Shockwaves

How three-guard lineups have helped WSU and what it means for this year’s Shockers

Conner Frankamp, left, and Landry Shamet high-five after Frankamp scored a three-point goal in the final minutes of the game against Connecticut in December at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Conner Frankamp, left, and Landry Shamet high-five after Frankamp scored a three-point goal in the final minutes of the game against Connecticut in December at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. The Wichita Eagle

One of the hunches I had last season was that Wichita State was very good when it played three sharpshooters on the court at the same time.

Gregg Marshall often lauded the Shockers for being the best-shooting team he’s had in two decades as a head coach. Landry Shamet, Conner Frankamp and Austin Reaves were all considered knock-down shooters and Samajae Haynes-Jones made 44 percent of his threes.

But just how good were the Shockers when they had three of those players on the floor at the same time?

I wanted to find out the answer, so I combed through play-by-play data for WSU during the 2017-18 season to find out just how often that lineup was used and its effectiveness.

Here are the results and how they could be good news for the Shockers this coming season.

Data on the elite shooting lineup

Before we begin, it should be noted that WSU played a traditional lineup of two guards, a small forward (think Zach Brown or Markis McDuffie), and two posts for 74 percent of available minutes last season. It was a success with the lineup outscoring opponents by 0.12 points per possession.

WSU already had a successful offensive lineup, but that advantage skyrocketed when it had its “elite shooting lineup” on the floor. The Shockers used this lineup 12 percent of the time (162 minutes) and they eviscerated opponents by 0.26 points per possession.

Having three sharpshooters on the floor made the offense lethal, as the spacing and shooting led to 418 points in 318 possessions for 1.31 points per possession. For reference, WSU’s overall points per possession of 1.14 ranked No. 7 in the country.

The lineup even led directly to a Shocker victory, as Marshall turned to the trio of Shamet, Frankamp and Reaves paired with Rashard Kelly and Rauno Nurger to pull out the win at Baylor. The lineup entered with three minutes left in a tie game and exited with a win after pulling off a 7-0 run, including the go-ahead three-pointer from Frankamp against Baylor’s zone.

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So if the lineup was so effective, why didn’t Marshall use it more? Simple. Because the Shockers couldn’t get a stop against top competition with the lineup.

WSU allowed 0.99 points per possession last season, good for the No. 94 overall defense, a colossal slide from where its defense has ranked in recent seasons. And when the Shockers inserted their elite shooting lineup, their defense plummeted even further to 1.05 points per possession.

And when you start to peel back the layers and subtract playing time against inferior competition, the defensive numbers become even worse. Take out the teams outside KenPom’s top 200 and WSU’s defensive points per possession elevates to 1.13 points per possession.

It gets downright scary when you examine the 62 minutes the elite shooting lineup played against top-100 KenPom competition. While the offense did produce a resounding 1.39 points per possession, the defense gave up a staggering 1.30 points per possession.

So if you were wondering why Marshall didn’t turn more to this lineup against top competition, here’s your answer.

Ultimately, Marshall was able to find the sweet spot to make the elite shooting lineup a success in the limited minutes it played. It shouldn’t come as a surprise the lineup didn’t see more court time because Marshall would have had to make significant sacrifices to the team’s defense to boost the offense, which doesn’t align with his principles.

What it means for this season’s Shockers

It may seem like the Shockers don’t have the necessary firepower to come up with their own elite shooting lineup for this season. Shamet, Frankamp and Reaves are all gone and while Haynes-Jones was accurate from deep last season, he didn’t have the volume (only 32 attempts) to be counted on as a certain asset.

Don’t be surprise if freshman Erik Stevenson becomes a sharpshooter on their level, however. The combination of Haynes-Jones and junior-college transfer Ricky Torres should provide proficient-enough shooting at point guard and freshman Dexter Dennis has been reportedly been showing off a smooth stroke from the outside.

While that likely doesn’t add up to the firepower that Shamet, Frankamp and Reaves offered (six combined threes per game on 41.2 percent accuracy), the Shockers could still form a potent shooting lineup with the pieces it has this season.

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