Rick Pitino’s Louisville’s teams have always been renowned for their stingy, smothering defenses, but as this year’s squad has struggled mightily from the offensive end of the floor, the Hall-of-Fame coach said Tuesday afternoon he is on the lookout for knockdown shooters on the recruiting trail.
This should come as a shock to no one who has seen Louisville play this season. As a team, the Cards are shooting just 30.9% from three-point range (299th in the country) and a less-than-impressive 43.1% overall (195th in the country). Their inability to hit open shots cost them both the Duke and Kentucky games, and without any reliable shooters, the offense has been stagnant at best more much of the year.
In recent years, Pitino has taken on several fast, athletic, and/or defensive-minded players with developing offensive games. This season, it has burdened Louisville offensively, and Pitino hopes to change that sooner than later.
“(Knockdown shooters) are not easy to find today,” Pitino told reporters Tuesday. “We’re looking for that. We can teach defense. We can teach the system. We can teach all that. We want guys who shoot at a big rim and look at it and then we can work on the other facets of the game.”
Pitino says Louisville has struggled shooting this season because several players lack the proper shooting mechanics. He said the benchmark for how to perfect the jump shot is Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who shoots with a high arc, but few of his players can mimic what Curry does.
“The reason we’re not great shooters is we don’t shoot at a big rim,” said Pitino. “Guys like Quentin (Snider) and Wayne (Blackshear) at times and Terry (Rozier) at times shoot with arc, but not Steph Curry arc. The only one who really does that — and he has bad balance and hand placement — is Shaqquan (Aaron). He shoots at a big rim. Dillon Avare shoots at a big rim. The rest of them shoot at a small rim. That’s why their not knock-down shooters…That’s what we’re striving for — get lift, get more arc.”
Pitino’s 2005 Final Four team was compiled of those types of shooters. Three players on that team (Taquan Dean, Larry O’Bannon, and Brandon Jenkins) shot better than 40% from three-point range, and two (Francisco Garcia and Juan Palacios) were right below 40%. His recent Final Four and National Championship teams were not a whole lot better offensively than this year’s squad, but they did have reliable outside shooters in players like Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith, and Luke Hancock.
His strategy to find shooters is already very much in progress, as he has added one dynamic shooter to his 2015 class, following a couple of other prospects closely, and his top unsigned prospect in any class is a sharpshooting wing in the class of 2016.
Florida guard Ryan McMahon was an unknown commodity when he committed to Pitino’s Cardinals, but after shooting 53% from beyond the arc his senior season and leading his team in scoring, Pitino decided to trust his own eye for talent and lock him up early. He also keeping very close tabs on two junior college guards in Mychal Mulder and Teyvon Myers. Mulder is the leading scorer from the nation’s top JUCO team and shoots 47% from three, while Myers is the nation’s top JUCO scorer (25.0 ppg), and shoots around 37% from three (and 45% from the field).
Perhaps is top overall prospect, though, is 2016 wing Maverick Rowan, who is set to officially visit the Cards for the home finale vs. Virginia on Saturday.
Rowan is ranked as the 36th player in the country by 247Sports Composite and the 7th best small forward. He led his team to a 32-1 record and Florida state title this past weekend, averaged 28.2 points per game, and his father told Steve Jones of the Courier-Journal his son shot around 40% from three.
A 5th-year transfer or two may also be an option, as Pitino has mentioned this season. Eastern Washington guard Tyler Harvey, the nation’s leading scorer, falls into that category, and as a 43% three-point shooter, it would not be shocking to see Pitino reach out to him following the season.
This is an approach that may be somewhat out of Pitino’s comfort zone, for as a coach who values defense above all else, his neck vein may already be beginning to bulge thinking about trying to teach defensively raw players his system. Yet, it is something that needs to be done, and he knows that.
Will he follow suit with the frontcourt and start bringing in scoring big men rather than defending big men? Maybe he is not there yet, but it is clear this season’s offensive woes are not lost on him.
He will still value defense above all else and put out one of the finest defensive teams and college basketball year in and year out. For now, though, as he has watched as his offense has struggled to generate points for much of the season season, getting a handful of knockdown shooters to provide some offensive cushion is at the top of his to-do list.