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The Chase for 180: Brett Olson and Denver’s turnaround

Feb 12, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT

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Who is the best shooter in the country?

It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like efficiency and effective field goal percentage when taking all of this into account?

One number that we like to use is “180″. How do you become a 180 shooter? By shooting 50% or better from the field overall, 40% or better from three and at least 90% from the charity stripe. From this point forward we’ll track this until the end of the regular season, providing weekly updates as well as a look into how some of the nation’s best find (and connect on) their quality looks.

The Denver Pioneers had some adjustments to make after winning 22 games and a share of the WAC title in 2012-13. From a program standpoint the school was making the move from the WAC to the Summit League, meaning that there would be new opponents to scout with North Dakota State, South Dakota State and IPFW proving to be strong programs.

And from a personnel standpoint the Pioneers would be without forward Royce O’Neale, who transferred to Baylor. O’Neale was the team’s third-leading scorer, and his status as the team’s most versatile player (he led the team in rebounding and assists) meant that more would be asked of guard Brett Olson and forward Chris Udofia.

After some early season growing pains and an 0-2 start to conference play the Pioneers have won five of their last six, with Olson being one of the key reasons why. Over the last six games Olson’s averaged 17.8 points per game (scoring 30 in a win over South Dakota), shot 57.6% from the field and 56.0% from beyond the arc. Olson was a good shooter last season, making nearly 48% of his shots from the field, 43.4% from three and 95.0% from the foul line, playing more than 34 minutes per game.

But that was with Denver having three double-digit scorers. Without Neale more would be required of Olson, and to this point in the season he’s stepped up. Olson’s raised his percentage from the field (49.1%) and has remained consistent from both the three-point (43.0%) and free-throw (93.0) lines while raising his scoring average up to 15.3 ppg.

One of the factors in Olson’s improved field goal percentage is the fact that he’s attempting more shots at the rim and fewer three-pointers. According to hoop-math.com 19.5% of Olson’s shot attempts last season were at the rim, and he’s increased that percentage to 29.8% this year. As for the three-pointers, he’s attempted just 50% (down from 66.8%) of his shots from beyond the arc this season.

More plays inside of the arc have resulted in a substantially higher free throw rate, and given how well Olson shoots from the foul line while this isn’t a guaranteed two points (on shooting fouls) it’s pretty close.

Denver plays four of its last six regular season games on the road, including a game at IPFW and games at South Dakota State and North Dakota State to finish the year. And Denver looks better equipped to handle those tests now than they did to start Summit League play, with Olson’s improved production being a key reason why.

THE TOP TEN (Note: Players much be eligible to be ranked in FG%, 3PT% and FT%. And here’s a glossary that includes the stats you’ll see used in these posts. Tempo neutral numbers per kenpom.com.)

1) Matt Kennedy (Charleston Southern)
49.7% FG, 50.0% 3PT, 90.2% FT = 189.9
Shot %: 18.8
eFG %: 56.9
True shooting %: 62.1

2) Jason Calliste (Oregon)
52.3, 50.0, 86.1 = 188.4
Shot %: 17.0
eFG %: 65.0
True shooting %: 71.2

3) Riley Grabau (Wyoming)
46.4, 48.4, 92.2 = 187
Shot %: 17.8
eFG %: 65.0
True shooting %: 70.3

4) Brett Olson (Denver)
49.1, 43.0, 93.0 = 185.1
Shot %: 22.2
eFG %: 58.8
True shooting %: 65.1

5) Phil Forte III (Oklahoma State)
45.1, 46.2, 92.5 = 183.8
Shot %: 21.8
eFG %: 63.2
True shooting %: 68.3

6) Doug McDermott (Creighton)
49.9, 42.7, 89.4 = 182.0
Shot %: 37.9
eFG %: 56.9
True shooting %: 62.2

7) Austin Tillotson (Colgate)
59.0, 49.1, 73.4 = 181.5
Shot %: 18.3
eFG %: 66.5
True shooting %: 68.3

8) Billy Baron (Creighton)
46.6, 44.8, 89.8 = 181.2
Shot %: 28.1
eFG %: 56.9
True shooting %: 63.4

9) Johnny Dee (San Diego)
43.9, 44.2, 92.2 = 180.3
Shot %: 30.8
eFG %: 54.7
True shooting %: 59.9

10) Nic Moore (SMU)
49.3, 45.4, 85.5 = 180.2
Shot %: 21.6
eFG %: 60.5
True shooting %: 64.7

Five Perimeter Marksmen (25 or fewer two-point attempts)

1) Micah Mason (Duquesne)
59.7% 3PT (10-for-21 2PT)

2) Ben Cherry (Charlotte)
50.0% 3PT (9-for-22 2PT)

3) Ethan Wragge (Creighton)
49.4% 3PT (2-for-6 2PT)

4) John Gage (Stanford)
48.8% 3PT (4-for-11 2PT)

5) Luke Moyer (Campbell)
48.3% 3PT (6-for-22 2PT)

Previous Installments
November 11
December 4
December 11
December 18
January 8
January 15
January 22
January 29
February 5

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