For a handful of consecutive seasons now, Rick Barnes’ Longhorns have been in severe need of offensive options in the backcourt. It could go without saying that this fact has been even more convincing during this season’s disappointing campaign, as the cumulative point production totals for the Longhorns’ perimeter players is now at its lowest since the 2008-09 season, where A.J. Abrams, Justin Mason, Varez Ward and Dogus Balbay churned out a mere 30.2 points per game.
The Longhorns perimeter production gradually increased over the next two seasons before peaking with J’Covan Brown, Sheldon McClellan, Myck Kabongo and Julien Lewis putting up a whopping 48.8 points per game, which was headlined by the high-volume shooting of Brown’s 20.1 each night. But each of the past three seasons has provided a steady decrease in these efforts, with the current group of Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland and Kendal Yancy putting up only 35.9 per game, which is a regression from last year’s totals of 36.1 per game, where Martez Walker’s 4.7 per was considered rather than Yancy’s 5.9 this season. This stat line could seem inflated if you factor in Jonathan Holmes’ switch to the perimeter, where he’s brought along 10.6 points per game with him, but his contributions have realistically played the role of an undersized power forward with an increased shooting touch that he often over-utilizes.
The numbers don’t lie. Outside of a slight statistical improvement across the board for Taylor – which was unquestionably hindered by his 10-game injury absence – the Longhorns’ backcourt scoring has taken a step back. Holland’s numbers dropped from 7.1 as a sophomore to 6.7 this season, although, his shooting percentages from the field, the perimeter and the free throw line have all dramatically increased in 2014-15 (.489 FG%, .459 3FG% and .708 FT%). But it doesn’t help his cause when he’s become even more passive and attempted 1.4 fewer shots per game on average, for only 4.9 shots per.
The same can be said for Felix, who has seen a drop in points from 11.6 last season to 9.9 this season, but his shooting percentages have all increased (.425 FG%, .389 3FG% and .800 FT%), although, Felix has heaved only 8.3 shots per game, which is down 3.1 from last season’s 11.4 attempts per game.
As a unit, this trio of primary perimeter options for Texas hasn’t seen much of a scoring regression from last season, with a decrease of 31.4 per game to 30. The bigger issue with this group is what can’t be seen by simply looking at numbers, with Taylor, Holland and Felix shooting only 24.8 shots per game, down from 28.2 last season. Throughout the season, hesitancy, indecisiveness and a lack of assertion on offense has plagued the Texas guards. This, coupled with the backcourt’s love for standing on the perimeter and passively swinging the ball around without forcing the defense to collapse and make decisions has led to fewer opportunities to attack the rim or find quality jump shots for a guard group that already struggles to find ways to score.
But there’s been a glimpse of optimism for the remainder of the season, as well as what could be on the horizon next year with the recent offensive surge from Yancy; the sophomore guard from Dallas. In the loss to Iowa State, Yancy racked up 29 of the Longhorns 77 points, which was the highest-scoring output from any Longhorn since Kabongo’s 31 against Oklahoma two years ago. This feat more than doubled Yancy’s previous career high in scoring of 14, which he tied in last Tuesday’s loss at Oklahoma. Two games prior to that, Yancy put up 12 points on 3-6 shooting in only 22 minutes in Texas’ win over TCU. These efforts have given Yancy a point average of 14.5 over the Longhorns’ last four games, which leads the team over this stretch, and this includes his three-point outing in the Horns’ win over Texas Tech.
This four-game period has seen Yancy take a career high in shot attempts in consecutive games, with 14 against Oklahoma and 17 against Iowa State, where he also knocked down career highs in field goals made with nine, three-pointers made with six and free throws made with five. But even more encouraging than the glorified numbers is the attack-first mindset that Yancy has began playing with over these past few games. His confidence has started to radiate with his increased shooting output, he appears to know what he wants to do with the ball when he gets it and is starting to look like someone that’s playing to have an impact, rather than trying not to find his way back to the bench.
Of course, it’s a tremendously small sample size to build on, but it all begins with confidence and that’s what Yancy has established these last four games. If he’s able to maintain this level of production, (not saying he needs to score 29 points every few games) not only will Texas have a better chance of stealing a win or two and salvaging their postseason hopes, but the Horns’ will be able to kick next season’s journey off with some added stability and depth to a backcourt that could actually become Texas’ strength next season. If Texas is fortunate enough to have Taylor forgo the NBA Draft and return for a junior season, their backcourt would include Taylor, an offensively improved Yancy, Felix, Holland, the anticipated sharpshooter Jordan Barnett – who has sat for most of his freshman season – as well as the incoming services of ESPN top 50 recruits, point guard Kerwin Roach Jr. and shooting guard Eric Davis.
This, would then give Texas a backcourt littered with veteran leadership with an offseason to improve and some very skilled newcomers on the perimeter that would add some extra depth and variety when a guard or two is struggling, as opposed to how that currently leads to severe scoring draughts that have cost Texas a few games this season.
Yancy has certainly shown some signs of hitting his stride as of late. We’ll know soon enough if this is something we can expect to see from this point on from the sophomore guard with Texas staring down the barrel of a three-game stretch against some smothering defenses before their season finale against Kansas State. If he is, in fact, able to continue this hot streak, we could be looking at a guy who becomes the difference in Texas finding a tournament spot this season and kicking 2015-16 off with a realistic expectation of the Longhorns’ backcourt finally breaking recent tradition and producing at a higher level than the season before.