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Alex Olah's 3-point shooting: can it be a weapon for Northwestern?

NU's junior center may have struggled on the glass and at the rim so far this season, but his outside shooting has been a cause for excitement.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

When most people think of Alex Olah, they think of a 7-footer who can use his 270-pound frame down low to bang for rebounds and get easy baskets at the rim. However, as is evident in his first 10 games of this season, that's just one aspect of his game.

In Northwestern's loss at Welsh-Ryan on Wednesday to Central Michigan, Olah had a decent game, scoring 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting with five rebounds. He also took and made his only three-point attempt of the night right as the first half ended, cutting the Wildcats' deficit to seven and giving them a momentum boost heading into the intermission. That marked the fourth consecutive game Olah has taken, and made, exactly one triple.

The 21-year-old is averaging 11.6 points per game and is shooting a tick over 50 percent from the field, as well as a sparkling 60 percent from beyond the arc (granted, he has only attempted 10 3s). Olah showed some promise as an outside shooter last season and has only progressed in extending his range, which is rare for someone of his height.

Olah probably is not going to remain at 60 percent from three-point range for the rest of the season. Still, his clearly improved shot gives him a chance to be one of the top-shooting centers in the Big Ten. Chris Collins would like some more consistency from him on offense and on the boards, but Collins certainly has to be happy with the threat he has become outside of the paint.

Out of the 77 shots Olah has taken so far this season, 26 of them have came outside of the painted area, according to ShotAnalytics.com. Of those 26, 10 have been three-pointers while five were shots taken right outside the key between 10-15 feet away from the basket. That leaves the remaining 11 shots as mid-range jumpers from around the floor.

As mentioned above, Olah has done incredibly well from 3-point range but has surprisingly struggled when inside the arc and outside of the key. He has missed all five of his attempts from a step out of the paint and has only hit 3-of-11 of the other mid-range shots.

That means he has made just 34.6 percent of his non-paint shots (9-26) while shooting 58.8 percent (30-51) on shots inside the paint. Taking his 60 percent mark from three into consideration, it is clear the only inefficient place on the floor for Olah to shoot is anything not right at the rim or behind the arc (18.8 percent or 3-16).

Mid-range and long jumpers, in today's more statistic-focused era of basketball analysis, have been derided in recent years as the least efficient shot on the basketball floor. It's true in the NBA, and it's true in college too: a three-pointer is a more valuable and smarter shot than a 15-foot jumper, even though it is further away.

Olah's statistics from a third of this season exhibit that point perfectly and should make Chris Collins and his staff utilize their center differently. Instead of a play that gets Olah open for a jumper at the elbow -- a shot he has consistently struggled with -- it would be much more effective to kick it to him for a three or run a pick-and-roll that would get him a look at the rim.

A game such as the loss to Georgia Tech on Dec. 3, in which the Wildcats lost but Olah scored 19 points on 8-12 shooting, is one which should be a model for how NU uses its big man. Of Olah's 12 field goal attempts in that game, one was a made three-pointer, two were mid-range jumpers (he made 1 of 2), three were shots between 5-10 feet from the hoop (made 2 of 3) and six were right at the basket (made 4 of 6).

In just that game, he was able to knock down a three, make some non-layups close to the basket and get his bread-and-butter looks, layups and dunks. Olah was able to show off his diverse offensive skill set while maximizing -- other than the mid-range shots -- his possible efficiency, against an ACC opponent no less.

It is no secret that scoring has been hard to come by for NU so far this season, and in past years as well, so maybe a slight change in play-calling and offensive setup could spring the team's best player into a consistent, 15-point-a-game scorer. The talent and ability are there, all that is left are shot selection and Olah's willingness to play along.