Ansley Almonor a key pickup in Mark Pope's plan to shoot 35 threes a game

The Kentucky Wildcats will plan to lead the country in three-point attempts per game next season, but to do that, Mark Pope needed to add more shooting to his frontcourt or be forced to play too many lineups with non-shooters on the floor. New transfer Ansley Almonor solves that problem.
Fairleigh Dickinson Knights guard Joe Munden Jr. (1) and forward Ansley Almonor
Fairleigh Dickinson Knights guard Joe Munden Jr. (1) and forward Ansley Almonor / Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA

On Tuesday, Kentucky assistant coach Cody Fueger went on Kentucky Sports Radio and detailed Mark Pope’s plan to bring his high-octane, analytically driven offense to Lexington in 2024. 

“Offensively, we’re trying to get up 35 threes a game and if you turn down an open shot, you’re coming to sit on the bench. That’s how he coaches. He wants to give these guys tons of freedom and wants them to play off their instincts. So that’s a huge thing for us offensively. Just playing fast, playing the transition. And let these guys make plays and make reads,” Fueger told KSR. 

However, until Thursday morning, one would be right to question where all that shooting was going to come from on Kentucky’s roster. Koby Brea, incoming from Dayton was the nation’s best long-distance marksman a year ago, and West Virginia transfer Kerr Kriisa knocked down 42.4% of his 144 three-point attempts for the Mountaineers, but Pope’s frontcourt primarily consisted of lengthy rim-protectors, Amari Williams and Brandon Garrison. 

Andrew Carr, a 6-foot-10 stretch forward from Wake Forest would allow Pope the flexibility to slide him to the five. But with Koby Brea, Oklahoma transfer Otega Oweh, and freshman Trent Noah the only players between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-10, the Wildcats were boxed into playing a non-shooter on the floor at all times to have the requisite size and athleticism to survive in the SEC. 

That all changed on Thursday morning when 6-foot-7 219-pound Ansley Almonor committed to Kentucky. The rising senior forward has one season of eligibility remaining after averaging 16.4 points and shooting 39.4% from three for Farleigh Dickinson a year ago. 

A deadly spacing threat, Almonor produced an effective field goal percentage of 61% on catch-and-shoot jumpers which was 89th percentile nationally. He took 57.8% of his shots from beyond the arc and on right above the break threes, his most preferential shot choice, he hit at 44%. 

Almonor, who was a part of the FDU team that knocked off Purdue as a No. 16 seed in 2023, likely won’t provide the individual shot creation that Pope is hoping withdraws from the NBA Draft after this week’s combine. However, his spacing ability will enable Kentucky to play lineups with five lethal shooters on the court together and reach its lofty goal of 35 three-pointers a game, two more than BYU led the country with last season. 

A potential small-ball shooting lineup could look something like this:

  • PG: Kerr Kriisa 6’3” (3P%: 42.4)
  • SG: Otega Oweh 6’5” (3P%: 37.7)
  • SF: Koby Brea 6’6” (3P%: 49.8)
  • PF: Ansley Almonor 6’7” (3P%: 39.4)
  • C: Andrew Carr 6’11” (3P%: 37.1%)

That would still leave Williams, Garrison, Colin Chandler, and LaMont Butler on the bench with true freshmen Travis Perry and Trent Noah along with whoever fills out UK’s two remaining scholarship spots. It will be a challenge for Pope to balance minute allocations on this team because the Wildcats have not been this deep since 2015 when John Calipari was playing with five-for-five hockey shifts to accommodate the depth of talent. 

While size and shooting are the primary reasons for the addition of Almonor, he can do a lot more. Last year he shot 55% at the rim and produced 1.02 points per possession as the roll or pop man in ball screen actions which was 56th percentile. Though not a very fast player, Almonor was also effective in transition, using long strides and body control to carve his way to the rim. He has a knack for spotting up in the corner and attacking closeouts as the trailer. 

There are particular archetypes a team needs to run Pope’s motion-heavy three-point addicted offensive system and Almonor, a stretch wing with the strength to hold up defensively at the four and the athleticism to survive on the perimeter, was one of the only ones still missing. Kentucky could still use a go-to on-ball bucket-getter, but with the new regime’s success in the transfer portal, there is no reason to believe the Wildcats won’t get the best one left.

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