The diverse skill set of Kerry Blackshear Jr. has made for some challenging coaching decisions for Mike White as he decides how exactly the jack-of-all-trades can be used offensively. Possessing the ability to bang on the inside, pass the ball from the high post, or shoot from behind the arc he could be used in a bunch of different ways and finding out exactly what works best for the team has been a process that has required some trial and error.
At first the Gators tried using Blackshear as their lone big in the paint in a 4-out motion continuity offense, but the result didn’t see the ball getting dumped into the big man enough.
Against Miami at the Charleston Classic we saw the Gators use Blackshear as a distributor on the perimeter, a position that allowed him to use some of his passing and vision, also giving him the chance to be in catch and shoot scenarios.
Then, against Utah State Mike White used more designed post up plays and pick and rolls where Blackshear would dive into the paint and seal his defender to try to get more touches on the inside.
With so many possibilities regarding the usage of Blackshear it’s tough to nail down exactly what exactly is best for him and what gives Florida’s offense the clearest opportunities to score.
For the Gators to reach their ceiling this year the question of how to use Blackshear most effectively is of paramount importance and figuring out what makes him the most dangerous and using him accordingly could have positive results for a team that has still been searching offensively.
The numbers and the film have a lot to say about how he is used. Here is a study on what has been the most effective use of Kerry Blackshear so far this season and what might be the best way to utilize him moving forward.
On The Perimeter
In modern basketball the allure of having big men that can step out and shoot is incredibly enticing. Stretch bigs are considered the forwards of the modern era and some personalities would suggest any post players that play a style otherwise are obsolete.
Since Kerry Blackshear brings perimeter skills to the table despite being a 6’11”, 250-pound big man you can see why using that stretchiness would be appealing. So, how exactly has perimeter Blackshear been so far?
One number that people are always going to look at to judge the viability of a big man on the perimeter is their 3-point percentage. For Blackshear, that number hasn’t looked great so far. A 3-5 performance from deep against Long Beach State managed to bring him up to 31.2% on the season with a 32-attempt sample size, easily on his way to blowing past his previous season total of 63 attempts (he hit 21 of them for 33%) with Virginia Tech.
As with any discussion regarding the viability of a 3-point shooter it’s worth noting the national average so you can get some context. This year the average 3-point percentage nationwide is 33.1%, a historically low number that can likely be chalked up to the line being moved back this season. Last year the average was 34.4% which is more typical when you look at the last 15 years of NCAA basketball.
Blackshear’s 3-point shooting numbers aren’t entirely flattering but making a judgment regarding his usefulness on the perimeter based off a single shooting number like that would be a little bit simplistic.
Instead, you want to look at all the offense he has generated on the perimeter when he gets the ball. Looking at his shooting is one offensive element of him getting the ball on the perimeter but he also has the ability to drive, a skill that contributed to him being one of the most sought-after grad transfers in the country in the offseason.
For that reason I looked at every possession Blackshear had where he caught the ball on the perimeter and made a play, whether it was a catch-and-shoot attempt, a drive, a few dribbles then a shot…essentially a catch-all of all his possessions where he was used as a perimeter offensive player. By doing that you can get a far better look at his effectiveness as a scorer on the perimeter with much more accuracy than simply if he’s shooting the three well or not. The possessions where a player catches the ball on the perimeter and makes a play are referred to as spot up possessions.
When you look at all his spot up possessions and get a rounder picture of his game when used on the perimeter here is what you get.
On spot up attempts he’s shooting 22.7% and 0.708 points per possession.
(As a team, Florida currently sits at 0.905 PPP)
Seeing the 3-point percentage made people aware of the difficulty he has had from behind the arc but Blackshear’s struggles with other elements of the perimeter game probably haven’t been as apparent. But, when you look at the tape, it’s not just shooting that has stung Blackshear as he hasn’t been as effective driving the basketball and finishing as he is capable of as seen when he was a Hokie. When his shot hasn’t fallen he has tried to put the ball on the floor but right now he hasn’t quite been able to get separation from his man to get all the way to the hoop. Add in the struggles off the bounce with his streaky shooting and you’ve got that 0.708 PPP number on spot up possessions.
One element of Blackshear’s game that has looked tremendous on the perimeter is his passing. Of his 22 assists on the season 12 of them have come on spot up possessions and he has shown great vision on the outside or when putting the ball on the floor. Best used in Florida’s Princeton-style sets his passing from the high post has been surgical at times and he’s also showed some touch by passing with one hand off the dribble.
After putting together a season at Virginia Tech where he was one of the most efficient post up players in the nation on heavy volume the expectations were high for Blackshear to come into Gainesville and be a monster on the low block and while that hasn’t exactly happened yet he has still been a threat using his strength and touch on the inside to get buckets and draw fouls.
Just like we looked at Blackshear’s spot up possessions we can look at all his post up possessions and get a number that helps contextualize the value of that play to the Gators.
As a post up player Blackshear is shooting 38.1% and 0.87 points per possession.
That’s a pretty good number for post ups in modern college basketball but it’s not as devastating an offensive weapon as the Gators might have thought it would have been entering the season. Blackshear’s individual post up possessions at 0.87 PPP also falls short of Florida’s 0.905 PPP as a team, suggesting it’s a below-average attempt in the scheme of their offense.
However, that isn’t the place to end when it comes to looking at post up possessions.
The post up has been under relentless attack from basketball media over the last handful of years and a large part of it has been due to simply looking at the field goal percentage or the points per possession number, in this particular case making Blackshear’s post ups look good, but not great.
However, that isn’t the only piece of the equation when looking at post up possessions.
Often times when the ball is thrown into the post it’s not exclusively to get a one-on-one post up, it’s to draw a double team and pass the ball out. Blackshear gets doubled a ton on the block and he often makes a good read out of it so you need to factor in those possessions as well when evaluating the quality of his post up possessions.
For that reason, you look at post up derived offense. That factors in both the possessions where Blackshear shoots the ball on a post up as well as when he passes to a shooter or a cutter. By doing that it categorizes these post up possessions as the total play ran by the Gators and not just the end of the play, just like we looked at total spot up possessions on the perimeter and not just Blackshear’s catch and shoot numbers.
When you factor in Blackshear’s passes from the low block and look at total post up derived offense Blackshear’s post up plays result in 42.9% shooting and 0.952 points per possession.
That number gives a much bigger picture view of Blackshear’s post ups on a whole and shows not just what happens when they give it to him and he makes a move but what happens when they give him the ball and they allow the play to develop. Also, considering many of the post up derived plays are catch and shoot attempts (a shot the Gators have been unlucky with but are improving) it’s entirely likely that number will go up.
Looking at post up derived offense is a much more accurate way of gauging the effectiveness of a post up than just a player’s shooting percentage when he takes the shot and looking at that number the post up looks like an effective possession.
Looking at the presence of Blackshear on both the perimeter and the inside you need to factor in some intangibles as well.
For example if Blackshear is playing on the perimeter he could be drawing the opposing team’s center away from the rim where he can be a rim protector which could allow other players to get easier buckets at the rim when driving. That has been the scenario in a few cases this season when Blackshear has heated up from the perimeter, and having your 5-man out beyond the 3-point line can space the floor and make for driving angles for guards that aren’t there when your big is stationed on the low block.
Blackshear on the low block can attract some defensive attention too as teams try to keep the ball out of his hands. Sometimes help defenders have been cheating into the paint to deter an interior pass to Blackshear and when that’s happened it has opened up a skip pass to Noah Locke or Keyontae Johnson for a wide open three.
Keeping Blackshear on the low block might not bring the same level of spacing but it allows him to be near the rim and in better offensive rebounding position when a shot goes up. The offensive rebound has been an important part of Florida’s offense given the team’s shooting struggles and if Blackshear is at the point being a ball mover he isn’t in an ideal position to crash the glass.
Moving from the intangible back to the tangible there is one area post ups have a major edge over spot ups and that’s when it comes to drawing fouls. Points from the free throw line are factored into the points per possession number for each play type but that doesn’t account for the other positive outcomes from drawing fouls. First, you get closer to the bonus and double bonus, always a benefit in basketball. Second, you might put a starter in foul trouble and send him to the bench.
On spot ups Blackshear is getting fouled on 4.2% of his possessions.
On post ups he is getting fouled on 37% of his possessions.
Obviously you aren’t making decisions on play calls based on what draws more fouls but the major difference here is definitely a piece of the puzzle that needs to be discussed.
What Is Blackshear’s Likely Ceiling With Each Play?
To see what Blackshear might accomplish with each play type this season we can look at his stellar season a year ago with Virginia Tech to see if it’s likely he’ll continue on the same path statistically with each of these play types. If something is drastically different in his numbers this year that last there is a good chance he regresses to the mean and that could give us some insight into what to expect moving forward.
When it comes to 3-point shooting there are some numbers that need to be brought up. First, Blackshear only shot 63 attempts last season which isn’t many. For a player with that low of volume you’d like to see a higher percentage, and since we didn’t see him take many threes on a Virginia Tech team that loved to let it fly it would suggest he’s no more than an average shooter at best, something that is showing in the numbers so far this season.
Using KenPom we can also see how Blackshear has shot versus high caliber teams in his career.
Against top-50 teams this year Blackshear is 23.1% from three.
Last year against top-50 teams he was 24%.
Two years ago he was 21.9% against good teams.
With a pretty good sample size we can see that he’s not someone who can really be relied on as a great shooter against good competition.
An interesting number regarding his shooting this year is that he is 41.2% when left wide open, a solid number, but only 15.4% when guarded.
Overall on spot up possessions last season Blackshear was at 0.977 points per possession and when you watch the film he was extremely effective at driving the basketball, something that hasn’t yet been put on display in Gainesville. His ability to get a step on a defender, keep that man on his hip, and then finish strong was outstanding and that’s something that will probably be unleashed from him later this season. This wasn’t something he seldom did, the drive was a big part of his game, so it is likely it will return and it could really help Florida’s offense.
On post up derived offense the number was 1.101 points per possession for Blackshear, a tremendous number that was aided by the fact that Virginia Tech had a few elite shooters that could really cash in on the inside-out threes presented by him.
Blackshear has definitely shown he can be a better spot up player than he has been this year and when it comes to post ups he has been more consistent year to year, though the numbers put up while at Virginia Tech were outstanding.
What’s Better For Blackshear?
The good thing is that it’s not one thing or another. Versatility is a strength of Blackshear that needs to be utilized and playing in a variety of ways makes the Gators a more diverse team that can go to different play styles when one kind goes stale and it also makes Florida a more difficult scout.
However, there probably should be a base understanding of where he is most effective and where he should be placed more often, especially against good teams in big games and in late game scenarios where possessions really matter.
Looking at the numbers, the case for Blackshear being more of a post threat than a perimeter threat is quite strong. He has always been a better post up player than a spot up player when you look at his entire career and so far the numbers are making it look that way at Florida.
Another way to look at it is how have other teams responded to each play type.
Almost every time Blackshear gets the ball on the low block, no matter the opponent, he sees a double team. On the perimeter, some teams have shown concern for his ability to shoot but others have been entirely okay with it, even daring him to shoot it while their big sags into the paint to help against any penetration.
Just seeing how other teams react to Blackshear shows they are more concerned with his ability on the low block and that’s something to consider when factoring in how to use him. Basketball is all about creating advantage situations and any time Blackshear sees a double team and passes the ball out to an open man there is an advantage situation the defense has to adjust to since they are now playing three against four.
Having a player with so many offensive abilities and trying to figure out how to use him is an excellent problem to have. Using him in the best possible way should get the best out of Florida’s star and getting the best out of him is what it might take for Florida to reach their ceiling. How the Gators choose to use him as they open against Alabama could show just what the coaching staff is thinking moving forward this season.