Big Thought: How Wayne Selden's leap explains Kansas Jayhawks' success

Wayne Selden is a bullet point. An item on a list. A passing mention.

To date, almost any conversation about Kansas -- any analysis of why this team is so much better than a 2014-15 version that featured so many of the same players -- ticks off a handful boxes in roughly interchangeable fashion. The two-point guard lineup. Great perimeter shooting. Fewer turnovers. The best season of Perry Ellis's career. Better offensive fit. Wayne Selden.

None of which is wrong! It's all true. All of those individual factors have conspired to make the Jayhawks one of the nation's best offenses, one that made Saturday's win over Baylor -- 102 points, 76 possessions, zero suspense -- look less like a Big 12 debut and more like November's home opener against Northern Colorado. Nor is the box-ticking deceptive: All of those factors are roughly equal in their importance. They all deserve a spot.

And yet, now that we're just a few hours away from Monday night's massive No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup with Oklahoma -- and two days after Selden scored 24 points and made five of his six 3s against the Bears -- that habit is starting to feel unfair. Because what Selden is doing right now on the offensive end of the floor is completely and utterly insane.

Just look at this (culled from Hoop-Math.com, KenPom.com, and Synergy scouting data):

Wayne Selden's 2014-15

9.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game

Two-point field goal percentage: 39.5

Three-point field goal percentage: 36.5

Effective field goal percentage: 46.1

Offensive rating: 98.0

Turnover rate: 20.9

Points per possession: .827

… and compare it to this:

Wayne Selden's 2015-16

15.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists per game

Two-point field goal percentage: 55.5 (!)

Three-point field goal percentage: 54.2 (!!!)

Effective field goal percentage: 68.4

Offensive rating: 130.5 (!!!!)

Turnover rate: 2.8 13.4* (!!!!!!)

Points per possession: 1.242 (collapses face-first on keyboard)

(*Update: A technical error led us astray on Selden's '15-16 turnover rate. The correct number [13.4] is now included. We have redacted a proportionate number of exclamation points, but stand by our original enthusiasm.)

This is not incremental improvement. This is a full-on rebirth.

The most fascinating thing about Selden's 2015-16 is that he's not really playing all that differently. Last year, his most frequent play types recorded by Synergy were spot-up shots, transition plays, and as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls; the same is true this season. Last year, per Hoop-Math.com, Selden took 24.5 percent of his shots at the rim and 44 percent from 3; this year, those numbers are 29.7 and 50.8 percent, respectively. Selden hasn't overhauled his game.

There have, however, been some subtle and valuable tweaks. For example: The actual percentage of Selden's pick-and-roll plays has been cut nearly in half in 2015-16, dropping from 12.2 percent of his possessions last season to 6.8 this season. The biggest change in Selden's shot selection year-over-year is in the midrange, where a year ago, he took 31.6 percent of his shots. This season? That number is 19.5.

Why? The Jayhawks' new lineup, which features both Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham as point guards alongside Selden, has meant Selden is no longer being asked to play a quasi-shooting guard alongside Andrew Wiggins (as a freshman) or Kelly Oubre (as a sophomore). Selden doesn't have to handle the ball as much. He doesn't have to create, or take as many screens, or get stuck trying to make things happen late in shot clocks. He can spot-up on the wing and attack late rotations.

That's Kansas coach Bill Self's explanation, anyway:

“I think we played him out of position,” Self said. With Wiggins or Oubre on the floor, Selden often was forced out of his comfort zone into being more ball handler than wing. So top 20 recruit that Selden might have been, his growth has been stunted. Self now says “I don’t believe (we did) anything to help him the first two years.”

“I think a lot of it was (on the coaches), because we put our five best players out there,” he said. “But I don’t know if the pieces really fit as well.”

That's how a player's turnover rate can plummet from 21 percent to 3 percent in the matter of 12 months: It's less about skill than context. Which is where the rest of that checkbox -- the two point guards, the better 3-point shooting, Ellis' time-tested effectiveness on the block, the fit, and Selden's input and output contributions to all of it -- come in.

Then again, it's also about skill, and the opportunity to play a more comfortable role in a more balanced offense wouldn't mean much if Selden wasn't shooting the leather off.

In other words: KU is better, so Selden is better. And Selden is better, so KU is better. Life as a bullet point has its benefits.