Christian Braun has made 46 two-pointers in eight games this season. He made 40 of those in 29 Division I contests last year.
That transformation is probably the most shocking statistical development of Kansas’ 2021-22 men’s basketball season, and it showed no signs of slowing down in KU’s 78-52 victory over UTEP on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Center.
Braun went 8-for-10 inside the arc, which pushed his season two-point percentage to 72%. To compare, he made 46% of those tries a season ago.
That’s the macro view. But, specifically, how is Braun doing this? And what’s helped him ultimately reinvent himself offensively in one offseason’s time?
His answer in Tuesday’s postgame was both telling and accurate.
“Ochai (Agbaji) and David (McCormack) ... those guys are doing a really good job of opening the floor,” Braun said. “And that makes it a lot easier for me.”
Those teammates, in particular, are helping Braun with one specific play type — and an area where he has become one of the nation’s most efficient players after basically not utilizing it at all last season.
If we look by efficiency in Synergy’s Sports Technology’s logs, one play grouping historically stands above the rest: cuts.
And though Braun hasn’t always had this in his repertoire, he’s certainly taking advantage now.
Here’s the juxtaposition: In 30 games, Braun attempted scoring on cuts in nine total possessions last year.
This season, in eight games, he’s ended 14 possessions with cuts ... while making 13 of his 14 field goal attempts on those for 93% shooting.
The production puts Braun in elite company. His 1.857 points per possession on cuts ranks fifth out of all players nationally, while his efforts there also have helped lift KU’s offense as a whole in that particular phase.
KU possessions ending in cuts
Braun hit on something meaningful with his comments, though. Cutting isn’t as simple as, “Do it more, and it will be successful.” Instead, it works because it’s taking advantage of the defense focusing attention on something or someone else.
Braun’s two cutting buckets Tuesday were examples of how KU’s players are helping each other out in this regard.
Remy Martin and McCormack set up the first one. UTEP trapped a KU ball screen, and Martin got the ball out quickly to McCormack, who had it with a 4-on-3 advantage.
It’s the type of situation KU sometimes struggled with in previous seasons when Udoka Azubuike was on the floor, as he wasn’t a natural passer. McCormack has some of those skills, though, so when Braun alertly cut to the lane, McCormack found him for a dunk, as UTEP’s final defender chose wrong when forced to guard either Braun or Agbaji.
A minute later, McCormack’s presence helped Braun again, as he worked for post position as a UTEP defender fronted him. This caught the attention of two different Miners players, who both decided to help while discouraging a pass to McCormack over the top.
Jalen Wilson saw the traffic jam and chose to drive baseline, drawing two before seeing that Braun was timing another cut perfectly.
Pass, catch, slam. Another UTEP help defender burned, and another dunk for Braun, which was his seventh of the season (after he had five all of last year).
Overall, KU had 11 possessions end with cuts against UTEP. While it wasn’t the Jayhawks’ best offensive night, it continued a progression offensively toward more ideal shot types.
Braun is showing how much that can help. By getting better attempts, he’s become more lethal offensively while playing off his teammates’ talents.
Transformations don’t come about magically, so for Braun, just know an increase in offensive production has been aided by some underlying factors.
Not only has he gotten better this season.
His teammates have too.