Kansas basketball sneak peak, Part 2
Bill Self has always preferred to play a seven- or eight-man rotation. He might have a ninth or 10th guy who plays spot minutes here and there, but by March, Self likes a smaller set rotation.
This season could be Self’s greatest challenge at finding eight players he sticks with, and it’s not because his options are limited.
Before I get to my thoughts on the bench guys and observations on each from Saturday’s practice, I’ll reiterate that this was just one day, and as you’ll read, some guys had an off day. Others looked promising. I’ll probably read too much into both, but what else are we going to do in July?
In case you missed it, here are my impressions on the KU starters from Saturday’s scrimmage.
First off the bench
Remember when Jacque Vaughn would dribble up the court and sneak behind an opposing big man, then dart in front of the big for either a layup or to set up a teammate in transition? Vaughn was like a great running back. Great vision. Great patience. He knew when to make his move, when to accelerate. Naadir Tharpe reminded me of Vaughn on Saturday.
The sophomore point guard picked his spots to dart to the basket. He found his teammates in positions where they could succeed. He looked like a veteran point guard.
It was a much different look than last year when Tharpe would play spot minutes and simply try to stay out of the way. He was willing to take the open jumper, but other than that, all Self wanted was Tharpe to eat minutes. This year Self will want Tharpe to run the team and play close to mistake-free. By my count, he had one turnover during Saturday’s scrimmage. Not only was his play great, but I loved his attitude and demeanor. He was vocal and constantly communicating with his coaches and teammates.
“You saw him on his best day,” Self said. “Naadir has been hot and cold, to say the least, but today he was much better. He’s had a problem passing the ball all over the place, but today he scrimmaged pretty well. He’s fast. He can make a shot. It’d be nice if he can settle in as a backup point guard, but I really don’t know yet because he hasn’t been very consistent so far.”
Maybe so. I’m not convinced Self isn’t bluffing, pushing some motivational buttons. For one day anyway, Tharpe showed a little Jacque in his game and made great decisions. If Ben McLemore is struggling or Self doesn’t trust him yet in crunch time, I could see Tharpe stepping in and being a guy Self can trust. We’ll see how he looks when the lights come on or if Self really is unconvinced, but I’m optimistic Tharpe will become yet another guard in Self’s program who didn’t play early and then later on became a key contributor, a la Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson.
Andrew White will blow you away in warmups. He has good size — I might even believe he’s 6-6, as he’s listed — and he already has the body to play at the collegiate level. White’s jumper is picture-perfect and he rarely missed before the team started scrimmaging. Then, the Jayhawks starting scrimmaging…
White was one of the players that had a rough day. He had one really nice moment: a drive to the basket when he went behind-the-back around his defender and finished with a finger roll. Other than that, he looked like he hasn’t quite caught up to the speed of the game and he could not hit a jumper.
White’s shooting struggles appeared to be tired legs and possibly a little mental. Near the end of practice when Self had the blue team practicing against a 2-3 zone, White had missed several 3s in a row and Self stopped practice and had White take a shot from the right wing where he had just missed. White missed. Self said “again,” and he missed again. On about the fourth try, Self said you make this or the whole team runs, and White missed.
The fact that Self would do this said to me that he believes White is going to play a role this year and he needs him to make shots. He needs him to realize his role is to make shots. Once White catches up to the speed of the game and feels more natural on the court, I believe he will.
My guess is that White will play 15-20 minutes a game and have a few games where he knocks in 4-5 threes. Other nights, he’ll barely be a factor. I love the stroke and the ability to get to the basket if a defender closes like he did on his highlight finger roll on Saturday.
The battle for backup big man
Young played pretty well and was exactly as you’ll remember him from this past year: endless energy and great at attacking the offensive glass. He looked a little more comfortable on the court and has started to grasp where he’s supposed to be; last year, I think he needed a GPS to find his place in the offense.
Young will earn playing time because Self knows what he’s going to get out of him, and I could even see him starting over Perry Ellis for the first couple games. His best move of the day was a lefty hook off the glass from about eight feet over a couple defenders. Young really got up on the shot and when he released it, his hand appeared to be above the rim.
Young also made the only 3-pointer that he took, and I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Self was able to get him to only take the occasional 3 last year and he went 3 of 9. In two seasons at Loyola Marymount, he attempted 149 threes and shot 26 percent. So Young shooting from the perimeter is probably not a good idea, and it might be best if he sticks to shooting inside 10 feet and being the team’s best offensive rebounder.
Wesley might share most improved honors with Tharpe. As the scrimmage was almost over, I thought to myself: “I’m not sure I’ve seen Wesley foul yet.” As you’ll remember, Wesley was to fouling as Thomas Robinson was to hating rims; he committed 8.5 fouls per 40 minutes. On Saturday, Wesley looked like one of the strongest interior defenders and held his ground in the post without fouling.
And speaking of rim hate, the Jayhawks might have a replacement in that department for Mr. Robinson. Wesley tried to dunk everything and was either successful or got fouled on each attempt. And not all of these dunks were uncontested; Wesley was usually trying to dunk over a defender or two.
The dunks were cool to see, but even more exciting to me was to watch Wesley actually play with some comfort and feel for the game. Last season when he got on the court, it was like throwing a football player out there. I’m not expecting Wesley to develop great footwork and a post game, but he at least has picked up how to defend and where to be offensively. Both he and Young could be great energy guys off the bench and provide some highlight reel theatrics at the rim.
Traylor’s game is more developed than Wesley’s was last year, but he sort of fits the description as a football player getting thrown on a basketball court. He is a great athlete and can jump out of the gym. On one breakaway dunk, Traylor’s head was almost level with the rim. But when it comes to feel offensively and not just hacking away on defense, Traylor needs to be given the Thomas Robinson curriculum.
Nearly every time Taylor got the ball, Self yelled out: “Make a move, Jamari.” At this point, Traylor is just trying to overpower everyone and it’s obvious the coaching staff is trying to get him to develop a post game. Traylor did have one nice jump hook off the glass, and until he improves his footwork, his best chance is probably to go to that quick jump hook every time he touches it on the block.
Traylor is a project but he’ll be able to compete for playing time this season by playing defense and rebounding. He has a build and athleticism similar to Robinson, so it’ll be fun to watch him develop and see if KU’s coaching staff (minus Danny Manning) can work its magic.
The fringe rotation guards
Adams was noticeably frustrated for most of practice with his play and Self was on him hard. He could never really get into the flow of the offense and had some breakdowns defensively. He had a bad day, but you can see some potential there.
Adams is well built for a freshman guard and could turn into a great slasher. His high school coach has compared him to Dwyane Wade, and that’s probably a stretch, but I can see it. He sort of moves like Wade with wide strides and the ability to find gaps and work angles when he’s driving.
Defensively, Adams could become a good on-the-ball defender and had one of the best steals of the day when he picked up Elijah Johnson in the backcourt, got his hand on Johnson’s crossover and dove on the ball. Self was quick to praise him for that play. Adams was also whistled for several fouls and is a little handsy when he’s defending the ball.
It’s tough to foresee Adams playing a lot of minutes this year unless KU has some injuries in the backcourt, but he could be another KU guard who matures and turns into a starter down the road if he’s willing to wait his turn. He is in the combo guard mold that Self likes. He doesn’t have a great jumper, but his ability to get to the rim along with his potential as a defender will give him a chance to earn some minutes here and there this season and a spot in the rotation next year.
I might be the first to jump on the Milton Doyle bandwagon. It’s tough to see Doyle playing many minutes this season because he is probably the skinniest kid Self has ever brought to KU. Andrea Hudy has her work cut out.
Skills-wise, however, Doyle is probably the best of the KU freshman. His jumper is nice and I get the impression that he’s the type of shooter who is willing to take and make big shots. Doyle made almost all of his jumpers in the first three quarters of the scrimmage. His missed a couple in a row in the final period when his legs were getting tired.
Doyle also has a nice handle and good touch around the rim. He threw in a leaner off the glass once and was comfortable with the ball in traffic. Some young guys will hesitate or throw up a crazy shot when they get in traffic; Doyle has a really nice feel in traffic and never looked like he got in a hurry.
Defensively, Doyle’s instincts were really impressive. He jumped in passing lanes and got several steals, and he had a good idea of where he should be on the defensive end at all times.
So will he be a part of Self’s rotation? Maybe. It depends on how Self feels about throwing a skinny guy out there. You could tell a few times that Doyle was easily pushed around. He definitely needs to spend some time with Hudy. I don’t think Self will redshirt him, however, because of Doyle’s ability to shoot the ball and the fact that he could be utilized in certain situations, like against a zone.
Like Tharpe, this could have been one of Doyle’s better days, but I’m excited to watch him play. And one thing I forgot to mention: he’s a legit 6-4 and his wingspan would get Jay Bilas excited. Now go to work, Hudy.
If the Jayhawks ever face a terrible free throw shooter, Self could take a page out of Gregg Popovich’s book and hack away as Zach Peters and Landen Lucas make the Jayhawks a legitimate seven deep in the post.
Neither Lucas nor Peters will make a big impact this year, but both have the bodies to play right away and eat up minutes.
Peters has decent form on his jumper and it looks like he wants to float to the perimeter at times. He didn’t make any jumpers on Saturday, but you can see the potential as a guy who can knock down a 17-footer consistently at some point. He had a couple strong finishes around the basket and went after the ball hard on the boards. He almost reminds me of the big men Texas had in the early 2000s, similar to a Brian Boddicker.
Lucas has a strong base and held his ground in the post. He has the potential to be a solid post defender and possibly develop some post moves. He had one really nice up-and-under.
I think Lucas has a better chance to be a starter at some point in point in his career, but at this point, both are big bodies that will benefit from KU coaching.
The towel wavers
Not much to report here. Tyler Self did knock down a 3 and scored five points. Evan Manning is the best of the walk-ons and I could see him someday working his way into a Brett Ballard-type role where he comes off the bench and plays really smart ball. Manning has a good feel for the game — shocker, right? — and he would be a solid point guard at a smaller school. It’s cool to see him at KU.
If you made it this far, I salute you. I’m excited for the season and would love to make the trip to Europe this week. This November and December could be a lot more interesting than most as Self tries to figure out who will play what role in his army of 18.