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Kansas’s Udoka Azubuike Has Found The Formula For Efficiency: Dunk A Lot

The Big 12 Conference’s reigning player of the week put everything on display last weekend. Kansas center Udoka Azubuike drop-stepped, elbowed and spun his way through the TCU defense in Fort Worth, Texas, to help seal Jayhawks head coach Bill Self’s 700th career victory.

Azubuike accounted for five dunks in the opening 10 minutes, four of which came on consecutive possessions. Desperate to stop the bleeding, TCU head coach Jamie Dixon implemented a zone defense1 in an effort to neutralize him. It didn’t work: Azubuike finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots, becoming just the sixth player in Big 12 history to put up that stat line.

A rim-rattler by trade, Azubuike flushed nine dunks, giving him 74 on the season, second most of any player.2 “That was our best offense,” Self said after the game. “Just throw the ball to Dok.”

That has long been the case. Azubuike is in the final leg of one of the most efficient offensive careers in college basketball history.

When he isn’t injured,3 he’s punishing opponents on both ends of the court. Azubuike has attempted 557 field goals over his career and has made 417 of them. If he maintains his current 74.9 percent clip, he will break the all-time record in career field-goal percentage, edging out FiveThirtyEight favorite Tacko Fall — who at 73.9 percent is the only player since 1992 to eclipse 70 percent shooting over a career.

Azubuike might just take down Tacko Fall

NCAA men’s basketball players with the best career field-goal percentages, for players who attempted a minimum of 400 field goals and made a minimum of four per game

College Career
Player Team Height Final Season Total Games Career FG%
Udoka Azubuike Kansas 7-0 2019-20 79 74.9%
Tacko Fall UCF 7-6 2018-19 115 73.9
Steve Johnson Oregon State 6-10 1980-81 116 67.8
Michael Bradley Villanova* 6-10 2000-01 100 67.7
Murray Brown Florida State 6-8 1979-80 106 66.8
Evan Bradds Belmont 6-7 2016-17 129 66.7
Lee Campbell Missouri St.* 6-7 1989-90 88 66.5
Warren Kidd Middle Tenn. 6-9 1992-93 83 66.4
Todd MacCulloch Washington 7-0 1998-99 115 66.4
Joe Senser West Chester 6-5 1978-79 96 66.2
Kevin Magee UC Irvine 6-8 1981-82 56 65.6
Orlando Phillips Pepperdine 6-7 1982-83 58 65.4

Through Feb. 9, 2020.

*Michael Bradley played previously for Kentucky; Lee Campbell played previously for Middle Tennessee.

Sources: NCAA, Sports-Reference.com

Since 1992, there have been five individual seasons in which a player attempted at least 150 shots and made more than 75 percent of them. Azubuike has two. Only one of the others was produced by a player from a major conference.4

Synergy Sports Technology has tracked points per possession back to the 2005-06 season. As of Tuesday, there were about 25,500 Division I player-seasons that accounted for at least 150 offensive possessions from 2005-06 through 2019-20. Of those, Azubuike’s sophomore and senior seasons rank fifth and sixth in adjusted field-goal percentages.

Azubuike is only third on his team in field-goal attempts and sits outside the top 20 in usage rate among his Big 12 peers. His most notable postseason accolade is likely a third-team all-conference nod he earned as a sophomore.5 But he is on his third consecutive season as a de facto starter, logging more than 20 minutes per game for one of college basketball’s true blue bloods.

“There’s a lot of people out there that have numbers on me and stuff,” Azubuike said after a game last week. “But if you watch, I get double- and triple-teamed every time. So I normally don’t get the points that everybody is going to get.”

As was the case with Fall, a great deal of Azubuike’s efficiency is attributable to how close to the basket his shots come. But while Fall often looked like a beanpole on the court, Azubuike, the Big 12’s leading rebounder, looks more like a bulldozer. He has never taken a shot more than 17 feet from the basket, according to Synergy Sports. Nearly half of his career field-goal attempts have been dunks, and since he entered college, no player has stuffed the ball through the hoop more. Azubuike’s 122 dunk total his sophomore season remains the most ever tracked over a single season.6

If Azubuike scored, it was probably on a dunk

Share of Kansas center Udoka Azubuike’s total shots and made baskets that were dunks, by season and for his career

Attempts Made baskets
Season Total shots Dunks Share Total shots Dunks Share
2019-20* 170 78 45.9% 129 74 57.4%
2018-19 78 35 44.9 55 33 60.0
2017-18 274 132 48.2 211 122 57.8
2016-17 35 14 40.0 22 13 59.1
Career 557 259 46.5 417 242 58.0

* Through Feb. 9, 2020.

Source: BartTorvik.com

It should come as no surprise that when posting up, no player in the Big 12 sees more hard double teams than the 2.3 per game Azubuike gets, according to Synergy Sports. He scores more than a point per possession on post-ups, offensive rebounds and cuts to the basket, in transition and the half court, and on rolls to the basket in pick-and-roll sets. And since his sophomore season, he hasn’t finished lower than the 96th percentile in overall scoring efficiency.

Over his career, Azuibuike has developed touch with both hands and grown incredibly deft at sealing off the post and creating over-the-top entry passes for his guards.

His conditioning has greatly improved, as evidenced by his ability to play long stretches without a break and his more active role in transition.

This is the second season in which he leads the conference in player efficiency rating, which checks out, given that he currently has the highest career PER in Big 12 history. Box Plus/Minus, which attempts to measure a player’s contribution to his or her team, tabs him as fourth in conference history in the career version of its metric.

Defensively, Azubuike governs the paint as one might expect. He ranks first in the Big 12 in defensive win shares and defensive Box Plus/Minus and third in block percentage this season. Even last season, when he appeared in only nine games, he finished third on the team in blocked shots.

All of this translates to team success. This season, with Azubuike on the court, Kansas has the equivalent of a top-10 offense in effective field-goal percentage (55.2 percent). On the other side of the floor, the Jayhawks have the equivalent of the best defense in the country by effective field-goal percentage and defensive efficiency.

“It’s the difference you make when you’re in the game,” Azubuike said. “And I think when I’m in the game, I make a lot of difference. I draw a lot of attention, and that helps my teammates out.”

Should Kansas make a deep run in March, it will be incumbent on Azubuike to shoulder the burden on both ends of the floor, just as he has over his college career.

Footnotes

  1. A rare occurrence for TCU, which has run zone 35 possessions all season, according to Synergy Sports.

  2. Dayton’s Obi Toppin leads the nation with 77.

  3. A hand injury ended both his freshman and junior seasons, causing him to miss more than half of each respective season.

  4. UCLA’s Jelani McCoy in 1996-97.

  5. He was just named one of the 20 players on the Wooden Award watch list.

  6. Since the 2009-10 season, according to BartTorvik.com.

Josh Planos is a writer based in Omaha. He has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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