Because this blog has been around for roughly as long as John Beilein has been at the end of the bench in Ann Arbor, three point shooting has been a frequent topic. Beilein’s teams are obviously known for the three point shot and his teams have ranked in the top 25 for percentage of threes attempted during seven of the last nine seasons.
We’ve debriefed last season quite a bit but haven’t taken a long look at Michigan’s three point shooting and how it affected the season.
1. Last year’s team was John Beilein’s best three point shooting team at Michigan
For even the most casual observers, this fact was pretty clear. Michigan was a good, but not great, three point shooting team on the season. There were still a handful of 2 for 18 or 4 for 28 games but there were quite a few more 7 of 13 or 14 of 28 games compared to the 2009-10 season. The final season three point numbers are still just about average when compared to John Beilein’s teams at West Virginia that shot 35.7% over five seasons.
Where this team truly excelled was where past teams struggled mightily: making threes in Big Ten games. For the first time under John Beilein, Michigan shot the ball better in Big Ten games, significantly better. The Wolverines made 38.1% of their threes in Big Ten games which was the second best in the league, trailing only Ohio State’s impressive 45%, while attempting the second highest proportion of three pointers.
The one thing that differentiated last year’s team from previous Beilein teams was that there were multiple legitimate three-point shooting threats. The next chart compares the top five three point shooting percentages (w/ over 20 attempts) over the last four seasons:
Only one shooter on the 2009-10 team (Vogrich with just 28 3PA) shot the the ball more efficiently from three point range than the fifth best shooter on the 2010-11 team. Even more importantly, the top five shooters from the 2010-11 team return next season and should improve.
Shooting depth is important because of it’s direct effect on the effectiveness of offensive spacing. If you spread the floor with five players that are all threats to make threes, the defense has to defend significantly differently. Which leads to the next point …
2. Last year’s team converted on a high percentage of two point shots
Plenty of the two-point shooting credit has to go to Darius Morris. Morris was phenomenal creating his own offense and hitting an array of different shots in and around the painted area. Morris converted 53% of his 347 two point attempts and Jordan Morgan was even more impressive around the hoop, finishing 63% of his 225 2-point attempts.
But Michigan’s shooters deserve plenty of credit for opening things up in the middle of the floor. It seems odd to think that 2-point shooting numbers would improve significantly as the roster loads up on three point shooters but Beilein’s teams at West Virginia show a similar trend. Beilein’s final three teams at West Virginia all shot over 52% on twos, ranking in the top 30 nationally, despite being renowned for their three point prowess.
Before the season started, I questioned whether there would even be anyone to attempt 2-point field goals. Morris was an average 2-point shooter as a freshman and most other players, both returning and incoming, had reputations as perimeter shooters. At 51.6%, Michigan actually had the third best 2-point shooting percentage in Big Ten games ranking well ahead of teams like Wisconsin (49.5%), Purdue (48.4%) and Michigan State (47.4%).
3. Last year’s team didn’t attempt dramatically fewer three point shots
On the season, Michigan attempted almost the same proportion of shots from three point range as the year before. The previous two seasons both saw far fewer threes than year two of the Beilein era when Michigan attempted almost half of its field goals from behind the arc. If anything, the shift in philosophy came during Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims’s final season rather than last year.
Many pundits proclaimed Michigan’s late season turnaround as a product of shooting fewer threes. The Wolverines did attempt fewer three point shots over the final 15 games but not nearly as many as some would lead you to believe. Over the first 20 games, Michigan attempted 43.2% of its field goals from three point range and went 11-9. The Wolverines went 10-5 over the final 15 games and attempted 41.8% of their field goals from behind the arc. That’s a legitimate difference but it’s far from dramatic and could also be explained by attempting fewer threes late in games while trailing.
There’s no getting around the importance of three point shooting in this offense. John Beilein’s teams are going to attempt a lot of threes, not just because of roster composition but because the three point shots open up the rest of the offense. The good news is that as Michigan’s three point shooting continues to improve, the rest of the offensive should improve in parallel. The bad news is that if the three point shooting regresses next season, other elements are liable to bog down as we saw during the 2009-10 season.