The Arizona Wildcats have only played two exhibitions and one real game so far, but it isn’t too early to jump to some conclusions.
Like this one: Arizona will shoot more 3-pointers this season, maybe even a lot more.
Including the exhibitions, the Wildcats are averaging 24.3 3-point attempts per game, a sharp increase from the 18.3 they averaged last season.
Another way to look at it: 40.3 percent of UA’s shots have come from beyond the 3-point line. That is the highest mark ever in the Sean Miller era and a significant rise from the past five seasons, when Arizona’s 3PA% peaked at 32.1, which only ranked 302nd in the country.
It remains to be see if Arizona can maintain that 40-percent mark, but it probably won’t dip far below that.
“The game has changed, and every coach has to cater to the talent of his team,” Miller explained. “We have more guards, wings and forwards this year, less frontcourt players. One of our frontcourt players, Ryan Luther, happens to be one of our best 3-point shooters. Taking advantage of that is a big, big deal.
“If you study our program, under my direction, especially the last six seasons, we’ve been a team that scores from the free throw line … and score a lot inside the arc from two,” Miller said. “We’ve had teams that shoot a very high percentage from 3, but we just didn’t shoot a lot per game. This year, no doubt, the percentage of points that we’re going to score are gonna come more from the 3-point line than we have the last six years.”
The Wildcats have finished top 20 in offensive efficiency in each of the past five seasons, so altering their shot distribution could be risky (though they don’t have much of a choice, given their personnel).
Generally, offenses that shoot lots of 3s are more volatile. When they are on, they can put up a lot of points in a short amount of time. But when they are off, they can go through long scoring droughts.
“You don’t want to live and die by the 3,” Miller said. “Although we recognize we’re going to shoot more 3s, we certainly don’t want to be that one-trick pony, where if we make them, great, but if we don’t we’re in trouble.
“When you have a bunch of guys on the court who are skilled, the court kind of opens up more. We don’t want to just shoot 3-point shots. We want to get to the foul line and get two.”
Arizona also has to make sure it is taking the right kind of 3s. Which are...
“I think a good 3 is going to be, No. 1, going to be ball reversal first,” Miller said. “Maybe the ball touched the low post. I think an early 3 just has to be a wide-open, uncontested shot, no one around. That one is easily understood.
“But when you start to take 3s early in possessions, off-the-dribble 3s, it’s defended, and you’re shooting over somebody. That’s fool’s gold. That might work in a certain moment, but over the long haul that won’t work.”
Another way to be an effective 3-point shooting team: make sure your best shooters, like Brandon Randolph or Ryan Luther, are taking a bulk of them, while guys who are slumping, like Dylan Smith, aren’t recklessly firing away.
But Arizona is shooting 38 percent from 3 so far, so there isn’t much to complain about yet.
“This isn’t an equal opportunity, it’s not everybody that puts the uniform can shoot 3s,” Miller said. “When you talk about defining roles, we don’t want everyone on the court to feel like they’re equal. I don’t look at that as a problem for our team right now.”