The vitriol coming at Marquette’s starting shooting guard on Twitter was fervent and ferocious with “fans” wishing Jake Thomas would never shoot, ride more pine or even go back in time and fulfill his transfer request this past spring. Heck, we even got in on the action as Thomas struggled mightily in the first half of the Arizona State game going 0-3 from behind the arc and unable to stay with his man defensively.
/raises hand sheepishly/ RT @PaintTouches Objectively speaking, running out of reasons to play Jake Thomas. Dunno how you justify it.
— Paint Touches (@PaintTouches) November 26, 2013
Then he hit a trey with Marquette down 11 and momentum squarely on the Sun Devils’ side. Then another. Then another. Add one more. Uno mas for good measure. Before you know it, Thomas was getting plays called for him with the game on the line; hitting 5-of-9 3-pointers in the second half.
This was the first real hot streak Thomas had ever had with the blue and gold, finally living up to his “reputation” as a long-range sniper. He proved to be the antidote to the offensive malady plaguing Marquette’s offense through the early portion of the season.
It’s not the norm, though.
Thomas followed that sizzling performance in the desert with some milder results in Orange County during the Wooden Classic. He wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, scoring 7.0 points per game and hitting 45.5 percent of his threes in 27 minutes a game, but was only a real factor against George Washington.
What is the norm, then?
To answer that, it’s important to look at how he’s getting his points this season.
The orange dots are the makes. All but one came from 3-point distance. End of story.
Thomas is as one-dimensional as they come. In fact, over 77 percent of his attempted shots came from long-range this season and he has yet to hit a jumper from inside the arc.
Digging a bit deeper, he has a tendency to favor the left side of the court, with 73.3 percent of his made 3s coming from center-left. He’s also been very efficient from the right corner in the limited shots he’s taken while he has yet to hit from the right elbow this season, also known as the spot where he missed the game-winner against ASU.
One thing this chart won’t show is how those shots were put up. After going through the tape I can tell you Thomas has yet to create his own made shot this season. Not once.
Of his 15 made threes, 14 were assisted, with the lone unassisted trey coming against Grambling where the defense failed to account for him, leaving Thomas unattended.
It’s not just about made shots, though. In total, 39 of his 41 3-point attempts came off the dribble, a startling 95 percent of them. The few times he has used his dribble to create his own shot inside the arc Thomas has yet to score, though he has drawn a pair of fouls.
This isn’t some big revelation. His number of paint touches this season could have given you a clue this was the case as he has seven this season, the least by far of any player in the rotation. (In case you’ve missed it, we have been tracking paint touches every game this season. You should check it out.)
With that established, it comes down putting Thomas in the best position to make an impact each games. Asking him to create on his own is futile, but running him off screens hasn’t been much more successful. Only two of his 15 makes came off screens, with one of those being on an inbounds from the baseline.
Even more perplexing is that you’d think kick outs would account for a good percentage of his 3s, but they barely factor in. Only two of his made 3s came off kickouts from inside the paint. The rest came off of passes from the top of the arc or the elbow behind the 3-point line.
This trend is a bit strange seeing as nine of his misses came from passes inside the paint, 34.6 percent of his misses. You would think that dribble penetration would collapse the defense and free him up for good looks, but that hasn’t been the case. Even stranger is that only one of his misses has come off a pass from the elbow behind the arc, making him 6-7 from 3 when shooting after a pass from the corner. There’s no real explanation, but that’s something to watch as the season progresses.
As might be expected, Derrick Wilson has been the main provider for Thomas this season, assisting over half of his makes and exactly half of his misses. Jamil Wilson and Todd Mayo come next. Taken together, the three have provided all but five of Thomas’ assisted 3-point attempts. The big men are almost a non-factor.
Why does this matter, you ask?
Marquette’s been a bad 3-point shooting team as a whole this season. In fact, the 27.2 percent from long range is 325th in the country. It’s main ball handler is a complete non-factor outside the paint and it’s leading and most efficient scorer is a 6-8 center. This means defenses can sag big time to grind Marquette to a halt, a sight all too familiar to anyone who has watched a game.
The idea is to have a good shooter on the perimeter for the bigs to kick out to when hitting a wall posting up and especially when double teamed, but that hasn’t been happening for Marquette’s best shooter. Thomas has hit 15 of MU’s 37 3s (40. 1 percent). If you take him out of the equation, Marquette has shot 17.8 percent from the perimeter.
That’s pitiful and exactly why Jake will be important on Saturday against Wisconsin and beyond. Even if his reputation as a sniper exceeds the results, there is no denying he has been Marquette’s main and only weapon from 3-point land. Coaches and defenses have to account for him. Take a look at what Wisconsin did to a pretty good Virginia squad this week.
The Badgers held Virginia to only eight field goals in 44 attempts in a half-court setting. Given as Marquette hasn’t been running much this season, expect to see a lot of half court sets. That will mean contested shots at the rim and more than a few bricks from outside.
Marquette doesn’t need Jake Thomas to hit five 3s in a half to win on Saturday. It will need all the space it can manage to be effective inside, though. Thomas helps provide that.
Thomas isn’t the savior and I wouldn’t even argue that he’s in the top three for most important players on the team. But if Marquette expects to keep it close against a team playing as well as any in the country, he will have to be a factor.
Just don’t ask him to dribble to do it.