2021-22 was a season of ups and downs for guard Niels Lane.
Well, more specifically, one “up” and one “down.”
If you just tuned in to watch the Gators in the last few weeks of the season and saw Lane playing a major role and performing as one of the best players you’d probably be shocked to hear he was in the dog house for much of the season but that was just the case.
In the first few weeks of the season, Lane didn’t play outside of garbage time minutes even when the Gators were playing buy games against mid-major opponents. Then, from late November to late January, he was in the doghouse. He had “Did Not Play–Coach’s Decision” next to his name in 12 of 14 games during that stretch and only played seldom in the two games he did get in.
Things changed when the Gators, who were leaking points defensively, decided to go to the noted stopper in Lane against Oklahoma State in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. He was able to help the Gators get a win with his physical perimeter defense, and solidified himself a role moving forward. Florida’s final three games of the season were Lane’s best as he continued to showcase what made him a highly sought after recruit out of New Jersey.
Going from two months of getting benched to immediately stepping in and providing plus defense and quality production, there is certainly an argument to be made that Lane should have played a lot more last season. While there were likely several factors that contributed to this, one of the reasons Mike White was reluctant to put him on the floor was his struggles shooting the ball.
Lane is a career 1-13 from the three-point line, and when he finally was re-inserted to the rotation he was given a proverbial “red light”–told to not take a three-point shot unless he was wide, and I mean wide, open.
When it comes to the Todd Golden era, three-point shooting is going to be of utmost importance. Last year San Francisco was 37th in the country in three-point attempts and 128th in the country in three-point percentage, so you know the Gators will also be looking to shoot a ton of threes in their offense.
Golden has also made it known that improving Florida’s shooting will be a huge priority. The Gators were 317th in three-point percentage nationally, and with Golden wanting to let threes fly at a heavy clip, he’ll need to have trusted shooters on the floor.
If you’re a fan of Niels Lane and want to see him on the court more often, that might be a concerning thing to hear given his struggles shooting the ball to this point in his career. However, by all accounts, Lane is going to be a whole different shooter from behind the arc this season.
I’m told that ever since Lane got to campus as a freshman Florida’s staff was looking to change his shooting form. That isn’t all that uncommon for incoming freshmen, but unfortunately for Lane, the rebuilding of his fundamentals weren’t consistent. Multiple different coaches had multiple different ideas on how he should shoot the ball, and you can see the inconsistency in his stroke from month to month through his first two seasons.
This offseason was a chance for Lane to fully reset, and he has put the time in to develop a stroke that is both fundamentally sound and works with his natural body mechanics. His jumper is much smoother and more natural, and the fall effortlessly leaves his hand with crisp backspin that makes the ball want to drop into the hoop if it makes any contact with the rim.
It’s also worth noting that in his college career, despite the fact that his outside shot has struggled, Lane has been a decent free throw shooter. He’s a career 73% from the charity stripe which isn’t incredible by any stretch but it’s much better than you’d expect from someone who has struggled so much from three, and on those shots (which looked much different from his three-point stroke) you can see the natural feel and touch that he has, and now in summer workouts you can see that touch extending to the three-point line.
There are always good and bad things about a coaching change during a player’s time at a program but for Lane, and particularly his jumper, the coaching change was a perfect opportunity for him to get clarity on his stroke and figure out exactly what works and commit to it without being unsure if he would be hearing different things from different sources.
Should he be expected to come in next season and be one of the best shooters on the team? Maybe not, but you can expect much improved shooting and a much more confident stroke from Lane when you see him take the court this fall.