Is Jordan Hulls Indiana’s all-time best shooter?
Senior guard up there with Hoosier greats
There is no shortage of great shooters in the rich history of Indiana basketball. From Steve Alford and Jay Edwards to A.J. Guyton and Tom Coverdale, the Hoosiers have had some guys who could flat out stroke it.
Jordan Hulls, currently a senior for the top-ranked Hoosiers, definitely belongs in the conversation as one of Indiana’s all-time best shooters, but where does he rank? Could Hulls be the best shooter in IU history? Let’s try to sort this out.
First, let me throw out this disclaimer: because of a slew of variables — surrounding cast, coaching styles, difficulty of opposition, etc. — it’s impossible to come up with a definite answer to this question. That’s not going to stop me from using the available numbers to try to answer it anyway. This isn’t just about 3-point shooting, either; it includes free throws and those sexy mid-range jumpers, as well.
OK, let’s go.
The best way to figure all this out, in my opinion, is to assemble a list and dissect the numbers. I brainstormed, did a little research and asked around to get a handful of guys who could be up for the title of Best Shooter in Indiana History.
Here’s what I came up with: Alford, Edwards, Guyton, Coverdale, Kyle Hornsby, Calbert Cheaney, Eric Gordon, Keith Smart, Brian Evans, Matt Roth and Hulls. That’s one heck of a group right there.
Let’s look at the numbers.
- *- As of Dec. 3, 2012
- ^- Played one season with the 3-point line
- ^^ – Played one season at IU
- **- Played two seasons at IU
- eFG%- Effective field goal percentage
- TS% – True shooting percentage
I sorted the list by true shooting percentage, which, I feel, is a great way to judge a shooter’s proficiency. As explained here, true shooting percentage considers the number of points a player scored relative to the shooting possessions he used, with the term shooting possessions encompassing field goal attempts as well as free-throw attempts.
Effective field goal percentage, a fellow non-traditional statistic, is another good metric. It adjusts for that fact that 3-point field goals are worth more than 2-point field goals. Also explained here. For example, suppose “Player A” goes 4 for 10 with two 3-pointers, while “Player B” goes 5 for 10 with no 3-pointers. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%).
Using those two statistics, four players — Hulls, Steve Alford, Calbert Cheaney, and Matt Roth — separate themselves.
Alford is the Godfather of shooting in Indiana. For some Indiana fans, the conversation about the program’s best shooter begins and ends with Alford.
With just one season of 3-point data, Alford has a much smaller sample size from which to draw. While small sample sizes can skew numbers, it also makes his career field goal percentage (53.3) even more impressive. Alford got a majority of his points from jumpers. A large portion of his shot attempts from his first three years (probably) came from what would have been beyond the arc, but those shots were just lumped into his overall field-goal percentage.
Bob Knight, Alford’s coach at Indiana, said this in a Sports Illustrated article after the Hoosiers won the 1987 national title: “He’s about as good a scorer for being strictly a jump shooter as I’ve ever seen. He’s scored more than 2,400 points that way, and that’s incredible, considering he doesn’t get any tip-ins, drives or dunks.”
Hulls, with an unorthodox yet effective shooting motion, is cut from the same cloth, but he has three-plus years of data to dissect.
Hulls’ 3-point percentages from his first two years — 40 and 41 percent, respectively — anchor down his career mark of 44.8, which is still pristine with the amount of treys he’s tried (442). In his first two seasons, Indiana was offensively challenged (to be kind), meaning Hulls had to take a lot more contested, forced shots than he has in his final two years. As the talent around him has improved, Hulls has gotten more open looks, and it bears out in his numbers. As a junior, he shot 49 percent from 3-point land, and is currently shooting 53 percent eight games in to his senior campaign.
Another reason for the uptick in Hulls’ numbers is his improvement from the early part of his career. Hulls has become much more than a catch-and-shoot, spot-up shooter. He can now put it on the deck and hit a pull-up jumper in traffic, something he really struggled with when he got on campus, giving the defense something else to think about when they close out on him. The video below, from last season’s win at North Carolina State, showcases his all-around shooting ability.
Jordan Hulls – 20 Points Vs North Carolina State (Complete Highlights) (via BlakeAtkins22)
As far as just 3-point shooting, Roth may be the best in Indiana history. Roth came into his senior season (2011-12) with the reputation of a deadeye shooter. And then he took it to a whole new level. Roth hit 42 of his 77 (54.5 percent) 3-point tries a year ago, including an Indiana-record 59.2 percent in Big Ten games.
What makes Roth incredible, but also hurts him in terms of his credentials as an all-around shooter, is that he basically only shot 3-pointers. I’m not exaggerating one bit. For his career, 90.1 percent (303 of 336) of Roth’s shot attempts came from beyond the arc. Only 15 of his 141 made field goals were 2-pointers. That’s insane. When he checked into the game, opposing teams knew he all he could do was shoot 3-pointers, and then he would proceed to nail 3-pointers.
Roth doesn’t have a mid-range game like Cheaney, Alford and Hulls. Like I said above, if we’re talking about a pure 3-point shooter, just a catch-and-shoot guy, Roth may be the best. But when you factor in the other aspects of shooting — the pull-up jumper, ability to hit a shot in traffic, etc. — Roth simply doesn’t stack up.
Cheaney was a scorer. Period. He’s the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer with 2,613 points, although you have to think Alford — who is fifth with 2,438 points — may hold the title if he had four seasons with a 3-point line.
Cheaney’s sparkling 43.8 career mark from deep is right up there with Roth and Hulls. Cheaney, however, didn’t rely on perimeter shots nearly as much as those two, with just 33.2 percent of his field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc compared to 58.5 percent for Hulls and Roth’s mark of 90.1 percent. It’s not an indictment of Cheaney by any means; he could be more selective with his 3-point attempts because he could score in ways (mid-range jumpers, driving to the basket) Roth, Alford and Hulls simply couldn’t/can’t.
When it comes to the free throw line, the pure shooters shine. Hulls (87.7), Alford (89.8) and Roth (88.2) were about as good as it gets. Cheaney’s 79.0-percent clip is far above average, but in terms of shooting ability, he doesn’t match up with the others. The fact that Cheaney can even be in the discussion shows you how good of a complete offensive player he really was.
So, we’re down to two.
Hulls and Alford share many similarities — grew up in Indiana, played in a very successful high school programs, undersized, fan favorites and neither the most athletically gifted. Both are Indiana basketball epitomized.
Choosing between the two like asking me which Fresh Prince of Bel Air episode is my favorite. But that’s what I set out to do here, and selecting just one really comes down to your personal thoughts on how you judge a shooter.
For me, true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage are much better indicators of a shooter’s efficiency than field goal percentage or 3-point percentage. That’s why I’m going with Hulls.
Those who prefer field goal percentage and 3-point percentage (or just ol’ time IU basketball) will side with Alford. He did shoot 53.0 percent from beyond the arc in his one season with the 3-point line, but because he didn’t have four years with the 3-pointer, it forces us to guess what his career numbers would be. If he had four years of 3-point data, it’d make for a much better comparison.
Let me make this clear: Neither is a bad choice.
Two years ago, I viewed Hulls in the same light as Roth — a great shooter but someone who was basically a catch-and-shoot guy. Over the past year-plus, Hulls has shown the ability to put it on the floor and consistently hit a pull-up jumper from 15 feet. Other teams assign guys to shadow him all over the court, but his quick release, penchant for getting lost in transition, ability to use screens and seemingly unlimited range allow a slow, 6-foot kid to get open time after time.
And time after time, when Hulls is open, it’s in.