Following the worst season in UNLV history, Marvin Menzies secured fan excitement and belief with a top 20 recruiting class that should have UNLV competing at the peak of the Mountain West. But lost in the shuffle of the offseason is Kris Clyburn, who may be a key piece in the revitalization of the Runnin’ Rebels.
Clyburn can fill roles that might be absent from the presumed stars of 2017-18. UNLV will need someone who can slash to the basket for offensive rebounds, stick a long arm in a passing lane, contest a shot at the rim when bigs gets drawn out of the paint and someone that can knock down a three.
As a 29-percent shooter from beyond the arc last season, Clyburn doesn’t stick out at as a candidate to make defenses pay for abandoning the perimeter to protect the paint. But Clyburn made 51 percent of his threes in his lone junior college season.
“Kris went through the transition of one level to the next,” Menzies said.
And by the end of the year that transitional period seemed to wear off. Clyburn knocked down 34.4 percent of his threes in the last 10 games of the season while upping his attempts per 40 minutes from 2.7 to 5.6. By the end of the season, Clyburn was shooting the three more frequently and knocking them down at a higher rate.
If his transition is complete, UNLV may be looking at a player that defenses have to respect, something the Rebels did not have last season.
Defenses slacked off Clyburn last season. His three-point shooting was not respected as most teams gave Clyburn the time and space to shoot like Western Kentucky did.
Clyburn catches the ball on the wing and the Hilltoppers give him four feet of space. Clyburn passes and gets the ball back; again, he is given plenty of space. He finally decides to pull the trigger on his third opportunity.
By missing that shot, Clyburn allowed defenses to slack off of him and clog up the paint.
“That’s what was given to us,” Menzies said. “We drew up some (plays for three pointers) for guys we thought could shoot it. For the most part teams started playing us that way. And you gotta make shots. And we weren’t very good. Not making shots hurt our interior attack and our overall point production.”
UNLV ranked 304th (out of 351 teams) in the country in three-point shooting last season, with only one player – Jovan Mooring – shooting above the national average of 35 percent. With no reason to defend to the arc, defenses racked up the blocked shots against UNLV. The Rebels had 12 percent of their shots turned away last season, 14th most in the nation.
Last season teams could double Jovan Mooring off pick and rolls due to UNLV’s lack of shooting. But what will be a bigger problem in 2017-18 will be post doubles, like this one Utah State used against Christian Jones.
The double team and subsequent rotation leaves Clyburn wide open; he drills the three. That is something Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston will need if they want to get one on one matchups on the block.
One of Clyburn’s biggest strengths was his shot selection. Only 13.6 percent of his shots were from the inefficient mid range, while from three he rarely shot off the dribble or when contested. He was a spot-up shooter.
Most of his possessions played out like this: stand in the corner, shuffle up to the wing then slide back to the corner to catch and shoot. Watch him on the far side of the court.
Clyburn was not a playmaker. He needs others to create his shot, which should fit well as Jordan Johnson and Jovan Mooring should be creating most of the offense on the perimeter with McCoy and Juiston commanding touches in the paint.
“Kris will be able to be more efficient, as most players are, when the supporting cast improves. He’s talented. He has a lot of versatility to his game,” Menzies said.
To be more efficient UNLV needs a guy to space the floor by standing in the corner and draining threes.
And the corner is where Clyburn showed promise last season. He shot 35.9 percent on corner threes last season compared to 23.4 percent from the wings and top of the key. And that final 10 game stretch where his shooting picked up coincided with more corner threes. Just 40.7 percent of his threes came from the corner through the first 22 games, but 53.1 percent of his threes were corner threes in the last 10 games.
While three-point shooting may be the key to Clyburn seeing major minutes, don’t expect Menzies to force threes into the offense.
“We’re not trying to play just coming down and jacking up threes,” Menzies said. “We’re going to bang it inside. We’re going to take guys off the bounce; we want to be able to make pull-up (jumpers), floaters, mid range. There’s a lot of ways to score.”