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Clemson Basketball: Three-Point Defense

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We’re not good at recognizing hot shooters and its vexing.

Clemson v Kansas Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

I’ve had this feeling all season that teams have been killing Clemson from behind the three-point line. I look at individual game stats, but don’t always have the time to look at the season in its entirety.

Since we have a little bit of a break and Mississippi State shot three-pointers like they were on fire in NBA Jam; I thought looking at our three-point defense was a worthy pursuit. I found out some interesting things, and most of them weren’t good.

Clemson Three-Point Defense: 39.1% - 323rd (out of 351 teams)

On paper, this makes no sense. Clemson has an experienced group of long, athletic players that should be able to harass shooters off the three-point line.

This was our most used line-up vs Mississippi State

PG - Shelton Mitchell - Sr - 6’4
SG - Clyde Trapp - So - 6’4
SF - David Skara - Sr - 6’8
PF - Amir Simms - So - 6’7
C - Elijah Thomas - SR - 6’9

The two subs that received the most minutes:

G/F - John Newman - Fr - 6’5
F/C - Hunter Tyson - Fr - 6’8

This doesn’t look like a team that can’t defend the three, yet they can’t (or haven’t thus far). Some of it is playing a couple great three-point shooting teams, but that doesn’t explain everything.

Season three-point % and national rank / three-point % vs Clemson

The Citadel: 40% (16) / 37%

North Carolina Central: 30% (301) / 22%

Sam Houston State: 33% (216) / 33%

Akron: 33% (213) / 38%

Georgia: 34% (171) / 28%

Creighton: 45% (4) / 38%

Nebraska: 36% (129) / 32%

St. Peters: 33% (207) / 48%

Mississippi State: 36% (104) / 63%

This doesn’t look terrible other than St. Peters and Mississippi State. I thought the Creighton game was going to be bad as well, but we actually held them well below their season average.

The St. Peters and Mississippi State games obviously skew the data, and it’s possible I’m just suffering from recency bias. Three-point defense hasn’t been a huge issue all season, it’s just that the last two teams we’ve played have shot the lights out.

Avg # three-pointers attempted / three-pointers attempted vs Clemson

The Citadel: 38 / 27

North Carolina Central: 19 / 18

Sam Houston State: 26 / 24

Akron: 30 / 29

Georgia: 19 / 18

Creighton: 25 / 26

Nebraska: 25 / 22

St. Peters: 21 / 21

Mississippi State: 26 / 30

I wanted to look at three-point shooting another way. Maybe teams are shooting a bad percentage, but are getting more looks at three.

This doesn’t appear to be the case. Every team we’ve played pretty much shoots their average in terms of three-point shots attempted. Mississippi State went over by four shots, but that’s not surprising considering how hot they were from the perimeter.

Opponents Leading three-point shooter season average / vs Clemson

Key: 3PA = 3 pointers attempted per game

The Citadel:

Matt Frierson - 10.9 3PA, 47% / 4/10, 40%

North Carolina Central:

Randy Miller Jr - 5.1 3PA, 39% / 0/3, 0%

Sam Houston State:

Josh Delaney - 5.7 3PA, 28% / 2/6, 33%

Akron:

Daniel Utomi - 8.6 3PA, 35% / 2/9, 22%

Georgia:

Tyree Crump - 4.9 3PA, 46% / 2/5, 40%

Creighton:

Ty-Shon Alexander - 7.8 3PA, 44% / 7/12, 58%

Nebraska:

James Palmer - 6.3 3PA, 30% / 2/5, 40%

St. Peters: 21 / 21

Davauhnte Turner - 6.6 3PA, 32% / 3/6 50%

Mississippi State:

Lamar Peters - 7.7 3PA, 44% / 8/11 73%

This is where the problems start to show. Clemson has played four elite three-point shooters (over 40%) and those three shooters have all managed to shoot at least 40%. Not only are elite shooters shooting a high percentage, they are getting a ton of three-point shots.

We’ve let volume shooters like Frierson, Alexander, and Peters get up double-digit three point attempts. Alexander and Peters were insanely hot from deep, and yet, Clemson allowed them to keep shooting. Our player recognition has been horrendous.

There is no way you should the player at the top of the scouting report do exactly what the scouting report says you should avoid. In the case of Alexander and Peters, we knew they wanted to shoot it from deep but didn’t do anything to stop them from getting off their shots.

Random Flare Ups (Players hitting 3+ 3’s that weren’t leading shooters)

The Citadel: None

North Carolina Central: None

Sam Houston State:

R.J. Smith - 2.1 3PA 37% / 3/4 75%

Akron:

Loren Christian Jackson - 6.8 3PA, 31% / 5/12 41%

Georgia: None

Creighton: None

Nebraska: None

St. Peters:

Cameron Jones - 4.1 3PA, 46% / 3/5, 60%

Dallas Watson - 3.6 3PA, 40% / 3/4, 75%

Mississippi State:

Quinndary Weatherspoon - 4 3PA, 28% / 4/7 57%

Aric Holman - 3.8 3PA, 35% 5/8, 63%

I wanted to take a look at guys a little farther down the scouting report, and once again, player recognition appears to play a role in Clemson’s three-point defensive struggles.

When players heat up, we often fail to recognize what’s happening. Against Akron, for instance, Loren Christian Jackson got hot, and we never adjusted. We let a hot three-point shooter get up 12 3’s.

The same goes with St. Peters, where our entire game plan fell apart. The only way St. Peters was going to beat us was by getting hot from three, and yet, we let them get hot from three, and then we let them keep shooting. Instead of plastering to shooters and making a small team drive the ball and score contested two-pointers, we helped off and allowed them to shoot threes.

The Mississippi State game was the most clear example of our lack of defensive recognition. We came into the game wanted to clog the lane and make Mississippi State beat us from deep.

Once it was clear that Mississippi State was shooting at a level that would actually beat us, we failed to adjust. We continued to either lose shooters or failed to recognize that even though the pregame game plan said, “let Weatherspoon and Holman shoot” Weatherspoon and Homan were hot from deep.

Overall

I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to find when I started this article, but I think the conclusions are fairly straight-forward. Clemson has done a poor job of recognizing shooters and when players heat up, we’ve failed to adapt.

I honestly thought I was going to see a “death by 1,000 cuts” scenario, where Clemson was just giving up 1 or 2 extra 3’s to guys not on the scouting report. When the other team’s power forward rattles in a couple threes because he got hot in warm ups, it’s not the end of the world. When you’re consistently letting good shooters shoot, something has to change.

Moving forward, I would like to see Clemson challenge teams to beat us shooting contested twos instead of over helping and giving up open threes. Hopefully Coach Brownell and the rest of the coaching staff have worked on player recognition during this break.