There's nothing more deflating than when you're making a comeback and you miss a front end. I think you're much better off being there than not being there. …I still think it's a win for the offense. I do. It puts you in the bonus sooner.”

Even though KU's free throw attempts are up seven a game since the start of Big 12 play — from 11.8 per game to 19 — the free throw issue remains just one of the many things with this team right now that is not quite right.

As is the case with several of the other issues, — defense, depth, execution and understanding — it’s not as if things are completely broken. But KU's ability to get to the free throw line both at the rate and how Self would like definitely is not clicking on all cylinders and that is costing Kansas in the areas of consistency, confidence and production.

Comments

Todd Jensen

I am a long time reader, but a first time poster. Been a Jayhawk fan all my life. What I have not seen anyone address that impacts both the free-throw issue and the lack of defense is the depth. Specifically that apparent concern on the part of the players on picking up a foul. They know that up until Sam C. joined the team that they could not afford to pick up fouls, either from driving and getting called for a charge or from playing in your face defense and picking up a silly hand check foul on the perimeter. I think that the lack of depth on the team has them worried about their fouls and that is killing this team! Thoughts from others?

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

personnel has a lot to do with the lack of ft attempts..Svi isn't the aggressive drive to the hoop kind of guy and Vick hasn't flashed too much driving ability himself...neither Garrett nor Lightfoot look to shoot an Newman still looks like he left his game in Italy..that leaves only Graham as the only guy who can effectively drive and draw fouls

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Steve Zimmerman

Todd, if I may add to Craig's comment; again, it takes disciplines for our guards to practice what Mason is very good at: driving hard to the basket and get fouled even if they don't make the basket. We've seen a bit improvement on Graham. Svi, seems to avoid contacts. Graham, will challenge even if there 2 defenders, but he can be that guy. Vick is way to quick to shoot, but too slow driving to the basket. Garrett, needs to pick up his pace first. His reverse layup can be lethal due to his length.

Another observation is our guards don't seem to fake moves/shots a lot. Their moves are very predictable.

Mason is very good at keeping his ball on his side while extending the other arm to create space between him & defender. He also uses his body to create contact with the defender while going up hard.

Our guards need to practice a lot of aggressive offensive driving! Hard!

But do they always have to drive hard? I've seen where our guards got stuck with bigger defenders and just throw the ball up to be swatted instead of bounce-passing it to open Dok. Bounce pass comes in handy, most of the times. How many times did we see Dok seem frustrated standing and watching Newman got sandwitched by 2 defenders?

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Layne Pierce

Svi has started driving more, and he must continue to do so. The problem I believe is more getting to the basket and drawing fouls off of the offense. That means doing more than just the outside weave, which in itself does not bring foul shots.

We should run more offense at the beginning of the game to let the game come to us. We cannot fastbreak without successful defense, and we must concentrate more on trapping and going hard after balls, and taking more charges, and yes, not allowing people to just drive to the basket. If we have to foul, then so be it. We have a little more depth, because of Cunliffe, and we have to take advantage of it.

Rock Chalk
Jayhawk

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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