Shoot! Why Didn't That One Go In?

With the Cardinal sitting at 4-3 after finishing the fall quarter, there been a plenty of finger pointing. One of the obvious arenas for discussion has been Stanford's three-point shooting, which has suffered in both percentage and attempts in early losses. But before we fly off the handle at this supposed crisis, we might take a deep breath and take a look back at recent history.

Three-Pointers!  How many do we need?  How many can we expect?  Who can be relied upon to shoot them?  Will any of the freshmen emerge?

These things weigh on the minds of Stanford fans this season.  We have been spoiled by shooting riches over the years but now find ourselves in the unfamiliar position of wondering where our next three is coming from.  Two seasons ago, we had five shooters who could knock down threes as easy as rolling off a log.  Kelley Suminski, Sebnem Kimyacioglu, Susan Borchardt, Krista Rappahahn and Candice Wiggins were all very capable from behind the arc.  Last season we were down to two, Rappahahn and Wiggins.  This season only Wiggins is a proven three-point threat; our posts are helping out; and we are wondering where that tradition of sweet shooting went.  Before you sigh deeply and prepare yourself for some rim clanking this winter, perhaps it might be instructive to look at what we have in light of what we had - not to compare unfavorably, but to see if our situation may not be exactly what it seems.

How great were our shooters in the (recent) days of yore?  How did they develop?  We will only go back as far as the freshman seasons of the class of 2004-05.  It is a small sample size, but let's see what we notice.  Susan Borchardt (then Susan King) shot 29.7% from three-point range in the nine games she played before injury her freshman year.  After a year off to recover, she was at 32.7% in 2002-03, then 43.7% in 2003-04, culminating in an incredible 46.9% in 2004-05.  Clearly she started her career slowly and improved every year.  Susan was an incredibly hard worker.  We all fondly recall those bunny hop threes, but we don't often remember that her first two seasons she did not make a very high percentage of them.

Sebnem Kimyacioglu followed the exact opposite path.  As a freshman, she came in blazing hot, hitting 42.4% of her threes and 48.9% during the Pac-10 portion of that season.  Curiously, as her all-around game improved, her shooting declined.  Her shooting percentage for thee-pointers was 39.5% her sophomore year, 33.5% her junior year and 35% her senior year.  She went from an exceptional shooter to simply a good one.  As we well know, she did improve the rest of her game and was a great defender and do-all-the-little-things gem by the time she was a senior.  Perhaps the energy she expended in that pursuit cost her somewhat in the shooting department.

Kelley Suminski was much more consistent than her two classmates.  Her three-point shooting percentages each year were 46.3%, 37.6%, 38.1% and 41.9%.  She increased the number of made three-point field goals every year as well.  We did not call her the team's Steady Eddie for nothing.

Krista Rappahahn's story is somewhat different from the above trio.  She did not play nearly as much as the other three, so her opportunities were relatively limited until later in her career.  During her first year she made only 9-of-42 threes at 21.4%.  She improved dramatically to 50.9% but cooled to 35.8% her junior season.  Her senior year, with defenses keying on her, she set the school record for three-pointers (91) while hitting at a rate of 43.8%.  Pretty nifty shooting!

We could take a peek at Candice Wiggins' numbers her first two years as well.  She went from 33.6% her freshman season to 43.3% last year, which is a nice improvement.  She is at 39.5% after seven games this season, so the improvement seems to have stuck.

How do all those numbers from the past relate to us now?  For one thing, some of the shooters we remember as great did not always have super percentages early in their careers.  They were still out there bombing away and helping us win, though.  We do not need to have our current players hit 40% of their threes to be effective from outside.  As we all know, 33% from three-point land equals 50% from anywhere else.  Knocking down close to one-third of our shots would be just fine to keep the defenses honest.  And if you worry that we will not have any guards other then Candice shooting even that well, think again.  Susan Borchardt went 3-of-16 and then 4-of-19 from beyond the arc to start her career.  Kelley Suminski started 1-of-8 in her first three games and hovered around 35% after seven games.  Krista Rappahahn was 0-of-12 in the first seven games of her career.  Sebnem Kimyacioglu was the anomaly, starting off super hot and then tapering off in later years.  Everyone else struggled before finding her groove.

Right now we have several young players who look like they have three-point shooting ability, but we are not seeing results yet.  Jillian Harmon is 0-of-5 while trying to find her comfort zone in unfamiliar territory.  Cissy Pierce is 2-of-5 this season.  JJ Hones is 2-of-11.  Michelle Harrison is 3-of-10.  Melanie Murphy has yet to attempt a three-pointer.  What we see right now is very likely not what we will get a little later.  Some of the current potential bombers also have had the disadvantage of fewer minutes and shots than players like Kelley, Susan, and Seb had early in their careers.  With fewer minutes played, it may take them a little longer to get comfortable with their roles in the offense.  Even with the advantage of consistent early playing time, most of our favorite gunners did not start off looking like the fabulous shooters we remember.  So take heart, Stanford Fans!  There is no guarantee any of our young players will be swishing threes at a rate close to 40%, but if past trends hold, they will improve and contribute to the Stanford tradition of shooting excellence.  Just give it (and the coaches give them) time.


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