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rebels basketball:

Analysis: It’s time for UNLV’s Shakur Juiston to shoot more

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels head coach Marvin Menzies talks with forward Shakur Juiston (10) during a game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday Dec. 1, 2018.

Is Shakur Juiston passing too much?

The senior forward has always been willing to move the ball, and he takes pride in his unselfishness on the offensive end. He prioritizes making the right play at all times, no matter whether it’s going to show up is his stat line. And that attitude is admirable — until it starts hurting the team.

UNLV is a better team when Juiston is scoring at a high rate, and Saturday’s loss to Cincinnati was a prime example of why the Rebels need him to step forward on the offensive end. In the 65-61 defeat, Juiston attempted just three shots from the field while committing five turnovers. Just a couple buckets from the Juice Box would have changed the complexion of the game, but his unwillingness to shoot — even when he had open looks just inches from the rim — stood out more than it has all season.

He finished with a career-low three points (all from the free-throw line) in 23 minutes.

Juiston’s numbers have taken a noticeable dip from his junior campaign. Through seven contests, he is averaging 11.0 points on 45.6 percent from the field, which is not the kind of production that was expected coming off his excellent 2017-18 UNLV debut (14.6 points, 64.7 FG%).

When last year’s leading scorer, Brandon McCoy, left UNLV to enter the NBA draft, it was widely assumed that Juiston would simply assume McCoy’s role in the offense. Juiston would get the bulk of McCoy’s post touches, shoot more often and score more points. But a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 season, that simply hasn’t happened.

Juiston’s role in the Rebels’ offense still appears to be a work in progress. His usage rate is higher than last year, but not markedly so. As a junior, his usage rate was 16.1 percent; this season it’s been bumped up slightly to 18.8 percent. After averaging 13.6 field-goal attempts per 40 minutes last year, he has dropped to 13.1 so far this season.

So why is one of the most efficient scorers in the Mountain West not shooting more often?

The simple answer is that Juiston is passing up too many scoring opportunities. That shows up in his turnover rate, which has spiked from 17.9 percent last year to 26.0 percent this year. Usage rate tells us that Juiston is handling the ball more, field-goal attempts tell us that he’s shooting less, and the increased turnover rate tells us that those extra possessions are being wasted with bad passes.

On this play against Cincinnati, Juiston posted up, sealed his man and dribbled into the lane, earning himself a relatively clean look three feet from the rim. But when confronted by a help defender, Juiston passed to center Mbacke Diong. The pass was deflected for a turnover:

Juiston turnover

There are circumstances in which that might be considered the “right” play. Last year, big-to-big passing was integral to UNLV’s offense and if it were McCoy on the receiving end of this pass, the play might have worked. Diong, however, is not McCoy on offense. Had Juiston simply taken the shot, odds were better than 60 percent it would have gone in; even if Diong catches this pass, it’s hard to imagine him gathering and finishing at a better rate than that.

Juiston’s unwillingness to score has been all the more painful for the Rebels because most of the potential shots he is eschewing have come at point-blank range like in that clip.

Last year, 62.2 percent of his field-goal attempts came around the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com; that has dropped to 35.3 percent this season. Juiston is still an elite finisher around the hoop — he is averaging 1.387 points per possession on close-range shots this year, pretty much identical to his rate of 1.346 PPP last year — but for some reason he is giving up on those looks in favor of passing to less-talented teammates and asking them to finish.

Juiston may not want to be UNLV’s go-to guy, but it might not be up to him for very much longer. After the Cincinnati defeat, it sounded like head coach Marvin Menzies will address Juiston’s role going forward.

“Shakur does make some passes that I would prefer he take those shots,” Menzies said, “but he’s a great teammate and he’s trying to play within a system where I need him to be, not selfish, but I need him to be a little more aggressive offensively at times.”

It goes against his unselfish nature as a basketball player, but if Juiston starts passing less and shooting more, UNLV will be a better team for it.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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