As a freshman Andrew Nembhard came into Gainesville ready to play. He had the poise of an upperclassman with a basketball IQ far beyond most 18-year olds and standing at 6’5” he was physically ready for the battles to be taken place in the rough and tumble SEC. Possessing NBA vision he was able to string together highlight reel assist after highlight reel assist which endeared himself to both fans and the coaching staff that trusted him to make plays at important times of big games.
There was a lot to like about his game but, as is the case with most freshmen, there was a whole. For some players it’s motor, for some it’s defense, but for Nembhard it a more understandable deficiency.
Shooting off the dribble.
“Understandable” was used because shooting off the dribble is one of the most difficult skills in basketball, even though it’s not always realized as such when talking about the game. On average players shoot 10-15% higher off the catch than they do off the dribble which shows that not all jump shots are created equal. Playing the point guard position Nembhard was tasked with taking a great deal of shots off the dribble, whether it was trying to keep a defense honest for going under a screen or at the end of a shot clock where he had to throw up the contested prayer at the conclusion of an unsuccessful offensive possession by the team.
Pull-up shooting was a weakness for Nembhard and he ended the season shooting 23.8% off the bounce, a disappointing 0.562 points per possession. That put him in the 19th percentile nationally.
Entering this season his limitations as a shooter off the dribble were expected to be a bit less of a problem. Instead of being Florida’s primary late-clock shot taker the Gators now had Kerry Blackshear Jr. to throw the ball into and he took a lot of those attempts for his Virginia Tech team. As well, Tre Mann was coming onto campus and he was an electric scorer in high school who thrived shooting off the bounce so he was perfectly suited to take those attempts away from Nembhard.
Well, that wasn’t actually the case. Blackshear hasn’t yet found himself to be a consistent outside shooter and Mann hasn’t been able to find his rhythm and get a regular shift in the rotation. For that reason, I guess it’s back to Nembhard as the primary shooter off the dribble.
So, how has Nembhard been able to shoot off the bounce?
Don’t look now, but Nembhard is actually one of the best shooters off the dribble in the country. That’s right, a player who was one of the least efficient shooters off the dribble in the country a year ago has totally flipped it and became excellent in the field.
Currently Nembhard is shooting 44.1% off the dribble for 1.034 points per possession. That puts him in the 85th percentile nationally. Not only is he shooting with tremendous efficiency but he’s doing it on a lot of volume. He’s currently 27th in the country in dribble jumper attempts with 59 shots so this is a solid sample size which suggests these numbers aren’t a fluke.
Nembhard’s evolution as a shooter shows that he put in some major work in the offseason to address an area of his game where he was deficient. Shooting off the dribble is also a required skill for NBA guards so there is a chance that he got some feedback regarding that ability when he went through the draft process in the offseason.
Whatever his motivations were to get better he clearly put in tremendous amounts of work to improve on and become proficient in one of the more difficult skills in basketball. Watching the film of his dribble jump shots last year to this year and there are some apparent differences.
First, he seems much stronger in his lower body this year which is doing a few different things for his shooting. Shooting off the dribble means shooting off movement and a stronger lower body has allowed him to be much more under control and much more balanced when he decelerates into his shooting action. Stronger legs also means more lift, addressing a problem he had last year when a lot of his misses on dribble jumpers were short. The improved muscle in his lower body is also allowing him to create some contact before pulling up in the midrange, bouncing his defender off his shoulder to give him space to elevate.
Mechanically there are improvements as well. He’s getting his shooting wrist underneath the ball a lot quicker this year than last year, allowing for a smoother release and more consistent follow through. The release point has also been raised, allowing his elbow to stay in closer to his body for more consistent straightness as well as allowing his eyes to stay on the rim from the time he pulls up until the time he finishes and follows through.
This means weights, film, and a massive amount of reps, but the results of going from a poor pull-up shooter to one of the best in college hoops is nothing short of miraculous.
Nembhard’s proficiency in shooting off the dribble is helping the Gators primarily in the pick and roll offense. A year ago teams would simply defend Nembhard by dropping under the screen, daring him to shoot the jumper they knew he didn’t hit at a great clip. This year, different story.
Last year on pick and rolls ran by Nembhard the Gators were at 0.825 PPP.
This year on pick and rolls ran by Nembhard the Gators are at 0.914 PPP.
The difference is pretty clear in the way teams have to defend Nembhard now. They can’t cheat under the screen and instead have to fight through the pick. When they have chosen to go underneath the screen Nembhard has punished them with his pull-up game and when they’ve had to take that away by running over the screen Nembhard can use his ball handling to get into the paint and demonstrate his otherworldly passing ability. Of course, that’s in addition to teams having to worry about Kerry Blackshear as the roll man.
Being able to shoot off the dribble opens up all kinds of things offensively and it has completely changed Nembhard as a scorer. This was on display in Florida’s convincing 81-68 win over South Carolina where Nembhard had 21 points and 10 assists. He was 6-10 on jumpers off the dribble, two of which were threes meaning dribble jumpers accounted for 14 efficient points on 10 shots. Not only was he putting up points himself but the shots he hit early completely changed the way South Carolina tried to defend and when they tried to take away his pull-up game he got into the paint and delivered pinpoint passes to his teammates for layups.
The entire game was a perfect example of how shooting off the dribble opens up everything offensively and Nembhard’s individual improvement in the skill is changing the way the Gators can score. Despite a slow start to the year scoring the basketball the Gators are now up to 34th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, a number that adjusts for quality of competition when evaluating offensive efficiency. 34th is higher than Florida ranked in the last two seasons and it shows how this team is improving. As the primary ball handler Nembhard’s ability to pressure defenses is creating space for his teammates and it’s resulting in better offensive performances from the Gators which is ultimately leading to more wins.
All because Andrew Nembhard saw a deficiency in his game, attacked it in the offseason, and turned a weakness into a strength.