UNLV can’t get to the rim. It has been a problem all season.
As a result, T.J. Otzelberger’s offense has turned to the least efficient shot in basketball: the mid-range jumper.
Against Boise State on Thursday, UNLV created just 7 layups and dunks. Meanwhile the Rebels fired up 26 shots from the mid range. This season college basketball teams that take 16 or more mid-range jumpers lose 63% of their games, according to Shot Quality.
UNLV shot 26!
And last night was not an outlier. UNLV is reliant on the mid-range jumper to a maddening degree.
When Marvin Menzies coached UNLV, the offense was focused on post play and ultimately led to an overwhelming number of mid-range jumpers. Otzelberger was supposed to bring UNLV basketball into the modern age.
But the 2020-21 Rebels are still playing like math doesn’t exist.
UNLV is taking 16 mid-range shots per game, accounting for 27 percent of their field goal attempts. That is down from the Menzies era, but not by much. Every Menzies team took between 28 and 30 percent of their shots from the mid range.
Mid-range shots are a problem because they produce a low number of points over the course of a game or a season.
This year UNLV is averaging 0.80 points per mid-range jumper. Meanwhile, a UNLV three point attempt is worth 1.07 points on average. Taking 100 threes would yield 27 more points than taking 100 mid-range jumpers for this UNLV team.
Even Bryce Hamilton, who is known for his mid-range game should rarely pull up for a long two. This year Hamilton is averaging .97 points per shot when he shoots a three compared to just .86 from the mid-range.
And David Jenkins is shooting a higher percentage from three than he is on mid-range shots, rending any long two useless.
These two account for more than 12 of the 16 mid-range shots UNLV takes per game. Otzelberger is willing to allow those two shoot some mid-range jumpers, but their shot selection has to improve.
“I think with guys like David and Bryce, they have to be able to pick and choose those shots at the right time,” Otzelberger said. “What I’d really like is for us to have more poise to play later in the possession. If we are taking that mid-range shot it is in the last five or six seconds of the clock, not one that we are hunting early in the shot clock.”
Take this Hamilton shot as an example.
Hamilton does have the space to get a shot off, but with 20 seconds on the shot clock, an off-the-dribble long two is simply a bad shot.
“Against good defensive teams you are going to have to take some,” Otzelberger said. “But when you have too many unassisted long twos that’s going to create different problems for your offense. The number say those don’t always go in.”
It is unlikely UNLV will suddenly find players that can attack the rim. Only Hamilton and Nick Blake have shown any ability to get down hill. So Otzelberger may look to more post ups to try and fabricate paint touches and shots at the rim.
“We have to try to utilize more presence in the post,” Otzleberger said. “Guys have to be effective. I think Devin’s given us an option there, but tonight wasn’t his best. Mbacke’s got to be a more-steady option.”
Post ups are a notoriously bad way to increase offensive efficiency. But it is a worthwhile exploration for UNLV to create shots at the rim. Watch Devin Tillis dominate Derrick Alston in the post.
Unfortunately for UNLV that level of success has been rare. Tillis’ very next post up possession resulted in a turnover as he dribbled the ball off his own foot.
Now T.J. Otzelberger knows all of this. He knows mid-range jumpers are inefficient. He knows teams need layups, free throws and threes to be successful. So why is UNLV stuck playing a version of basketball from the past?
“At times we don’t have the personnel to be able to get the shots that we really like,” Otzelberger said.
It all comes down to the roster. If UNLV had players capable of creating layups, Otzleberger wouldn’t allow his teams to continue to launch long twos. But he knows this roster has to settle on offense.
That has been the biggest flaw of the 2020-21 season. Otzelberger’s roster construction for this season was not good enough.
Looking ahead to next season, Otzelberger needs to add. He has plenty of role players on this roster and not enough creators. UNLV needs one, if not two, guy that can get to the rim off ball screens and isolation at will.