In 2021, three-point shooting is more important than ever.
For that reason, the Gators losing Tre Mann to the NBA and Noah Locke to the transfer portal (ending up at Louisville) is a pretty big concern. Mann was a 40% three-point shooter, but that impressive number doesn’t even tell the whole story of his shooting impact due to the difficulty of his shots. A stepback assassin, many of his attempts were in isolation and came after breaking down a defender and creating his own space. Locke, on the other hand, did his work off the catch. Locke was also a 40% three-point shooter as a junior, a bit of a dip from the 43% he shot as a sophomore where he was truly one of the best shooters in the country. What makes his three-point percentage impressive was the sheer volume of attempts he took, just under six per game throughout his career.
Mann and Locke made up one of the best shooting backcourt duos in the country, so there is clearly a void there that needs to be filled. Being unable to shoot is a way for any team’s offense to stall out, so will three-point shooting be an issue for the Gators this season?
Let’s take a look.
Let’s start with some of the returning pieces, firstly their best returning three-point shooter Tyree Appleby. Appleby was a gunner at Cleveland State, hitting 39% of his threes before transferring to Florida. In his first season in Gainesville he hit 35% of his threes, which is above average, but not incredible. You might think he would be in for the same as a fifth year player, but the 35% number doesn’t tell the whole story. He actually shot the ball much better in conference play (37%) against Florida’s best opponents, suggesting that he really is better than the 35% season average. That average also was what it was largely because Appleby started the season on an ice cold 25% streak in non-conference play, a number he steadily climbed out of to get to the 35% mark. What really could make Appleby a better shooter this year than last is the fact that he’s going to have the ball in his hands more which should allow him to be much closer to the 39% three-point shooter he was at Cleveland State where he was a primary ball handler taking shots off the dribble. That is where he thrived, and it was at Florida where he played away from the ball alongside Tre Mann taking catch and shoot attempts where he wasn’t quite as good. If you want more words on how Appleby could be set up for a breakout season there is some more reading here.
A returner who didn’t shoot the ball well last year was forward Anthony Duruji. Duruji has had an interesting journey shooting the ball throughout his career, first shooting 39% from deep as a freshman at Louisiana Tech before falling to 33% as a sophomore. Then, he transferred to Florida where he hit only 26% of his threes. So, where is he really as a shooter?
Inconsistent mechanics have made for streaky shooting for Duruji throughout his career, but he has shown he can be a decent marksman from range. One encouraging number for Duruji is that he actually shot 36% in SEC play, which speaks to his ability to occasionally hit shots. For Duruji, three-point shooting is all about shot selection. He was prone to taking some truly ill-advised three-point attempts, shots that weren’t good for the offense or his individual skill set. When he took open threes he was a slightly above average shooter, so if he refines his shot selection he should be greatly improved from the shooter he was last season.
Florida’s biggest improvements when it comes to three-point shooting could very well be from the incoming transfers.
Myreon Jones, a guard from Penn State, has shot 40% from three over his last two seasons in the Big 10 and considering his proven track record in a high major league it’s fair to expect he could replicate that production in the SEC. One potential issue, however, is the fact that Penn State got him a lot of those looks by running him off of screens on the weak side of the floor, an action that isn’t a part of Florida’s offense whatsoever. That could definitely change with Jones now on the roster, as if they don’t run him off of those actions, they may not be able to expect the same production. Even if they don’t get the exact three-point shooting from Jones that we saw at Penn State, he will still be an above-average shooter for the Gators. One thing to note on Jones’ shooting–it can be wildly inconsistent. His form is, well, not at all picturesque, and while the touch can work for him at times, it can also make for crazy misses and shooting droughts that can go on for a while. Jones is the kind of shooter that can go 6-7 in one game and then 2-11 in the next, though it always averages out to a good percentage. Just don’t be surprised if there are a few frustrating moments from time to time.
Brandon McKissic, transfer from UMKC, has a ridiculous shooting stat that I’ll cut right to.
He hit 61.2% of his open catch and shoot threes last season.
Of course, those shots didn’t come around for him often at UMKC because he almost always had the ball in his hands, but when he did get free for an easy catch and shoot three it was almost automatic. Considering he’ll be able to play next to a true point guard in Tyree Appleby this season and space the floor for a dominant low post option in Colin Castleton those open threes should come, and he should be able to convert at a high level.
Overall, McKissic was a 43% three-point shooter last season, though it should be noted that in the previous season he shot 32%, so he hasn’t always been a lethal shooter. However, it’s all about what you are now, not what you were two seasons ago, so the Gators likely have a very, very good shooter on their hands to space the floor.
If the Gators were to have a sleeper emerge as their best three-point shooter it would almost certainly be freshman Kowacie Reeves. Reeves has been known for his shooting ever since he was a high school sophomore when the Gators offered, and back then he was 6’2”. Now he’s 6’7” and still has that shooting touch, now with all the length he could desire to shoot over the top of defenders. Reeves is a gym rat, someone who is using the shooting machine every night to put up 500, 1000, or even more shots, many of them threes. He is definitely a player that raises Florida’s ceiling as a shooting team.
Perhaps the biggest swing point in how Florida will shoot the ball from the perimeter is their front court pieces Colin Castleton and CJ Felder.
Now, Colin Castleton has never hit a three in his college career, attempting only 8. However, he has always claimed he can be a shooter, and we did see this during his NBA workouts this summer. For a number of teams he went through drills that saw him take 100 NBA-distanced threes, and he hit over 50% in all of them and over 60% in two. So, he has shown he can hit those shots in a pressured NBA workout setting, so we just need to see if it can translate to live game action. For Castleton to reach his goal of playing in the NBA he will likely need to be able to shoot the three so he’ll be heavily motivated to have the long ball be part of his arsenal.
Boston College transfer CJ Felder is another player that wants to be able to shoot the three but his efficiency hasn’t yet been there, hitting 31% last year. Honestly, his form actually looks pretty good, but the makes just often aren’t there. It will be interesting to see how much of a green light he has from Mike White, and whether he continues his below average shooting or if in his third season, where a lot of shooters take a jump, he’s able to improve.
While the Gators lost two excellent shooters in Tre Mann and Noah Locke, there are a number of viable options to replace their efficiency. This Florida team is going to have more shooters on the floor than in recent seasons which could really help out their spacing and offensive flow, an encouraging sign after a couple of seasons they’d certainly like to improve on.