Kentucky Needs Kyle Wiltjer to Become More Than a Catch And Shoot PlayerPosted by Brian Joyce on December 17th, 2012
Kyle Wiltjer indicated he would be more aggressive after a 6-of-30 cold streak from beyond the arc, but he didn’t need to against Lipscomb on Saturday because the Bison left him wide open. He was 7-of-9 from behind the three-point line, scoring 23 points to lead the Cats to a demonstrative victory. Following UK’s victory previous over Portland, Wiltjer said he needed to do more to get open. “Trying to be more aggressive,” he said. “Trying to get easier baskets. Mix it up a little bit.” But the overarching question for Kentucky becomes: When Wiljter is closely guarded, can he adapt to become the offensive threat the Wildcats need in the half court set? We analyzed his game on Saturday for clues to whether Wiltjer can become more than simply a catch and shoot player.
We tracked each of Wiltjer’s 12 shot attempts on Saturday with the result, whether the shot was open or contested, and how many dribbles Wiltjer used:
Wiltjer is the definition of a “catch and shoot” player. So far this year, 64% of Wiltjer’s shot attempts have been three-point field goals. And at least on Saturday, who can fault him? Ten of his shot attempts were wide open. On the two contested attempts, Wiltjer adjusted with at least one dribble. With under 14 minutes remaining in the second half, a Lipscomb defender flew out to disrupt one of Wiltjer’s wide open three-point attempts. Wiltjer pumped fake before taking one dribble to avoid the defender. Several minutes later, Wiltjer put the ball on the floor again, this time dribbling twice for a crafty up-and-under move. He missed that attempt but displayed an ability to shake a defender by using the bounce in the process. Though this is an extremely small sample size, the information is important to serve as a baseline for what Wiltjer can do in a game against weaker competition when he is left wide open at the three-point line.
Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson certainly didn’t intend to leave a player like Wiltjer wide open. “When (a pass from the post) comes out fast, he’s there setting his feet being able to shoot the basketball,” Sanderson said. “That obviously was not supposed to happen. I think all nine of his (three-point shots) appeared to be wide open. That wasn’t the plan at all.” Lipscomb left Wiltjer open as poor defensive teams will do. But what happens when the open three is taken away from him? Does Wiltjer’s scoring output change drastically against better defensive opponents, which presumably close out a little better on three-point shooters? We used KenPom’s rankings to differentiate between Kentucky’s 10 games thus far this year, dividing up the top five ranked opponents in terms of defensive efficiency (all ranked in the top 150) and its five lower ranked opponents (ranked 150 and below). As expected, Wiltjer’s performances against the lower ranked defensive units are considerably better than against better defensive teams:
But when playing the upper half of defensive units, Wiltjer struggles:
Wiltjer has feasted on weaker competition in the early going, taking open shots when he gets them, and there were plenty to go around on Saturday. Nobody can fault him for taking what the defense gives him. Kentucky didn’t need his aggressiveness against Lipscomb, but it will when the Cats play tougher competition. And that’s when UK needs the offensive-minded forward to shed this “catch and shoot” label and put the ball on the floor.
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.