Backup shooting guards key to Calipari having his best teams at Kentucky

Jamal Murray accepts his all-tourney award. (Wade Upchurch Photo)

Vaught’s Note: This is the second of a series of stories on UK basketball by contributor Keith Peel.


In this second post about the John Calipari era, and what helped make some of his teams successful, I thought I would look at the shooting guard position. Like the point guards mentioned in the previous post, John Calipari does a tremendous job of recruiting talented shooting guards.

The list is a who’s who of former college All-Americans and NBA stars.  With a list that includes players like Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, Malik Monk, Aaron Harrison, Doron Lamb and Eric Bledsoe it’s hard not to like your chances in any game with those players.

The thing I found interesting though was that the star players from year to year were very close  in shooting percentage with an overall average of between 45 and 47 percent for the entire group.

The big difference between teams seems to come in the performance of the backup players. The national championship team only played a 7-man rotation (which is a post for another day), so its backup shooting guard, Darius Miller, averaged 26 minutes per game and shot 47 percent overall and 38 percent from t3-point range.

Compare that to the very talented John Wall led 2010 Elite 8 team that played a nine-man rotation and used Darnell Dodson, Deandre Liggins and Ramon Harris to provide an average of 40 minutes of playing time per game. That group shot 37 percent overall and 31 percent from 3-point range.

The key point here is not just how poorly do the backup players shoot the ball compared to starters but also how many shots did they take. In the case of the 2012 National Champions when they did play substitutes beyond the seven-man rotation they did not shoot the ball (.4 shots per game).

Compare that to the 2016 round of 32 team that had Jamal Murray shooting at a 45 percent clip overall and 41 percent from 3-point range. He shot 7.7 3-pointers per game. Unfortunately for that team the other shooting guards (Briscoe, Hawkins, Matthews and Mulder) shot 41 percent overall and only 18 percent on 3-point attempts while shooting almost half as many 3-pointers as Jamal Murray.

As you can see when you are playing  the starters it is a pretty even matchup at shooting guard between a championship team like 2012 and the 2016 team but if you factor in the substitute minutes (in this case 55 minutes per game in 2016) it becomes a “no contest.” Darius Miller in 2012 making 38 percent of his 3-pointers versus the 2016 group of backups shooting 18 percent from outside the arc could make the difference between going 38-2 and hanging a championship banner versus going 27-9 and ending your season in the Round of 32.

From a shooting guard standpoint it appears that year in and year out John Calipari will have a very talented shooting guard in the starting lineup. The key to potentially winning a championship might be how talented are the players that come in to rest the starters.

If you see a huge drop off in performance when the backups are in the game it doesn’t appear to be a good sign for that team to make it to the Final Four and potentially win a National Championship.

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