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Naji Marshall has improved* as a shooter this season

*he has gotten markedly worse in one area of shot selection though

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Cincinnati
Stop dribbling into threes, buddy.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Naji Marshall had a remarkable freshman campaign. He was good for 7.7/4.4/1.6 on a .530/.349/.753 shooting line; not bad for a guy who was usually no more than the fourth option on the floor. He posted an EFG% 57.2%, which is an excellent number; national average last year was 51% on the nose.

This year, his raw production has jumped to 13.2/7.3/3.5, but at a hit to his efficiency. His ORtg is down from 110.7 to 97.5, which is a pretty serious drop. A lot of that is tied into his shooting line, which stands at .448/.229/.698, for an EFG% of 49.6%. I think everyone expected Naji’s shots to get tougher as he became the focal point of the offense, but those numbers represent a pretty serious step back for him.

Except... they kind of don’t.

Naji has actually been an exceptionally efficient shooter in almost every phase of the game. Last year he took 61% of his shots at the rim and shot 60% on those attempts; this year he’s taking 22% of his shots at the rim and making 65% of them.

Slide out to the mid range and Naj has truly been in his bag. As a freshman, just 15% of his shots were two-point jumpers and he shot 51% on them; this year 36% of his shots are two-point jumpers and he is hitting 57% of them. Half of his two-point J’s last year were assisted; this year only 1 in 8 is.

Before we go any farther, we need to take a moment to focus on how talented Naj is. These are not easy shots that he is getting all the time, but his length, coordination, and ability to use both hands out to about 10-12 feet enables him to hit a remarkable percentage of them. He’s an incredible slasher.

The only place his shooting has taken a step back is from beyond the arc, where he has gone from shooting 35% to 23%. Even here, though, I don’t think his shot has gotten markedly worse or he was just lucky last year. In his freshman season, Naj hit 15 threes. All 15 of them were catch and shoot. He was able to slide to spots on the floor he liked, catch the ball, and let it go.

This year he has made 11 threes; only 63% of them have been assisted.

The problem is, I think, fairly clear: Naj is dribbling into three-point attempts.

I can understand why he’s doing that, as the departures of a legitimate starting five have left him needing to carry more of the load. He’s not going to get nearly as many clean looks off the catch, so he’s compensating by hunting his own threes.

He’s almost certainly doing this to try to help the team, but it’s clearly not working. Naji is shooting 60% from inside the arc right now. He would have to hit 40% of his threes for a three-point attempt to be as valuable as a two for him.

As a high-level athlete, Naj probably thinks he has at least a 40% chance of hitting every time he pulls from three, or else he’d probably seek his fortune elsewhere. For the good of the team, though, someone needs to help him limit his attempts from deep to ones he can actually hit at a high rate so he can let his elite shot-making skills from two-point range shine.