Jim Larranaga has built Miami basketball around the backcourt, ever since the days of Shane Larkin and Durand Scott, to Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan and now Chris Lykes and Dejan Vasiljevic. Naturally, an offensive emphasis on backcourt leads to an increase in three point attempts. When Miami has had their best seasons they’ve been above average in three point shooting percentage, able to knock down threes at a consistent pace and taking smart shots at the right times.
But over the last two seasons, Miami’s shot selection from their backcourt stars, Ja’Quan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, has dragged their three point shooting down. As a result, the Hurricanes have struggled to reach their true potential on the court.
The 2018-19 season is still in its infant stages and it’s important not to overreact to anything we’ve seen through three games. Miami was favored to win the first two by a combined 31 points and even managed to eclipse their betting line. Still though, even against a low level of competition, there is reason to get excited for 2018.
Miami has two starters who are three point marksman in Lykes and Vasiljevic. Not only is the Canes’ backcourt able to convert three pointers at a high rate but they also have much better shot discipline than their predecessors. One of Ja’Quan Newton’s biggest flaws was his wild shot selection, pulling up from long range to clink shots off the rim and backboard. Newton shot just 30% for his career from the three point line. Bruce Brown wasn’t much better, just 31.6% and Lonnie Walker converted 34.6%. Lykes and Vasiljevic are much more proficient, converting 35.6% and 39.2% respectively.
While Miami’s biggest tests remain weeks and months away, the career averages for their starting backcourt is nothing to scoff at. Vasiljevic is a knockdown catch-and-shoot guard while Lykes is much better than Newton at pulling up to drain a trey.
Beyond their backcourt are some excellent three pointer shooters at other positions, including Anthony Lawrence II, the best three point shooter on the team in terms of percentage compared to volume. Lawrence owns a 40% career average from downtown and, in just three games, is shooting 43.8% on a little more than five threes attempted per game. Stretch big Sam Waardenburg has struggled early but converted 43.8% of threes last season and transfer guard Zach Johnson has shot 37.1% from three in his career.
This year’s Hurricanes squad finally has the discipline and talent to excel behind the three point line, something that has been missing from the squads of the past few seasons. Coach L loves to let his guys fire away from deep and this season, it appears they have the chops to live by the three rather than die by it. There is still a long way to go and a lot of basketball to be played. But if Miami can find the open shooter and continue their three point excellence, the Hurricanes may again sneak up on the rest of the ACC.