"Can Sheldon McClellan shoot" has been a popular question this offseason. And I somewhat understand it, given that McClellan could look so smooth in his stroke at times, while also finishing the season shooting just 31 percent from three.
But taking a closer look, I think McClellan's freshman year arc follows that of a number of freshmen: struggle a bit off the ground, have a peak somewhere around mid-season before "hitting the freshman wall" and falling off.
Here are his statistics at each waypoint during the season, thanks to the wonderful graphs at statsheet.com.
Sheldon McClellan Freshman Year Numbers
Dec. 1 — 10.7 points per game, 48.8 percent on field goals, 29.4 percent on three-pointers
Jan. 1 — 12.4 PPG, 51.4 FG%, 36.4 3PT%
Feb. 1 — 10.6 PPG, 44.1 FG%, 30 3PT%
March 1 — 11.6 PPG, 46.8 FG%, 30.2 3PT%
Season End — 11.3 PPG, 44.8 FG%, 31.0 3PT%
I put his peak in italics, though his peak for shooting percentages actually hit on Dec. 10, when he was hitting 54.4 percent of his shots, including 46.4 percent from three. At the time, Texas was nine games into its season, and McClellan was scoring an even 12 points per game. His scoring peak didn't hit until Jan. 4, 14 games in, when he hit 12.5 points per contest.
But unlike his shooting, his scoring never truly varied wildly. After the fourth game, McClellan was averaging 11 points per game, and he never dipped below a double-digit average afterward, with a low of 10.3 points per game and the aforementioned peak. His field goal shooting went from 54.4 at its crest to 44.3 in its valley, a gap of 10 percent. And three-point shooting was even more volatile, with a 17-point gap between 46.4 percent and the 29.4 percent he was shooting near the end of February.
Here's the thing: those Jan. 1 numbers — covering the entire non-conference slate — are awfully impressive. And it's not strange to see a player falter in conference play. For one thing, every team is familiar with the system you run. For two, the other teams have had half a season to evaluate you and watch film on your tendencies.
It's a common saying in basketball that the biggest gain a player makes is between his freshman and sophomore year. But in McClellan's case, with a likely increase in touches to account for the loss of perimeter star J'Covan Brown, the best wait to gain might be to hold steady. If McClellan can put together shooting numbers like the non-conference ones above, he'll have a chance to score in the mid-to-high teens and shoot for all-conference honors.