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Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Opinion: Travis Releford’s making the most of his shots

January 9, 2013

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Sometimes, when you scream until your throat screams back and nobody cares to listen, you have to find something else about which to preach.

So four or five years ago I ended my crusade for basketball to destroy an archaic basketball statistic known as field goal percentage. Ever since the introduction of the three-point field goal, the stat has been misleading at best. It assigns equal value to two-point field goals and three-pointers, which of course is silly.

What used to be known as adjusted field goal percentage and now is called effective field goal percentage reveals so much more about a shooter’s value. It assigns 1.5 credits for a three, one for a two, which makes sense considering three is one and-a-half times greater than two.

Now that a player from the local college basketball powerhouse leads the nation in effective field goal percentage can everybody locally get on board at least?

Kansas senior guard Travis Releford, one of the worst shooters in the nation three games into the season, leads the country with an effective field goal percentage of .727. In the past 10 games, his effective field goal percentage is a remarkable .868. A player who shoots only two-point field goals would have to shoot .868 from the field to generate as many points per shot as Releford has in the past 10 games.

He missed his first 11 three-pointers of the season and is 18 for 27 since (.667). Take a moment to catch your breath from all the numbers. Now listen to some more. In the past four games, Releford has made 11 of 12 two-point field goals. In the past five games, he has made 11 of 13 three-pointers.

“Outrageous,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of Releford’s shooting since he shook a three-game, season-opening slump. “He’s shooting so well. He’s still taking wide-open, great shots. That’s the thing. You’re going to shoot a better percentage when you take good shots and he’s taken great shots.”

Releford shot .325 from long distance last season and despite the 0-for-11 start, he has that figure up to .474 this season.

“I think he can become a little bit more aggressive driving and doing some things because he’s so good at it, but the basket’s big to him right now and I hope that continues,” Self said.

When Self announced Releford would redshirt his second season at Kansas, he did so with a prediction that the Bishop Miege graduate would become a 1,000-point scorer at Kansas. Releford has 700 points down, 300 to go. At his current 13.4 scoring average, Releford would need to play 23 more games for the 12-1 Jayhawks to make Self’s prediction come true.

Effective field goal percentage, one of the few worthwhile new-fangled statistics, has gained so little traction that players don’t track it.

“I had no idea that’s how it’s going on until now,” Releford said of leading the nation. “I guess that’s good, stat-wise. I guess.”

Releford does not have the beautiful jumpshot of a Brandon Rush or Ben McLemore, both of whom get up so high, hold the ball high and put beautiful rotation on the ball. The unconventional look of his shot makes Releford’s freaky shooting streak so much more interesting.

“There are a lot of different ways to do it,” Self said. “Usually, if the follow-through’s good at the end, there’s a great chance it’s going to be soft and he’s got a great follow-through, even if it’s a little different from the way some look.”

Releford said he hasn’t made any mechanical adjustments to his shot. He attributed the improvement to putting up a ton of shots in the summer and to teammates and Self encouraging him to shoot and telling him his stroke looks sound. He also said he talks with his former AAU coach, L.J. Goolsby, after every game.

Aside: Through the years, AAU has become a four-letter word in the eyes of many, but that often isn’t fair. Goolsby, for example, influences young lives in an extremely positive, meaningful way. Releford’s just one of many.

Count Releford’s improved shooting as one more reason redshirting was the best thing that happened to his college career. One more year of practice means 20 percent more repetition than a four-year player tallies.

“You hear about NBA guys all the time,” Self said. “When they go to the league, you hear about, ‘Oh, his shot’s going to get better because he’s going to have plenty of time to work on it.’ And it’s the same way in college. Whenever you get to school you start realizing the pace in which you need to practice or the repetitions you need to get up. You can’t help but become a better shooter more times than not.”

Not always.

“Usually, if you’re not a better shooter it’s because it’s between your ears, more so than it is a skill or talent,” Self said. “Playing with a free mind has a ton to do with it.”

To hear Releford tell it, his mind is free.

“My job going into the game is to always stop the other team’s best scorer,” Releford said. “That’s my focus going into games. I don’t go into games thinking about shooting or scoring.”

Some guys think about it. Other guys do it. Releford does it.

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