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Kentucky Wildcats
This offseason, I wanted to spend some time looking back on last season and sharing some insights which I believe have some importance for next season. For Kentucky there's not much from last season that's going to be applicable next season; only a few players return, and roles will be different. There is one player who I believe may be in for a substantial role change, and who I want to write about today: Ashton Hagans. I believe there is evidence that he can serve as one of UK's alpha scorers next season.

Hagans started 30 games for UK at point guard in his freshman season, but served largely as a role player and defender. He scored 7.7 points per game, but was named the SEC Defensive co-Player of the Year. He was largely the 4th or 5th offensive option when he played, as his infrequent shooting indicates. With 5 players in the game, each player should average 20% of the shots if they are distributed evenly. Hagans took less than 15% of UK's shots when he was in the game, the 2nd lowest rate on the team (ahead only of Nick Richards' 13.4%). His role last season did not involve him shooting frequently, to put it bluntly. That wasn't necessarily an unfair role, either. Hagans had an effective FG% of 50% last season, which ranked 6th on the team (7th if you include Quade Green).

Projecting forward to this season, it would be a stretch to think that Hagans will take on much more substantial of an offensive role. While UK's 4 leading scorers all have left, the team brings in a host of skilled newcomers (as always) and returnees such as EJ Montgomery may be in for an increased offensive role. Additionally, much of the commentary on Hagan's offensive game has focused on his poor 3 point shooting (28%, 2nd worst on the team) and the vivid memories of him struggling to finish near the basket. However, there was a specific situation where Hagans was outstanding on offense: late in the shot clock.

College basketball uses a 30 second shot clock, and Kentucky took 215 shots last season in the last 5 seconds of the shot clock. These are usually tough shots, and the team had an effective FG% of 49% on these shots vs 53% overall. These last 5 seconds tend to consist of forced jumpers or drives into traffic, with desperate heaves abounding. 

Ashton Hagans seemed to take a different path altogether. It's as though he used the shot clock as a chrysalis, beginning as a caterpillar (his role player self) and emerging in the final 5 seconds as an offensive butterfly. The numbers are staggering; in late shot clock situations, Ashton Hagans:
  • Took 20% of UK's shots when he played, and 23% after becoming a starter on Dec 8 (up from under 15% overall)
  • Had an eFG% of 60.5% (up from 50% overall)
  • Shot 71% on 2 pointers (up from 53% overall)
These statistics are nearly unparalleled for a major conference guard. For the full season, there were zero players 6'4" or shorter from a major conference who ranked in the top 100 in 2P% (62.3% or better). Only 2 major conference players 6'4" or shorter had an eFG% of 60% or better for the season (Davide Moretti of Texas Tech and Parker Van Dyke of Utah) and both relied largely on 3 point shooting. Late in the shot clock, Hagans became a unicorn - a major conference guard who could efficiently score inside the arc. Hagans became one of UK's most frequent shooters in these situations, and finished just slightly behind PJ Washington for the best eFG%. Only Hagans and Washington improved their eFG% late in the shot clock, and Washington's improvement was entirely due to 3 pointers; only Hagans improved in 2P% late in the shot clock.

I went back to watch some film from the season to see how Hagans was doing this, and some patterns emerged. First, the majority of these shots came when Hagans caught a pass and immediately drove late in the clock; he wasn't beating his man after dribbling in isolation. Second, a number of these occurred when Hagans attacked off the dribble from the wing, as opposed to the top of the key. Many of these possessions looked the same, where UK passed the ball along the perimeter and Hagans popped free on the wing to catch a pass, and then drove into the lane. He displayed excellent instincts in avoiding contested shots, either by pulling up for floaters or contorting his body to get a layup. 

While Ashton Hagans' freshman season was largely unremarkable on the offensive end of the floor, he transformed into a truly unique scorer when the situation became most difficult. He demonstrated that he can deliver when asked to take on more of a scoring burden. Next season's roster may allow Hagans to commit more fully to a larger scoring role, as the team will almost always have another strong ballhandler on the floor in Tyrese Maxey or Immanuel Quickley. This should allow Hagans to use his off-ball instincts and acceleration to exploit catch-and-drive opportunities. It would not surprise me at all to see Hagans improve both his frequency and efficiency in the halfcourt, and average between 13 to 15 points per game next season. 




 
I want to thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. At Hoops Insight, I hope to use data to find insights that reveal things you didn't realize about the Kentucky Wildcats. I'm using play-by-play data to track what's happening, who's doing it, and who is in the game, in order to show you things the box score can't. Check out my past newsletters in the Hoops Insight Archive, and read about the stats I like to use in my stats glossary.

If you have any questions about things I'm saying, the data behind it, or if you just want to debate a point, feel free to contact me on Twitter at @hoopsinsights or email at sean@hoopsinsight.com. I'd love your feedback on the newsletter and how I can improve. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy my work.
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