When Justin Anderson declared for the NBA Draft last April, the Virginia Cavaliers' NCAA title hopes immediately took a hit. Though UVA still ranks 6th in the USA Today preseason poll, losing their best player to the NBA means that the Virginia Cavaliers have a substantial amount of production to make up for.
Fans like to talk about the intangibles that Anderson brought to the court. His leadership. His energy. His hustle. On the more measureable end of the spectrum, Justin played tremendous defense, including a litany of game-changing Lebron-style blocks. And he provided a threat to get to the rim at will for easy lay-ups, dunks, and alley-oops.
But the biggest and most tangible way that Anderson factored into games last season was his consistent three-point shooting. Justin finished the year shooting 45% from behind the arc, and that includes a drop-off after he returned from his injury. Anderson shot 48% until his three-game return, and was over 60% in out-of-conference play.
After Anderson, there wasn't another dangerous long-range threat. Of players who averaged more than one three-point attempt per game, Marial Shayok was best, at 38%. Malcolm Brogdon shot 34%, Perrantes 32%, and Evan Nolte 28%.
Next season, Virginia will count on some combination of those 4 players stepping up and hitting shots. While it's difficult to count of large fluctuations in shooting percentage, there is some reason to believe all can improve. But who?
Three-point shooting has been surprisingly difficult to predict, considering the massive impact of the difference between being a below-average 30% shooter and a dangerous 40% shooter. Remember, Anderson himself put in two sub-30% seasons before making the adjustments that led to his monster year. The messiness of this chart reflects the surprising relative unpredictability of three-point shooting percentages for some Virginia players over the past 4 seasons:
Three-Point Shooting Percentages By Year
Marial Shayok may be the most promising; despite his relatively small sample of 50 shots, he showed plenty of shooting promise as a first year.
Malcolm Brogdon, on the other hand, already has three seasons under his belt, in which he pretty consistently shot in the mid-30s (32% his first year, 37% his second year, 34% his third year). The good news is that Brogdon has made his jump shot a focus of his off-season workouts.
London Perrantes and Evan Nolte are enigmas; both have the potential to step forward, but both have seen year-to-year declines in three-point shooting accuracy. Perrantes followed a first-year season where he shot 44% from behind the arc (including 24-39 over the final 11 games of the year) with a 32% mark last season in a similar amount of attempts. Was that late-season run a blip? Or something that London can replicate this year?
Nolte shot 39% his first-year, but then followed it with seasons of 33% and 28% shooting. If there's any time to resurrect his sharp-shooter reputation, Nolte's senior year is it.
A dark horse candidate to step up and knock down threes is Devon Hall. His minutes were limited last season, but he has a well-rounded offensive game and will likely see somewhat more time in Anderson's absence. Darius Thompson shot under 20% in his freshman year at Tennessee.
While Virginia doesn't have an obvious candidate to replace Anderson's three-point shooting production, there are plenty of options.
Remember, not only did Anderson's shooting have the obvious impact of his shots going into the basket and resulting in three points for UVA. It also drew the defense towards him, allowing him to get past them to the rim or set up open baskets for his teammates. While Malcolm Brogdon will be the heart of UVA's offense, having a fellow deep threat will set him up for success.