Disrespecting Kevin Young is messing up KU’s high-low
Fred Hoiberg’s defensive game plan against Kansas last week was built on what should be an obvious observation to anyone who watches Kansas on a game-to-game basis: Kevin Young cannot shoot.
There is a reason Young, according to hoop-math.com, has taken 81 percent of his shots at the rim this season. There’s a reason he has only attempted 13 threes in his KU career after jacking 149 in two years at Loyola-Marymount. Young’s jumper is broke — he shot 26 percent in two years at Marymount — Bill Self has given him a flashing yellow light on the perimeter and it doesn’t make much sense to guard Young outside of 10 feet.
It was tough to notice the impact of Hoiberg’s strategy last Wednesday because Ben McLemore offered a healthy distraction, but it became clear on Saturday in KU’s 60-46 ughhhhh win against Texas Tech that something wasn’t right about the KU offense. Sure, KU might as well have played in front of zombies in Lubbock, but credit Hoiberg for the Red Raiders making KU’s offense incredibly difficult to watch for long stretches.
Self’s high-low offense is most effective when everyone is guarded as a threat. When Young flashes to the high-post and his defender follows, that opens up space for Withey to get the ball. The Red Raiders, like the Cyclones, dropped Young’s man back into the paint and tried to take away any passing angles to Withey.
This is not the first time that a pack-the-paint strategy has thrown KU out of rhythm. Earlier in the year, teams decided to quit guarding Travis Releford, whose hesitance to shoot in these situations had everything to do with confidence. Eventually, Releford started shooting and making, and that forced defenses to respect him again. Young’s hesitance to shoot has nothing to do with confidence, so he has two options: Attack or pass.
When Young decided to swing the ball against Texas Tech, how his defender played him once he moved was the key to whether KU could get the ball in the post or not. In the video below, when Young passes the ball to the wing, he runs to the opposite block, and his man remained shaded towards Withey. Eventually, McLemore had to settle for going one-on-one, and Texas Tech bailed him out with a foul.
If Ellis were to just stay at the top of the key, his defender would have stayed attached to Withey’s hip. The best way to get the defending four man to leave Withey is to run Young or Ellis to the opposite block, which did not work in the clip above. In this play, simply running to the opposite block was enough. Ellis’ man takes a step towards him and that one step allows Elijah Johnson to get Withey the ball.
In this play, Young draws help and allows Withey to get an easy putback.
This is how Young should demand respect. Once he burns a defense that is not guarding him enough, coaches will be forced to play him on the perimeter again and KU can get back to its regular attack.
In situations where Young, Jamari Traylor or Ellis decide to swing the ball, Self might consider running the four man to the opposite corner, because as was the case in the first video, Young’s man felt like he was close enough that he could recover if KU threw Young the ball.
It’s amazing it took this long for two coaches to figure out that’s the best way to play Kansas this season, and it may seem obvious that every team will attempt to play KU this way going forward. However, last season Hoiberg did the same thing when Withey was above the free throw line and yet there were many KU opponents too stubborn to adjust their defensive strategy and sag off Withey.
This could be a natural strategy for Baylor on Monday. The Bears typically bring their other big man over for a double team on any post touches when they’re playing man-to-man. Scott Drew could also go zone, but that would not be a wise strategy against the Jayhawks, as they typically are effective against zones, especially Baylor’s. That hasn’t stopped Drew in the past, but the last time he played KU, in the Big 12 tournament, Baylor won by sticking to man. Expect Drew to go man again and to pack the paint.
What has been surprising in the last two games is that Self has not countered by going small* and playing Andrew White III at the four spot, forcing the four man to either play White or give up wide open threes to a good shooter. As Young showed when he attacked, you don’t have to have someone who can shoot in that spot to be effective, but it helps.
*Self did play Releford at the four in the final minutes of regulation against Iowa State, but his reluctance to do so Saturday against an undersized Texas Tech team makes you think he’d rather stick with his regular rotations.
It also takes time for an offense to adjust to a different type of look, so it’s too soon to worry that Hoiberg has solved Self’s high-low. It’s likely a look that the Jayhawks will start to practice against and adjust accordingly.