WASHINGTON — It’s 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon at St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena. Practice for the Capital City Go-Go ended a half hour ago, but a few players and team personnel remain on the practice courts.
Kellen Dunham takes the ball from one end of the court and starts dribbling to the other at three-quarter speed, almost simulating a fastbreak opportunity. He stops in rhythm a few feet beyond the 3-point line, elevates with his left hand on the side of the ball and his right hand underneath, then smoothly flicks it toward the basket.
His attempt ricochets off the back of the rim and comes up short, a rare miss for the usually accurate Dunham.
Entering the Go-Go’s Thursday night game against the Delaware Blue Coats, Dunham is shooting a G League-best 59 percent from behind the 3-point line. The second-highest player is seven percentage points below him.
More impressive is the volume of Dunham’s points that come from beyond the arc. Playing a little under 21 minutes per game, the 6-foot-4 guard averages eight points but almost 74 percent of his points come from 3’s.
“If I were to take more 2’s, I’d be kind of hurting the team,” Dunham said. “I think my role is more to open the floor up and take 3’s that maybe other guys wouldn’t, so that the opposing team has to guard me tighter and open up opportunities for drives and things like that.”
Dunham’s shooting acumen originates from small-town Pendleton, Indiana, 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis. It was there that Dunham and his father, Jim, first worked on Kellen’s form.
“I was about a third of the talent of him,” Jim Dunham said, “but I could shoot the basketball really well. So we worked on some stuff at an early age and he picked up on that … Our prior home, we had finished a basement and we set up a miniature basketball court down there. Little Tikes, meaning three or four, five-foot [hoop] in the basement. Oh yeah, he was on that console.”
As a teenager, Dunham honed not only his shot, but his all-around game with shooting coach Mark Baker, and then at Pendleton Heights High School with head coach Brian Hahn.
Kellen improved every season and led the state of Indiana in scoring as a senior, averaging 29.5 points. He finished third in Indiana Mr. Basketball voting, behind future NBA players Gary Harris and Yogi Ferrell.
“Those guys did a lot more for their team than just score,” Kellen playfully said.
A consensus 4-star recruit coming out of high school, Kellen attended Butler for four years. He finished his college career with 299 made 3’s, third-most in school history.
Kellen went undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft and played one season in the G League with the Iowa Energy before another year overseas with a Belgium League team. The Go-Go selected the 25-year-old in the August Expansion Draft.
“I spent the whole summer jobless,” Kellen said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. Fortunately, Capital City came through with an expansion draft and they drafted me. I came here, tried out, made it and now we’re 10 games in and trying to make the most of it.”
To say he’s making the most of it so far would be an understatement. For context, the best 3-point shooter in the NBA is the Pacers’ Bojan Bogdanovic, who is hitting 50 percent of his attempts. The league’s increased emphasis on 3’s over mid-range jumpers adds even more value to a player like Kellen.
“He’s a high IQ player. He’s a guy who understands spacing, understand his role on our team,” Go-Go coach Jarell Christian said. “He’s probably the best spacer, in terms of getting to spots, that we have on the team. And obviously once you space, the ball is able to find you and your teammates are able to find you.”
Next for Kellen will be adjusting to the way teams are starting to guard him. He typically stays in the corner, awaiting catch-and-shoot opportunities, but said he’ll have to add more to his game, whether that’s working off screens or shooting off the dribble.
“I think that they are,” Kellen said when asked if teams are starting to take notice of his success shooting the ball. “Especially last game. I noticed my guy doesn’t help. He just kind of stays right by me. So I’ve got to find more creative ways to get open. Maybe some back cuts and get some 2’s so my 3 opens up again.”
In basketball, deep shot attempts are often referred to as prayers. Kellen’s opportunity with the Go-Go? He sees it as more of a saving grace.
“I try to make myself a beginner again each day,” Kellen said. “Every day, there’s so much to learn about shooting. Just challenging yourself every day to learn something new and trying to add stuff to challenge yourself. I think the humility of it all, bringing it to the game. I don’t have it all figured out and I’m trying to make the most of the gifts that God gave me.”
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