The success of junior college players at the Division I level is notoriously random. Devron Bostick, touted by some of as the best junior college player in the country before joining the Golden Gophers a few years ago, barely cracked Tubby Smith’s rotation. Andre Ingram, who was recruited as an emergency fill-in, unexpectedly was a valuable back-up during his two seasons with the Gophers. Deandre Mathieu was an undersized low-major cast-off. Now, he might be the Gophers best player. If junior college players are lottery tickets, Richard Pitino hit the jack-pot on his first try.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Deandre Mathieu in his first season with the Gophers. Statistically, he was impressive, as a scorer, defender, and ball handler. More importantly, he was a reliable presence on a team lacking a consistent point guard for the better part of a decade. Al Nolen was solid, but he missed half of each of his last two seasons. Mathieu played every game, and generally played well. The great news is he can, and probably will, play better this coming season.
Deandre Mathieu led the Gophers in three-point shooting percentage, making an excellent 50% of his outside shots. Unfortunately, he only attempted three-pointers on 14% of his shots. Al Nolen, who was often criticized for his reluctance to attempt outside shots, attempted three-pointers more than twice as often Mathieu. Nolen wasn’t a great outside shooter, never making greater than 40% of his outside shots, so he was probably taking the right amount of outside shots. Mathieu, on the other hand, should probably shoot more three-pointers, maybe even a lot more.
Three-pointers, as you have heard, are worth one more point than a two pointer, and are therefore worth 50% more points. In terms of efficiency, making 33% of three-points is the same as making 50% of two pointers. In the case of Deandre Mathieu, his three-point shooting and two-point shooting accuracy were nearly equal, 51.6% vs. 50%. However, he attempted 223 more two-pointers than he did three-pointers. That means Mathieu missed out on a lot of potential points, and in a season in which his team lost four games by two possessions or fewer, maybe a win or two.
No one knows how good of an outside shooter Mathieu is, or could be, so he should shoot more three-pointers until we find out. This doesn’t mean mindless chucking, but it does mean, a few times per game, taking an open three-pointer instead of driving to the basket, or shooting a weakly contested three-pointer instead of passing to a teammate. There isn’t a magic number of three-pointers he should attempt, but as long as he scoring more efficiently from the outside than the inside, he should shoot more from the outside.
Deandre Mathieu is already a lightning quick and exciting play-maker, a reliable ball-handler, and has a freakish ability to score at the rim despite his lack of size. With a little less restraint at the three-point line, he could be an ever more efficient scorer. Becoming a dangerous outside shooter would also keep defenders from sagging off of him, creating even more opportunities for Mathieu to beat defenders off a dribble. The Gophers don’t need Mathieu to be a true chucker. They just need him to pretend to be a chucker once in a while.