While Zeke Nnaji has seemingly forgotten how to miss a shot, Arizona‘s other two interior scorers are still trying to get going offensively.
Chase Jeter and Ira Lee have combined for 32 points in 136 minutes on 9-of-24 shooting to begin the season. Jeter’s 4.3 points per game are less than half he averaged last season. He is 5 for 12 from the field.
“We as a team have to do a better job of getting him the ball in scoring position,” said head coach Sean Miller. “Sometimes he has a tendency when he posts up to be further away from the basket. I don’t think that’s the answer. But there are also times when a guy like him, runs the court well, and rolls on a pick and roll, and you have to be able to throw him the ball because he’s proven that he can score. And I think like a lot of things through four games, I wouldn’t judge us just on those four games. We’re going to get better and smoother at being able to have balance and be able to get the ball to him a few more times. That would be a good thing for us.”
Not because that is the team’s best way of scoring, but because it keeps defenses honest, Miller said.
The Wildcats have the No. 11 offense in the country right now, but a lot of it stems from the fact they are shooting 43.6 percent from 3, a mark that may not be sustainable. If teams start to sell out to defend the perimeter or halt their transition game, Arizona has to be able to make them pay in other ways.
“One play that I remember from the last game is Jemarl Baker had a great pass to Ira rolling down the middle of the lane, and he did a great job of catching the ball, gathering himself and scoring right at the front of the rim,” Miller said. “And when those types of plays happen, the analogy that I would use is it’s college football. It’s handing the ball off and a guy breaks into the second line for first down or eight yards or 15 yards. It just opens things up, right? Or if you’re running team and it’s like all you’re doing is running, next thing you know, boom, you have a big play across the middle for 25 yards. Well, it changes the complexion of the game.
“Basketball is really not different from that. If you can hit the roller a couple of times, if you get the ball around the basket, they get fouled, Chase shoots a jump hook, makes it, it just keeps everybody honest. And in the past, sometimes you almost wanted the opposite to happen. You wanted a couple 3s to go in. You wanted more balance from the perimeter, more guys shooting open 3s to make them. This year’s team’s almost reverse to that. So it takes a little bit of time for us to get it the way we want to.”
That could include changes to the rotation or even the starting lineup.
“The one thing about our team is there’s constant pressure in a very positive way on our players,” Miller said. “You know, you don’t show up for practice, and I don’t mean like physically not be there, but if you’re not alert, you’re not concentrating, you’re not producing, you’re not like you should be and that happens for a period of time, there’s pressure on that player to keep the role that he has, whether that’s a starter, whether that’s you know rotation minutes.
“So we have that highly-competitive environment and then we’re looking after every game who plays well with who and there’s more separation after four games than maybe there are two. We could have multiple starting lineups throughout the year. We could stick with the one we currently have. I don’t know if that’s necessarily something that we have completely figured out. But it’s not easy to play nine and 10 guys, it isn’t. And what you hope you can get out of doing that is constant effort for 40 minutes, a wearing-down effect both on offense and on defense and quality play. And if we sub and we get into a situation where we’re not getting quality play or maybe our effort level or what I’m talking about isn’t as much in place, it just makes sense to play eight or nine, not 10.
“But we’re not there yet. I do like how a lot of things are going right now, and I believe in every one of our players. I mean, this is one of the deepest teams we’ve had. And there’s a number of guys that don’t start the game that could. I mean, there’s not a big difference between a couple of our starters and a couple guys who don’t play or don’t start, so we’ll keep our eye on that. That’s a good problem to have.”