Everybody knows three is greater than two, but if you are the kind of person who mistakes being pedantic with being thoughtful, and you’re into sports, you may be inclined to explain that to a college basketball coach as if you just invented the jumpshot.
Such is the argument of Matt Giles, in a post for the metrics-focused FiveThirtyEight. Rather, that is what remains of his argument once you strip away the false premises, strawmen, and irrelevant supporting evidence of a post entitled, “Bill Self Is Finally Warming Up To The Three-Pointer.”
Giles grounds this piece on the premise that Bill Self doesn’t “like” three-pointers.
Self does not like 3-pointers. He has continually waved the anti-threes banner, defending the bygone era when a 21-foot shot was a long 2 and the only recorded three-point plays were and-1s.
This is an attempt at mythmaking, a straw-man argument the likes of which are presumed to be anathema to writers whose work revolves around what we call advanced metrics. There is, of course, no actual evidence that Bill Self doesn’t like three-pointers, because the notion is absurd. All baseball coaches like doubles more than singles, all football coaches like fourth-down conversions more than punts, and all basketball coaches like 3-pointers more than 2-pointers.
What can be demonstrated by both statistics and Self’s own words is that Self thinks: (1) basketball games are generally won and lost based on easy baskets and, (2) his teams have typically been better off when about 30 percent of their field goals were 3-pointers.
There are theoretical arguments to be made against this approach, but those arguments are always a little like telling a struggling typewriter salesman to just raise the prices of the typewriter.
But in practicality, Bill Self isn’t struggling.
For Self’s entire Kansas career, his teams have been awesome at scoring. Playing through a revolving door of lottery picks in the front court, his teams score a lot of points, and do it efficiently. This is knowable by watching or by calculating, whichever gives you comfort.
But Bill Self has won too many conference championships in a row and boredom has set in among observers of the program. It is en vogue now to assert that Kansas doesn’t shoot enough three-pointers, the reasoning being that three is more than two, so you should always go for that.
Well, that won’t get you a Ken Pomeroy retweet so you gotta hang a bunch of other hooey on it. To fulfill the promise of a headline like “Bill Self is Finally Warming Up To The Three-Pointer,” you’re going to need some fallacies and rhetorical inconsistencies.
These are Giles’:
- Everyone Else is Doing It
It is presented as significant to Self’s ideology that college basketball teams generally shoot more 3-pointers than they used to. Why this should matter to Self, whose teams are better than almost all of those other teams, every year, is not addressed.
- “Players notice.”
Players notice. Conner Frankamp was a talented shooter who, after playing one season at Kansas, abruptly chose to transfer to Wichita State. Mitchell Ballock, one of the best long-range marksmen in the 2017 class, recently spurned a Kansas offer and committed to Creighton, saying, “At the end of the day, I was looking for the best situation for me that would let me excel as a player. I just really believe Creighton gives me the best opportunity to do that.”
Here, we are presented the idea that Self’s reluctance to rely more heavily on the 3-point shot will cost him players. As evidence, we’re given two Missouri Valley players. One of them would be the eighth-best 3-point shooter on Kansas’ roster this year. The other is still in high school.
- “This season, though, Self’s hand has been forced. His team is just too good from beyond the arc to do anything but fire off threes.”
So is he warming up to it, or has his hand been forced?
- Fans would like Kansas to resemble the Sooners, to lighten the rigidity of the offense and give the players more freedom.
Of note: Kansas beat Oklahoma twice, and leads it by two games in the Big 12 standings. It is true, however, that Buddy Hield is “a delight to watch.”
Kansas this year has just one frontcourt player who is a consistent threat to score. Conversely, it has more good 3-point shooters in its rotation than maybe ever before in the Self era.
Self, we might reasonably conclude, is playing to the strengths of his roster.
That is, unless you’ve got a myth to build.