Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebrasketball Film Study: C.J. Wilcher Is a Sniper

July 16, 2022

C.J. Wilcher had a strong debut season with the Huskers in 2021-22 after transferring from Xavier, serving as the team’s sixth man and designated sniper.

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 8.1 points in just under 25 minutes per game while shooting 40.6% from 3, fifth in the Big Ten among players who attempted at least 100 triples. Diving even deeper, Wilcher scored 1.049 points per possession (PPP) according to Synergy, ranked in the 90th percentile nationally (rated “excellent”).

How did the Huskers put Wilcher in position to be so efficient? Let’s dive into the film to find out.

First and foremost, Wilcher is a spot-up shooter. More than a third of his possessions (35.4%, to be exact) were classified as “spot-up” last season (that includes both catch-and-shoot looks and attacking closeouts off the catch). He scored 1.034 PPP (76th percentile, “very good”) while shooting 42.5% from the field, and it wasn’t a case where he’s just standing in the corner and waiting for the kick-out pass all game. Wilcher showed a lot of versatility as a shooter last season. I watched all of Wilcher’s spot-up possessions from last season and broke them down into different categories.

Wilcher definitely hunted catch-and-shoot 3 opportunities — those made up more than half of his spot-up attempts (47 of 87), and he converted them at a terrific 44.7% rate. On what I categorized as mostly stationary 3s, he shot 12-31 (38.7%). However, on true movement 3s (where he relocates to get himself open rather than staying in one place), he shot a blistering 9-of-16 (56.3%).

Here’s a short compilation of catch-and-shoot 3s from this past season that displays Wilcher’s shooting talent. Notice Wilcher’s shot prep — he does a great job of preparing himself to shoot on his stationary looks, getting his feet set and his shoulders squared to the basket while having his hands ready in the shooting pocket so he can get the shot up quickly.

Go back and watch the last two 3s again, because those weren’t easy shots. On the first one against Northwestern, he drove the lane and kicked it out before immediately back-tracking out to the arc, where he snagged a slightly off-target pass and quickly transitioned right into his shot, burying it over a late contest. On the second one against Michigan, Wilcher saw his man helping down against the pick-and-roll and sprinted to the wing where Bryce McGowens could find him, stopping on a dime for the quick-release catch-and-shoot triple.

While Wilcher is a great shooter, ball-handling and athleticism are areas where he has plenty of room for improvement. Out of his 87 spot-up possessions, he put the ball on the deck for 40 of them. Of those 40, he got all the way to the rim just seven times, shooting 3-of-4 and drawing three fouls. He also turned it over 10 times when dribbling in spot-up situations.

More often, when Wilcher had to put the ball on the deck he was looking to get to his pull-up jumper. He shot 2-of-9 (22.2%) on off-the-dribble 3s and 5-of-13 (38.5%) on pull-up 2s or floaters while drawing one foul.

Here’s a look at all five of Wilcher’s pull-up makes from this past season (sorry for the choppy video, but I figured it was better than nothing). Notice where the shot clock is at on all these shots.

Wilcher doesn’t often look for his pull-up jumper in early-clock situations, but he did show it was something he can get to when the clock is running down and teams have chased him off the line. He does a good job of using ball or head fakes to get his defender flying by then showed terrific touch on the shots, especially the pull-up against Auburn and the spinning shot against Northwestern.

Fred Hoiberg loves to play fast, and Wilcher fits right into that style of play. His second-most common play type was transition at 19.9% and he scored 1.041 PPP (54th percentile, “good”). Wilcher was terrific on catch-and-shoot 3s, shooting 9-of-20 (45%). Oddly enough, he struggled from the left side of the court (2-of-8 from the corner and wing) while shooting well from the top of key or right side. He was also very effective attacking the rim, either taking it all the way himself directly off the turnover or catching it on a cut or dive to the rim, shooting 9-of-13 (69.2%) inside the restricted area.

However, when he puts the ball on the deck it leads to turnovers a bit more often than you’d want (16.3% overall, or eight giveaways in his 28 possessions that included anything other than a catch-and-shoot) and he shot just 1-of-6 on off-the-dribble 3s. Occasionally he hunted that shot a bit too much, but when he let the shots come to him he was pretty dangerous.

Wilcher’s third-most common play type is off-screen, and this is an area where taking a step forward would allow him to be an even bigger part of Nebraska’s offense. Wilcher scored .903 PPP (49th percentile, “average”) as he shot just 9-of-30 from the field with one foul. Nebraska ran him off all kinds of screen, from crack-backs to flares to staggered screens to pin-downs and even an elevator screen (where he drew his one foul).

The most common type of screen play Nebraska used for him is a crack-back, where Wilcher ran off a screen from the big to come back to the ball. He shot just 2-of-13 on those looks, however, including 1-of-11 on catch-and-shoot 3s. He hit one 3 off the dribble and missed on his only drive to the rim. The Huskers ran flares for him within the flow of their offense a decent amount, but he shot just 2-of-8 (1-of-6 on catch-and-shoot 3s, 1-of-2 on pull-up 3s). Wilcher did better on pin-downs than any other type of screen, shooting 4-of-6 (3-of-5 on catch-and-shoot 3s with one successful basket attack that ended up in a short jumper). He shot 1-of-3 off staggered screens (1-of-2 on catch-and-shoot 3s with an unsuccessful curl and rim attack).

The sample sizes get progressively smaller from there, but Wilcher does show some promise in other play types.

He scored 1.278 PPP on 18 possessions as a cutter (69th percentile, “very good”). Wilcher does a good job of using his big frame and length to finish around the basket, and he has a great feel for cutting when his defender’s head is turned or when his man leaves him to help on a driver. However, he is only 6-foot-5 and there were times where bigger defenders were able to recover in time to force a miss around the cup.

Wilcher was even better taking hand-offs, scoring 1.118 PPP on 17 possessions (87th percentile, “excellent”). He shot 7-of-14 (including 3-of-8 from 3) with one foul drawn and two turnovers. Wilcher isn’t a guy who can create a lot of separation off the bounce on his own, but a hand-off (whether it be from another guard in a dribble-weave action or from a big man in the high post) can help him create the advantage he needs to be effective. He shot 2-of-5 stepping into 3s off a hand-off/shovel pass and 1-of-3 on step-back 3s after taking the hand-off. He shot 4-of-6 inside the arc as well (2-of-3 at the rim, 1-of-2 on floaters with a converted step-back 2).

Wilcher only used nine possessions all year as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, but he shot a perfect 5-for-5 on 3s (three pull-ups, two step-backs) while missing a mid-range step-back and a scoop shot at the basket. He also had one assist to the roll man and two turnovers on bad passes. Basically, if you go under the screen, he’s letting that thing fly and probably hitting it. He’s just not a guy that you’re going to run a ton of ball screens for because he doesn’t give you much juice off the bounce.

Wilcher also set the screen on seven possessions as Nebraska looked to get him some pick-and-pop or screen-the-screener actions to generate open looks or driving opportunities. He shot 3-of-7 for eight points. He shot 5-of-6 and drew a foul on put-backs (effective, but not something he does very often) and was just 1-for-4 in isolation (an indication of how limited he is as a self-creator off the dribble).

With continued growth, C.J. Wilcher has a chance to be one of the better 3-point shooters in the Big Ten in 2022-23. The Huskers generated looks for him in a lot of different ways in year one, and you can bet they’ll be looking to expand those opportunities this season with Alonzo Verge Jr. and Bryce McGowens (and their combined 24.6 shot attempts per game) moving on. He’s not a guy who is going to go create on his own very often, but he’s already proficient in finding ways to get shots off within the flow of Hoiberg’s offense.

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