Kentucky Basketball: How Andrew Harrison Is Finding His Niche in 'Cats' Offense

Thad NovakCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2014

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 28:  Andrew Harrison #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during 73-66 win over the Louisville Cardinals at Rupp Arena on December 28, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Kentucky basketball is learning this season that putting the team first isn’t a solution to every problem. Wildcats PG Andrew Harrison has been far more effective since he started looking for his own shots and worrying about the rest of the team afterwards.

Early in the season, John Calipari was trying to shoehorn Harrison into a traditional playmaker’s role, possibly because he’s so rarely had the opportunity to coach one of those in Lexington. However, the result was a player who was often ineffective as either a passer or a scorer. Stat lines of eight points and two assists against Robert Morris or eight and three against Eastern Michigan are hardly star-caliber.

The watershed moment for Harrison came when he faced North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, a pure distributor in 2012-13, but a deadly scorer this season. The UK freshman erupted for 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists in the defeat and (crucially) reached double digits in field-goal attempts for the first time.

Although Harrison slumped briefly against Belmont the next time out, the change had been made. Since that Tar Heels encounter on December 14, the 6’6” youngster has gone from averaging six field goal tries per contest to 10, and the rest of his stats have been the better for it.

A more aggressive Harrison is seeing his passes converted to points more efficiently.
A more aggressive Harrison is seeing his passes converted to points more efficiently.James Crisp/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Not only has his scoring gone from 10.3 points per game to 12.6, but he’s averaging the same 3.5 assists a night against tougher competition. With defenders forced to respect his shot more, he’s passing less often but making his dishes count more frequently.

Harrison has also avoided the trap his backcourt mates have fallen into by launching nothing but three-pointers—he shoots about twice as many twos as he does threes. That’s a big part of the reason he’s second on the roster (to Julius Randle) in free throws attempted.

Those close-range shots mean that Kentucky is better off when he misses, too. A missed trey from James Young or Aaron Harrison is unlikely to turn into a quick putback for the Wildcats’ offensive rebounders because it tends to come down farther from the rim. Conversely, an elbow jumper or layup that goes wide for Andrew Harrison has better odds of turning into a second-chance score.

A more scoring-oriented point guard may not be what John Calipari had in mind for this team, but it’s clearly the role Andrew Harrison is best equipped to play. Given the choice of a relatively ineffective distributor or an explosive combo guard who can go off for 26 points against Tennessee, the ‘Cats will happily take the latter.