The craziest stat in college basketball this season belongs to Oakland senior swingman Max Hooper, and it’s not particularly close.
Hooper only shoots 3’s. He’s attempted 133 field goals this season, and all 133 of them have been from 3-point range.
In other words, he’s living every college intramural basketball player’s dream. Or so it would seem.
“I was not aware of that,” Hooper told NCAA.com, laughing.Several players in college basketball shoot 3-pointers most of the time, with the occasional mid-range jumper or layup sprinkled in. After all, a 3-pointer is worth 1.5 times more than a regular field goal, and the analytics movement in college basketball is urging players to launch from deep.
For basketball purists screaming from the mountain tops that jump-shooting teams can’t win championships, a player like Hooper is the fulcrum of their argument. The stat suggests a one-dimensional offensive player, they’ll say.
But when you’re as effective as Hooper is at a particular skill, does it really matter? He’s draining 45.1 percent of his long-range bombs this season, and only five players in Division I have connected on more 3’s this season than Hooper. Those shots generate 1.353 points per possession, a figure that is better than every DI squad’s mark as a team.
Still, you can’t attempt at least one floater, one layup, something – just to keep defenses honest?
Hooper doesn’t see it that way.
“My coach has never told me not to take a 2 or anything like that,” he explained. “It’s really just the way it works out. Our offensive system is designed for me to get open shots, and my teammates and my coaches have confidence that I’ll make those shots.
If you look back at the history of Oakland, Coach (Greg) Kampe has had a long history of guys who take a high volume of 3’s and are expected to make a high volume of 3’s.”
That may be so, but this sort of thing is unprecedented in college basketball. Hooper already has attempted the most consecutive 3-pointers ever to start a season, and if he maintains this style of play for the whole year, it’s hard to predict that mark being broken.
Hooper has always been a good shooter, but he’s upped his game from previous seasons. The Golden Grizzly has bounced around in his college career – he began at Harvard and transferred to St. John’s before ultimately finding a home at Oakland.
In his two previous seasons (one for the Red Storm, and one for the Golden Grizzlies), Hooper combined to make 38.4 percent of his triples – a solid clip, but not one that’s going to raise any eyebrows. A near eight percent increase combined with a spike in attempts has come in his senior season, and he attributes a lot of his improvement to offseason training sessions with Oklahoma City Thunder sharpshooter Anthony Morrow.
“He just took me under his wing as a fellow shooter, talked to me about footwork and the shooter’s mentality,” Hooper said. “I worked out with him every day and we got to play 1-on-1, so I think that was a big key to my improvement.”
Oakland has a really good offense, by all metrics – the Golden Grizzlies score 112.6 points per 100 possessions, good for 46th out of 351 Division I teams.
When Hooper is on the floor that number vaults to 130 points per 100 possessions, which ranks first in the country by a mile. It’s also tops on the Golden Grizzlies. Good things happen for Oakland when their 3-point specialist is wreaking havoc on defenses.
Kay Felder is Oakland’s star, and he’s a magnificent player. The junior ranks third in the nation in scoring and first in assists, but Oakland goes from good to unguardable when he shares the floor with Hooper. They make each others’ lives infinitely easier.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Hooper said of his teammate. “He benefits from my defender being locked up on me, but if my guy collapses onto him, he leads the nation and assists and finds me for open shots. So I think we both benefit from each other.”
Confidence is as important to a shooter as shot mechanics or footwork. Hooper, for his part, has plenty of swagger.
“I believe when I step out on the court every game that I’m the best shooter in the country,” he said.
That’s getting harder and harder to argue as the games go by.