Patrick McCaw has enjoyed a breakout season to this point, most notably on the offensive end. The sophomore guard is UNLV’s leading scorer at 19.0 points per game, and he’s been getting his buckets in a variety of ways, as he’s shooting 53.4 percent from the field and a scorching 46.7 percent from 3-point range.
There’s one thing McCaw hasn’t been doing, however. Through the first seven games, he’s attempted just three 2-point jump shots.
It’s by design.
There is a growing trend in basketball that advocates for avoiding long 2-point jumpers because of the inefficiency inherent within the shot. Coaches who adhere to that philosophy would much rather see players shooting 3-pointers or driving the lane for shots around the basket (or, failing that, drawing free throw attempts).
Mathematically, it’s a sound strategy. The 3-point shot offers more reward, and most shooters hit at a similar rate on attempts behind the arc as they do on long 2-point jump shots. Under Dave Rice, the Rebels are on board with that line of thinking, and McCaw is exhibit A.
So far this season, McCaw has attempted 88 shots. Of those attempts, 45 have been 3-pointers, 40 have been around the rim, and only three of them have been 2-point jump shots. McCaw took a pair of pull-up jumpers near the right elbow against Indiana (he made the first and missed the second), and he attempted a turnaround jumper from the left baseline after posting up against Chaminade. That’s it.
“You should take [a mid-range jump shot] if you’re wide open,” McCaw says. “But coach [Ryan] Miller tells us that that’s the worst shot in college basketball, so we really aren’t supposed to be taking those shots. A layup is better than a 2-point shot.”
Concentrating on the 3-point line and getting into the lane has made McCaw the Rebels’ most efficient offensive player this season. Despite having a team-high usage rate of 17.5 percent, which would usually be a drain on a player’s efficiency numbers, he’s still maintaining a true shooting rate of 67.2 percent, the best mark on the team.
Check out McCaw’s shot chart for the season:
McCaw’s shot distribution looks eerily similar to that of another guard on the front line of the analytics wave: ultra-efficient NBA star James Harden, the patron saint of the “3-pointer, drive, or free throw” style of offense. And it’s working just as well for McCaw, who has turned into one of the best offensive players in the nation. Among players who have “used” at least 100 possessions, according to Synergy Sports data, McCaw is No. 6 in the country in efficiency at 120.9 points per 100 possessions (the leader is Sheldon McLellan of Miami, who is averaging 133.7).
Under Rice, the Rebels’ offense is designed to spread the floor, opening driving lanes for players like McCaw to penetrate. McCaw has been getting to the rim off the dribble with ease this season, either creating close-range shots for himself or collapsing the defense to allow kick-out passes for open 3-pointers.
Rice hasn’t banned 2-point jumpers for the Rebels, but it’s clear which areas of the floor he believes are most fruitful.
“We run our offense around the 3-point line because the spacing is better,” Rice says. “I’ve become more of an analytics guy, for sure, so I’m obviously really into layups and 3-point shots. At the same time, if a guy has got a wide open, uncontested 2-point shot, that’s a good shot as long as it’s coming out of the flow of our offense.”
As a team, just 15.9 percent of UNLV’s field goal attempts this season have been 2-point jump shots according to Hoop-Math.com. The Rebels have taken 51.2 percent of their shots close to the rim and 32.9 percent from the 3-point line. That’s led to the offense averaging 92.5 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 128th in the nation.
For contrast, San Diego State concentrates much more of its offense in the mid-range area, with 2-point jumpers accounting for 33.4 percent of the Aztecs’ field goal attempts. That’s translated to 85.8 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 253rd in the nation.
The game is changing at every level, with a premium now being placed on shooting and spacing the floor, and coaches are getting better at recognizing which shots offer the best expected value. The UNLV coaching staff is trying to be part of the new wave, and it’s an approach the Rebels—and especially McCaw—are embracing.