WSU Basketball: Ken Bone’s Clearest Stategic Failure Rests on the Misuse of D.J. Shelton

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There is an old-school coaching philosophy that has in many regards been forgotten but still rings true for many players at every level of basketball, from 4th grade AAU to the NBA; warm up shooting inside and work your way out as it increases your possibility for success. D.J. Shelton could be the banner model for this philosophy in this day-and-age where we as a culture have fallen in love with the 3-pointer, especially when talking about the big-man that so desperately needs to ‘stretch the floor’ to make a team that much more dynamic.

It’s true, generally when D.J. starts around the rim and is very selective with his looks outside, he can go off. We’ve seen it happen and when it does it’s a thing of beauty. Actually, going back to the thought of Motum, he was in many regards the same type of shooter, except that he had more natural range and a softer touch from all over the court than does Mr. Shelton. Conversely, as was illustrated in no small manner on Friday by No. 23, when he starts out deep he generally stays deep and 0-10 from out there goes beyond what we would label a “slight possibility”.

Yet Bone, in his ultimate wisdom and seeming utter disregard for the real-time percentages and seasonal or even career averages that give you a very real outlook of such things (also a good opportunity at helping your players actually succeed where they are best suited), told D.J. to keep shooting. “Ah, don’t worry about it kid! You’ll make one or two eventually! Percentages mean nothing to me, they’re just a number people throw up! You’re a great shooter!”.

Gee, that warms my heart, reminds me of good ole’ Billy. “Don’t worry about it Billy, it’s all about having fun and playing the game with a good attitude! You don’t have to win it just have fun.”

Honestly, I’m not trying to throw sand on the guy, he’s all but gone at this point anyway. I will say this, we’ve exchanged pleasantries a few times to my enjoyment. Ken Bone the man is a good guy and should most certainly be recognized as such. The last thing he needs is a shovel-full of dirt. But really? Give me a break, this is major-level college basketball! And I hate how some fans say “well, here at Washington State, it’s tougher to win and blah, blah, blah.”

Ok, yeah that may be true for whatever realistic recruiting and travel arrangement issues that are present (and there are definitely some that need to be addressed as soon as Moos and the University can spare a dime in basketball’s direction), but the very least you can do is put the team you do have in the most prime position to succeed on the court. That includes knowing who can do what and then relaying it to them.

This might sound awful, but the only thing worse than telling D.J. he is a great shooter again and again as the ball flies off of the rim and into the stands is the fact that D.J. actually now believes it, when clearly, by percentage (now down to 25% on this abysmal WSU season) that is not the case.

Let’s move into a quick scenario that all rec-ball players can understand, because heck, let’s have some fun. You know that guy you play with at noon-ball that’s like 6’10 and should be dunking on everybody’s head but instead was told all his life that he could shoot and so he stands outside and continues to fling that thing towards the square every time he can? You know, the guy that every time he’s on your team he can’t hit water while standing in the ocean but then gets super-scorching-hot when he’s on the other team and hits a game winner right in your eye as you’re playing picture-perfect defense? That’s our very own D.J. Shelton. It’s that frustrating!

Feb 5, 2014; Boulder, CO, USA; Washington State Cougars forward D.J. Shelton (23) against Colorado Buffaloes forward Wesley Gordon (1) in the first half at the Coors Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, due to teams laying off and practically daring him to give it a go, he got such good looks in parts of the second half of the season that he couldn’t help but make a few. Another nice thing that happened for the few games in which he absolutely went off, he started to attack the basket and worked his way out so he was already feeling it.

What a coincidence right!? But the Huskies scouted him out and doubled him in the paint so he couldn’t get hot in there, then laid off just enough to let him continue to think he was doing a service to the game by launching away. With a wealth of encouragement from his bench, D.J. made the concerted and useless effort, only to create a hearty, Husky-filled cheer again and again from the Hec-Ed Pavilion “Dawg Pound”, or “Dawg Pack”, or “Pack Pound”, or whatever the flip they call it over there in Seattle. Ok, after Google search, I’ll take ‘dawg pack’ for 1 million please…

Anyways I’ll be honest, I was totally befuddled in the past at how Bone could allow that exact thing to happen without saying something or sitting him or anything! But now I know Bone was indeed saying something to him! All the while praying that D.J. could bank one in and eventually find part of the 25% that’s been good to him. No dice amigo, but what a terrific strategy to say:

"“You’re failing, but at all cost, please continue!”"

Another issue I have with Bone’s decision to let D.J. roam the perimeter at will is the fact that D.J. is a beast on the glass. BEAST! He is in fact the only beast that the Cougars did possess on the glass these past few years in that area (18, 17 and multiple 15 rebound games this season including Friday when the Cougs pulled down a woeful 27 as a team with another 7-footer on it (to re-reiterate the Cougars have another 7-footer on the team and D.J. pulled down 15 of 27 overall team rebounds at 6’10… did I mention team rebounds were 27 and D.J. had 15 all by himself?)).

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