Column: Sahvir Wheeler’s improved shooting is a game changer for Kentucky


Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) shoots the ball during the UK vs. Ole Miss mens basketball game on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 83-72. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Sahvir Wheeler’s shooting has taken a turn for the better since his return from injury. 

The Bob Cousy Award finalist suffered a wrist injury in the second half of Kentucky’s 76-63 blowout loss to Tennessee in Knoxville on Feb. 15. He would then sit out the next two games against Alabama and LSU, alongside backcourt-mate TyTy Washington Jr, who was nursing a lower-leg injury. 

In the five games prior to his injury, including the Tennessee game, Wheeler shot 8-34 from the floor. He even went three consecutive games without making a field goal, missing all 17 shots he took in the three-game stretch. 

Opposing point guards were not weary of Wheeler as a shooter, often giving him the space to shoot a 3-pointer, or many a deep 2-pointers that the Georgia transfer seemingly fell in love with over the course of conference play.

While Wheeler leads Kentucky in assists by a mile, often being revered as the best facilitating guard in the nation, his poor shooting was costing Kentucky multiple possessions a game. 

That is, until recently. 

Since returning from injury, Wheeler has shot 17-32, a 53 percent clip, good for the third best amongst all Wildcats during that stretch, behind just Oscar Tshiebwe (67) and Keion Brooks Jr (60.)

This has been more than a welcomed sight for Kentucky, as shooting hasn’t always been a premium for the Cats in conference play. 

Aside from Kellan Grady, no member of UK has provided consistent shooting from outside the paint. 

Davion Mintz has been hit or miss, Washington has not been efficient in his return from injury and none of the forwards have proved to be reliable shooters down the stretch. 

If Wheeler is capable of bringing a 3-point shot to the table on a regular basis, it will do wonders for his game as well as his teammates.

He is already a master facilitator and can finish at the rim with the best of them, a deep ball could open doors to new types of offense for coach John Calipari. 

Wheeler seems to always have the green light when the ball is in his hands, so adding some perimeter shooting to the mix will only cause more problems for defenders. 

The Georgia transfer has developed the “no-no-no-YES!” kind of jumper that irritates BBN when it isn’t falling, but lights up the crowd when it is on target. 

March Madness often times comes down to point guard play. The way that teams operate towards the end of games is based off of the primary ball-handler, which could be beneficial to Wheeler, as he is often one step ahead of everyone else on the court. 

If his downhill play style, mixed in with the occasional trey is on point in the Big Dance, then Kentucky is going to cause a world of trouble for any opponent that gets in its way. 

Tshiebwe may often be the focal point of Kentucky basketball this season, but Wheeler is the straw that stirs the drink, and he’ll be creating quite the stir if he is able to continue the great pace he’s found since his return from injury.