In Marvin Menzies’ first season at UNLV, his team hit 32 percent of its threes. That ranked 304th out of 351 teams in the nation.
UNLV couldn’t hit threes last season and it looks like year two under Marvin Menzies could have a similar story line.
Last year’s roster had one player convert above the national average of 35 percent from three; Jovan Mooring knocked down 37.2 percent of his threes. Mooring will be back next season and likely moved to an off-ball role with Jordan Johnson expected to run the point, so his three-point percentage could rise if he gets more catch-and shoot opportunities.
But outside of Mooring it is hard to find shooting. Johnson hit 32.1 percent of his threes at Milwaukee in 2015-16. Dwayne Morgan should be healthy, but he is a 28.2 percent shooter on 39 career threes.
The best two shooters after Mooring were Tyrell Green (34.1 percent) and Uche Ofoegbu (32.1 percent), but both players have exhausted their eligibility.
Of the possible returnees, Kris Clyburn hit 29.1 percent of his threes. Troy Baxter came in at 25.9 percent (on just 27 attempts). And Zion Morgan shot a grand total of 13 threes in his freshman campaign.
That leaves Jalen Poyser, who could be the answer to UNLV’s shooting woes. Through his first 46 college games, Poyser shot 130 threes at a 36.9 percent clip. Then he fell off a cliff. In the final 18 games he played in 2016-17, Poyser hit just 18 percent of his 61 threes. That number led Poyser out of the starting lineup and to the bench.
The question is which shooter is the real Poyser. Is he an above average shooter like he proved through the first season and half of his career? Or is he the horrific shooter that we saw to end the year?
Poyser’s slump coincided with his move away from point guard and to the shooting guard spot. That altered where on the floor Poyser was shooting from. In the nonconference, 14 percent of Poyser’s threes came from the corners. In Mountain West games, 44 percent of his threes came from the corners.
That’s a problem because Poyser hit just 21.6 percent of his corner threes this season. He became a play killer.
Late in the season, Marvin Menzies repeatedly went to a dribble handoff set that got the Rebels four good options.
The dribble handoff gets the defense moving before setting up the high ball screen for Jovan Mooring. As Mooring dribbles off the screen, Utah State defends it, as most Rebel opponents did, with a hard hedge. This typically leaves the roll man open, but Poyser’s man abandons him in the corner to cut off a pass to Christian Jones.
It is a wonderful play that requires Mooring to make a read on which of the four options have been left open. Mooring driving to the basket is cut off. Jones has drawn a help defender as he rolls down the lane. Tyrell Green’s defender hasn’t left his side as he pops to wing.
That leaves Poyser all alone in the corner. And he missed.
Poyser’s inability to hit this shot killed this play multiple times late in the season.
If UNLV gets early-season Poyser, then this won’t even be an issue and he will be a valuable piece to the Rebel offense next season. But if late-season Poyser appears, he’ll likely find himself struggling to find minutes.
With Jordan Johnson taking over point guard, spacing and shooting will be critical to getting the most out of him. He was second in the nation in assists in 2015-16, and a large part of that was finding three-point shooters as he came off pick and rolls.
Johnson passed to a spot up shooter on 55.6 percent of his passes off pick and rolls. His Milwaukee teammates posted an effective field goal percentage of 53.6 percent.
Comparatively, last season, Mooring hit a spot up shooter on 59.2 percent of his pick and roll passes. But his UNLV teammates had an effective field goal percentage of 29.2 percent.
UNLV has two guys that can read a pick and roll defense and find open shooters. But if no one can knock down an open shot, their talents will be wasted.
It doesn’t appear that Menzies has addressed this on recruiting trail. Of the four commits in the 2017 class, none appear to be shooters.
Mbacke Diong is another center to challenge Cheickna Dembele. Junior college transfer Anthony Smith averaged over 18 points per game, but shot under 30 percent from three. Tervell Beck has described himself as driver and finisher. And Jay Green likely won’t be in the rotation next season.
Menzies is still recruiting, as the Rebels may land 5-star center Brandon McCoy and Jordan Goldwire, the point guard of the future. Neither will offer a remedy to UNLV’s shooting woes in 2017-18.
While Jordan Johnson and Dwayne Morgan (and possibly Brandon McCoy) will provide an immediate talent upgrade, without improved shooting, the Rebel offense will likely struggle to be efficient next season.