Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: Ron Baker has the shooter’s touch going for Wichita State

Wichita State's Ron Baker steals the ball from Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead in the first half on Tuesday at Koch Arena.
Wichita State's Ron Baker steals the ball from Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead in the first half on Tuesday at Koch Arena. The Wichita Eagle

I wouldn’t mind seeing Ron Baker go all Kobe Bryant some night. Just shoot, shoot, shoot until he can shoot no more.

Baker, Wichita State’s junior guard, is in a zone right now. He’s living in zip code 33333, shooting the basketball better from long range, from every range, than he ever has.

Baker made 9 of 11 shots Tuesday night during a 77-68 win over Seton Hall at Koch Arena. He drained all three of his three-pointers. Baker might be one of the most-improved players in the country based on his first seven games. That’s saying something considering how good he’s been as a Shocker.

“It’s his confidence,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “Now he’s really searching shots.”

Searching shots? Baker, who made his last eight shots Tuesday, still appears at times almost reluctant to fire one up.

He’s taken as many as 15 shots in a game once this season and took just seven in a blowout win over Saint Louis on Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena.

After his 9 for 11 on Tuesday, Baker is shooting 54.9 percent overall and 53.8 percent from the three-point line.

“I’m playing within Coach Marshall’s system and he’s been calling my number a lot,” Baker said. “A lot of our sets are for me and I’m just knocking down shots, shooting the ball with confidence. This game is mental, so you’ve got to be confident and trust your game.”

Again, I’m going to disagree that the Shockers are calling Baker’s number “a lot.” Eleven shots is not a lot. This guy should be getting fed like he’s Stephen Curry.

But then, that’s not Marshall’s style. There has always been a share-the-basketball mentality with his Shockers and how can anyone argue with the results?

Senior center Darius Carter actually took one more shot than Baker against Seton Hall, which worked out fine since he made eight and had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Point guard Fred VanVleet had a quiet 18 points to go with eight assists and four steals. And Tekele Cotton made 5 of 9 shots for 11 points. He had, of course, his obligatory dunk.

Those veterans – just call them Heart and Soul – combined for all but 10 of Wichita State’s points.

But if one has stood out so far it’s Baker, now 15 of 18 overall in the last two games overall and 19 of 30 from the three-point line in the last five.

Those who have watched Baker consider him a terrific shooter, yet the numbers the past couple of seasons haven’t always supported such an assertion.

He was a 39.8-percent shooter as a redshirt freshman (35.7 percent from the three-point line) and shot 45.6 percent (38 percent three-point) last season.

When asked during the spring and summer months how he wanted to go about improving, Baker said he tried not to be too specific.

“I didn’t just say I wanted to improve on everything,” Baker said. “I told people I wanted to improve my handle and be a more efficient player at the point. I wanted to be more focal. And one of the things I said in being more efficient is that I wanted to shoot the ball better.”

Baker didn’t fess up about taking 1,000 shots a day or anything like that. He just quietly went into the gym and worked on making shots. You’re seeing the results.

“I’ve been shooting the ball a lot and my stroke has been feeling really comfortable,” Baker said.

There’s not a shot Baker takes now that doesn’t look like it’s going in. He’s got the rhythm.

Baker is averaging 18.4 points though he’s averaging a little more than 11 shots. Some of that is by design, sure, but it’s not like Marshall is slipping reins over Baker or any of his players.

“I don’t care if (Baker) takes more shots,” Marshall said. “If you shoot 9 for 11, if you shoot that percentage, you can take as many shots as you want.”

Baker had his hands full defensively against Seton Hall, taking turns guarding Pirates freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead, who had 23 points, 18 in the first half.

Don’t be shocked if you see more Baker-Whitehead in an NBA arena near you someday.

I was surprised, though, to hear Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard’s assessment of Baker, who was instrumental in a Final Four season and a mainstay of last season’s 35-0 run before a loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.

Willard seemed to think Baker’s talents have escaped people.

“Everybody looks at him as this white kid who can’t defend, dribble or do anything else,” Willard said.

Who, exactly, looks at Baker like that? No one I’ve heard.

Anyway, Willard did have nice things to say about Baker.

“He’s a complete player – he defends, scores and he’s able to finish on the break,” he said. “I don’t think you can sit and look and say that’s something he does better than anything else because he’s got it all down. He’s a special player, fun to watch.”

But Baker does need to shoot more. He’s on fire.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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