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On Mo Bamba and the 3-point shooting question

Shaka Smart shared his thoughts on Monday about when his young star should pull from deep.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Baylor Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Yelling at the big man to get his butt in the paint might as well be the college basketball equivalent of “run the dang ball” — a frequent refrain for crusty fans wanting to make the game great again through the lost art of low-post play.

And, to be sure, there’s more than a shred of credibility in that belief when it comes to Texas Longhorns forward Mo Bamba, the immensely talented but raw freshman who oozes untapped potential.

There’s justifiable frustration when he opts to hoist a three-point attempt at the top of the key — he’s hitting just under 23 percent on the season.

However, there are more factors that determine the quality of Bamba’s shot selection from deep than whether or not it goes in every time, as head coach Shaka Smart explained on Monday.

With Texas more frequently using a big lineup featuring Bamba, Dylan Osetkowski, and Jericho Sims and consistently facing zone defenses, entry passes are difficult and Bamba often comes to the top of the key to facilitate ball reversals and set screens.

Against man-to-man defenses, the Longhorns run high-low actions in the hopes of getting the ball to Osetkowski on the block. To afford the space for that, Bamba is used as the trigger man. But opponents don’t want to allow those passes to go into Osetkowski and work to front him or provide help before or after the pass.

TCU made the mistake of allowing Osetkowski to work on the block unimpeded as Texas ran the same play over and over again and it arguably cost the Horned Frogs the game. Future opponents conceding the same play as easily as Jamie Dixon did seems unlikely. Ill-advised, at the least.

In ball-screen situations, opponents want to limit penetration by the guards and protect the rim, especially from Sims finishing lobs like he did against TCU.

As a result, defenses are willing to leave Bamba alone on the perimeter in multiple situations and will continue to do so.

Since the coaches don’t want him attacking the basket off the bounce in those situations, Bamba’s options are to shoot the ball or reverse it and continue running the offense. At times, like his late attempt against Oklahoma State, he might have an open teammate with a better shot.

Part of Bamba’s growth for the rest of the season will be in developing more refined situational awareness — recognizing the game and shot-clock situations and understanding when an extra pass is needed.

“The question as a coach or as players on the court — is that the best shot we can get in this possession? Sometimes the answer is yes,” Smart said on Monday.

“It may be we run an action, we’re trying to get the ball to Dylan down low, he’s up high, there’s less than 10 seconds on the clock, the ball gets thrown back to him, he probably should shoot it. We don’t want a shot clock violation in that situation.”

The other factor is Bamba’s potential — he has a smooth, pure stroke that isn’t always consistent, but like much of the New York native’s game, it flashes tantalizing upside. In the first three games of Big 12 play, he had his most consistent stretch of the season, hitting 3-of-7 shots from long distance.

“He’s a guy that — we’ve talked about this — we’re going to turn on a TV in about three or four years and see him just raining threes,” Smart said. “He’s going to be a really good shooter. He is. He’s gotten better even in the course of his time here. He’s just not ready to be a 40-plus percent three-point shooter. He’s not that far away, and when he shoots it the right way it really looks good.”

So while Smart doesn’t necessarily want Bamba to continue matching his season high of four three-point attempts against Oklahoma State, “it doesn’t always work that way in pre-determining exactly how many he’s going to shoot.”

Beyond the situational awareness necessary to understand whether the shoot is a good one within the context of the offense, the biggest key for Bamba is making himself a frequent visitor at the basketball facilities and simply getting up shots.

“I know this, he’s got to continue to get his butt in here and work on that shot,” Smart said. “That’s the best way to be effective when you take it. His work ethic has been good. If teams are going to give you that shot, and they will, he’s got to have the ability to knock it down and we’re going to practice that.”