As he’s wont to do, Boston College men’s basketball point guard Ky Bowman showed out against North Carolina on Tuesday. In his previous two career games versus the Tar Heels, the Havelock, N.C. native had put up an average of 27 points. This time around, Bowman nearly reached that mark, but instead finished with a team-high 23 in the Eagles’ 79-66 defeat. Interestingly enough, all seven of his field goals came from behind the 3-point line. In fact, 16 of his 18 field goal attempts were from downtown.
Bowman’s shot selection on Tuesday doesn’t simply speak to the strength of UNC’s interior defense, rather it’s just the latest example of a change in the guard’s game. Wynston Tabbs has missed 14 contests this season, including the last 12 in a row. Without the freshman on the floor—BC’s only other capable ball-handling guard—Bowman has had to shoulder a burden like no other. Upping the ante in the scoring department is one thing, but the junior has had to deal with unprecedented attention on the offensive end of the court and collapsed lanes on a game-to-game basis. More often than not, Bowman’s had no choice but to fire away from long range, and it shows on paper.
This year, the junior is recording a career-high seven 3-point attempts per game—0.7 more than his 2017-18 average. Yet there’s no telling if his numbers would be the same without Tabbs’ injury. After all, before the freshman injured his left knee against Hartford, Bowman’s decision-making and offensive efficiency mirrored that of the season prior.
In the 15 games that Tabbs has played this season, Bowman has attempted an average of 6.5 shots from beyond the arc. To put that in perspective, he jacked up about 6.3 a game last year with Jerome Robinson by his side. With a secondary ball handler on the court—like Robinson or Tabbs—Bowman had options. Those guards spaced the floor, allowing Bowman the opportunity to crash the lane and do what he does best: attack the basket.
Check out this possession late in the second half of the Eagles’ 2017-18 upset of then-No. 1 Duke.
Steffon Mitchell sets the screen for Bowman, who then makes a bee-line to the cup along the left side of the rim. The lane is open not only because of the screen, but also because Robinson is positioned on the wing. Grayson Allen—well aware of the future lottery pick’s marksmanship and driving ability—can’t afford to leave Robinson alone and defend the hoop. As a result, Bowman has the path to himself, leading to a critical layup.
Tabbs isn’t the same kind of player as Robinson, as far as talent is concerned—at least not yet. But he can knock down the 3-point shot, and he certainly can penetrate. Here’s just a glimpse of the kind of attention he demands on the court.
At the start of the second half against Virginia, the freshman scooted by Kyle Guy before knifing through the paint and finishing with his right hand. Look at Bowman on the right wing. Due to the fact that Ty Jerome crept inside to clutter the lane, Bowman is left wide open behind the 3-point line. Aside from Bowman, no other BC guard is swarmed quite like that.
So, with Tabbs on the floor, it’s easier for Bowman to drive, and when he does shoot from long range, there’s a good chance he actually has a clean look. The numbers back up the claim. In the 14 games without Tabbs this season, Bowman is shooting 7.4 triples per game, and of those 3-point attempts, he’s only converting 35.6 percent—5.2 ticks lower than his 40.8-percent clip with Tabbs on the floor. Bottom line, without his partner in crime, Bowman is pulling the trigger from deep more often with less success.
That’s not even the most revealing stat. With Tabbs, Bowman was shooting 46.2 percent from the floor. Of his 234 field goal attempts, 136 were 2-point shots, meaning that he took approximately 9.1 shots inside the arc and 6.5 triples per game. He was converting 50 percent of his field goal attempts from 2-point range and 40.8 percent of those from downtown. Without Tabbs, on the other hand, Bowman’s field goal percentage has plummeted to 35.8. His shot selection split is astonishingly proportional: Bowman is averaging about 8.7 shots inside the 3-point line and 7.4 from deep. While his 3-point percentage has only dipped to 35.6, his 2-point percentage has taken a huge hit, falling all the way to 36.1.
Some might point to the above stats and make the argument that Tabbs was healthy during non-conference play, a period in which a player like Bowman’s stats are likely going to be better anyway, thanks to a lower level of competition. Yet Tabbs still suited up for three ACC contests. In those games, Bowman was hotter than ever, especially from deep. Actually, he shot a combined 14-of-22 (63.6 percent) from 3-point territory.
As previously mentioned, a great deal of Bowman’s Tabbs-less 3-point attempts are contested. Sometimes, he has no choice. For instance, take Tuesday’s game against UNC.
Coming off a Nik Popovic screen, Bowman is double teamed atop the arc. There is no room to infiltrate the paint, and there isn’t another ball handler to break up the Tar Heels’ interior. That’s not to say Bowman had to launch a 3-pointer with Coby White in his face, but the point is that his options were limited.
For BC’s sake, what’s potentially concerning is that the guard’s propensity to pull up from 3-point land appears to be somewhat habitual nowadays. Even when Bowman has an open lane or a chance to drive, he occasionally settles for an ill-advised 3-point attempt, like this one against Louisville back on Feb. 27.
Here, Darius Perry is late to switch onto Bowman. Chatman is well aware of the situation and whips a pass to his point guard. With a step on Perry, Bowman could have driven along the baseline. Instead, he dialed up a contested 3-pointer that sailed over the rim.
This is not who Bowman used to be. As a freshman, he made a name for himself attacking the basket. Although reckless at times, Bowman’s fearless demeanor is what earned him the starting role over Ty Graves. In his breakout game—a 89-83 loss to Fairfield—the red-headed guard racked up 33 points, 18 more than his previous career high. All night, he attempted a mere four 3-point attempts and sank just one of them. The bulk of his points came in the paint, as he sliced and diced through the Stags’ interior, making off-balanced layups with ease.
Tabbs’ absence isn’t the reason why the Eagles might finish a disappointing season with a sub-.500 record and miss out on the postseason after last year’s NIT appearance. But it has affected the way Bowman plays point guard—an unfortunate consequence for one of the most electric players to ever wear a BC uniform: a playmaker who is trying to make his case as an NBA first round pick.
Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo
Graphics by Andy Backstrom / Heights Editor