Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Ray Brewer, Mike Grimala and Case Keefer discuss what's gone wrong during UNLV's 2-2 start to conference play, and whether it will be able to turn it around in time to compete in the postseason.
UNLV has a clearly established pecking order on offense. The primary scorers get the majority of the shots, and the rest of the team is there to fill in the cracks.
At the top of the food chain is freshman Brandon McCoy. The 7-foot freshman phenom takes 11.6 shots per contest and leads the Rebels with 18.6 points per game. Next are junior forward Shakur Juiston, who attempts 10.2 field goals per game, and senior guard Jovan Mooring, who also takes 10.2 shots. Then it’s point guard Jordan Johnson, who usually shoots as a last option and averages 8.4 attempts per game.
Beyond the core four, there just aren’t as many shots to go around. Fifth starter Kris Clyburn takes 7.4 shots per game, and sixth man Amauri Hardy gets just 4.1 attempts.
Playing a tertiary role on offense isn’t easy. Players like Clyburn and Hardy rarely get a chance to develop a rhythm during games, but they are still counted on to make the most of their opportunities.
Hardy can go an hour between shots in real time on any given night, but when he’s open, the Rebels expect him to connect.
Hardy, a freshman guard who is averaging 5.4 points per game, said staying sharp is just part of the job.
“It’s just getting in the gym, getting up reps,” Hardy said. “Really just getting the confidence that was there in the beginning of the year. You like to take the shots that are open, not really living and dying by the 3 but just taking what the defense gives you.”
For the season, Hardy has played 18.2 minutes per game and made a respectable 35.1 percent of his 3-pointers. Clyburn plays 26.7 minutes and is making 36.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
On a team that relies on its big men to produce a high volume of its offense, it’s essential that supporting players like Clyburn and Hardy shoot consistently enough to space the floor and take some of the pressure off the bigs.
“If I’m open, I’ve got to knock it down,” Clyburn said. “Especially with Brandon. He’s drawing a lot of attention; he’s playing very well, so those type of plays, I need to make. Being able to knock those open shots when the ball comes to me and attack when I need to and make plays when I can."
Clyburn is in his second year in Marvin Menzies’ offensive system, and he has seen a clear uptick in production. After shooting 36.4 percent from the field last year, he’s up to 44.4 percent this season.
Hardy is still in his first season, but he said he has a better understanding of his role now after 17 games.
“At this point in the season, I kind of know where my shots are going to come,” Hardy said. “I know within the flow of the offense where I can pick and choose attack lanes or when the shot will be there, versus the beginning of the year when I kind of didn’t know when I was going to shoot. I was just getting into the game, running up and down and not knowing what was going to come my way. Now I’m getting real comfortable with it.”
UNLV will probably need some of its secondary scorers to step up on Wednesday, when New Mexico visits the Thomas & Mack Center. While the Lobos are just 8-11 on the season (3-3 in Mountain West play), they run the floor, hoist a ton of 3’s and score in bunches.
Some well-timed 3-pointers from Clyburn and Hardy could be the difference between winning and losing.
Menzies touted the importance of the supporting cast before Tuesday’s practice.
“[It is] 100 percent value when those guys come off the bench — or starting, in Kris’ case — but are guys that are giving you those quote-unquote ‘surprise points.’ They’re not a surprise to us, but the ones you didn’t really plan on.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” he continued, “so if the guys that come off the bench and the guys that don’t normally produce at a high level in those areas give you that [production], then that’s an added bonus.”