Looking Ahead: Kansas Jayhawks EditionPosted by KoryCarpenter on April 15th, 2013
The chatter about next season began in Lawrence not long after Trey Burke led an improbable comeback against the Jayhawks in the Sweet Sixteen, and with good reason. Kansas loses all five starters this year. The four seniors — Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Kevin Young, and redshirt freshman Ben McLemore (who technically hasn’t declared for the NBA Draft yet, but there is a better chance of President Obama reading this article in the Oval Office than McLemore returning next season). He is projected to be a top three pick with many publications predicting that he will go #1 overall. Freshman guard Anrio Adams also announced last week that he had received a release from the coaching staff and was set to transfer, but he has since changed his stance and said he is staying at Kansas. It’s hard to guess where Adams will be playing next season, if anywhere. Either way, the Kansas roster turnover resembles that of the 2008-09 season, when most of the national championship team left and Self returned only two players with experience, junior Sherron Collins and sophomore Cole Aldrich. Collins blossomed into a star that season and Aldrich eventually left early for the NBA himself. Is there that kind of talent returning next season? No, but next year’s incoming class is better than that which arrived in 2009, which should help the transition somewhat.
Returning Players With Experience:
- Naadir Tharpe, sophomore point guard (19.4 MPG, 5.5 PPG, 3.1 APG, 34.3% FG): Naadir Tharpe is a shoot-first point guard who isn’t a great shooter. When he decides to play like a true point guard and looks to distribute the ball to open teammates, he’s not bad. And as the only point guard remaining with any real game experience, expect him to start from day one. But he needs to realize (or Self needs to be in his ear every day this summer) that at some point, he’s not a scorer. There was a three-game stretch in February where he went 5-of-22 from the floor. He was 2-of-15 against TCU, 2-of-11 against Iowa State and 4-of-17 in the NCAA Tournament. But that’s not all his fault. Self had no other options on the bench, and this Kansas team was sometimes timid. Ben McLemore should have taken 18 to 20 shots a game but also had a tendency to disappear. Elijah Johnson shied away from the ball in certain situations. Travis Releford wouldn’t hurt a mouse, and Jeff Withey was a defensive giant with limited offensive post moves. Tharpe is ever-confident, and you could sense that Self didn’t want to kill his aggressiveness even if it meant a few 2-of-11 shooting nights. Next season might be different, however. It might have to be different.
- Perry Ellis, freshman forward (13.6 MPG, 5.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 47.5% FG): Ellis had a few big games to open the season, saw a dip in production in the middle of the year (eight points or fewer in 14 straight games), and finished the year on an uptick, averaging 17.5 PPG in the final two Big 12 Tournament games and scoring 8.5 PPG against Western Kentucky and Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. He’s listed at 6’8″ but might be an inch shorter, so he’s a bit undersized for a traditional post man. But he showed signs of an impressive face-up game away from the basket and an ability to drive around slower defenders. He missed a lot of shots around the rim and needs to finish in the paint better, which should develop after another year at the college level. He could also benefit from adding a 15-foot jumper to his offensive repertoire. Either way, it would be a shock if he didn’t start next year.
- Jamari Traylor, freshman forward (9.6 MPG, 2.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 42.9% FG): Some have compared Traylor to former Kansas forward Thomas Robinson, and while those comparisons are somewhat premature, they might not be without merit. Bill Self has said Traylor has a similar motor to Robinson, who wasn’t always the most skilled player on the court but is collecting an NBA paycheck because he rebounds everything within his sight. Both players had similar freshman seasons. Robinson played 7.2 MPG, scored 2.5 PPG and grabbed 2.7 RPG. Traylor finished this season with 9.6 MPG, 2.1 PPG, and 2.1 RPG. Robinson’s numbers skyrocketed the next two seasons, ultimately averaging 17.7 PPG and 11.9 RPG during his junior season. If Traylor can get anywhere close to that production the next few years, Kansas will be cutting down a few more nets soon.
Returning Players With A Chance To Make The Rotation:
- Andrew White III, freshman guard (5.0 MPG, 2.2 PPG) Don’t be fooled by White’s 33.3% shooting percentage. He played sparingly this season and was brought on late in games when Self needed a three-point shooter. His shots were rushed and desperate. His real problem was defense, a problem that kept him on the bench most of the year. At 6’6″, he has great size for a shooter and he should be in a position to steal a starting spot early in the season as the incoming freshmen adjust to the college game. If his defense improves.
- Justin Wesley, junior forward (3.6 MPG, 0.4 PPG, 1.1 RPG): Wesley is a big body who can be serviceable if needed. He played 8.6 MPG in 2011-12 as the third wheel to Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey, but his playing time dropped to 3.6 MPG this season as Withey, Perry Ellis, and Kevin Young ate up most of the post minutes. With Withey and Young gone, Wesley might see minutes early on behind Ellis and Traylor.
This is what has the Kansas faithful excited about October. Self signed his best recruiting class since 2005 (five-star players Brandon Rush, Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers, and four-star forward Micah Downs, a much sought-after recruit who later transferred to Gonzaga). Rivals.com rates this five-man class at #2 in the country.
- Wayne Selden (6’6″ guard, *4 stars*). Selden highlights this recruiting class and should start immediately next season next to Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis. He was a McDonald’s All-American selection and has the size and length (6’10″ wingspan) to be productive as a true freshman. Check out a few highlight clips from NBADraft.net.
- Brannen Greene (6’7″ forward, *4 stars*). Greene had scholarship offers from Rick Pitino, Thad Matta, and Billy Donovan, among others, as the fifth-best small forward in his class according to Rivals.com. He was named Mr. Georgia basketball this season after averaging 27.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 5.0 APG for Tift County School. Here is all you need to know about Greene, from the Atlanta Journal-Consitution.
- Conner Frankamp (6’0″ guard, *4 stars*). He didn’t receive the impressive scholarship offers of a guy like Selden, likely because of his size and lack of high school competition. He’s the best shooter in the class of 2013 and he played for Team USA the last two summers, winning Gold with the U-17 team last year in the FIBA World Championships. He led the team with 14.1 PPG and shot 45.1% from three-point range. His defense will be a question in the Big 12, especially as a true freshman.
- Joel Embiid (7’0″ center, *4 stars*). A native of Cameroon, Embiid has only been playing basketball for about two years. His stock soared last year after an impressive summer with his AAU team, the Florida Elite, and the offers started rolling in. Texas, Louisville, UCLA, and Florida all wanted him, but his visit to Late Night In The Phog last fall seemed to sway his decision.
- Frank Mason (6’0″ point guard, *3 stars*) Originally committed to play at Towson, Frank Mason opened up his recruitment after academics forced him to attend prep school for a year. He isn’t a highly-touted guy, but he is a few bad games from Naadir Tharpe away from seeing the floor next season. He is your typical backup plan that will be recruited over when given the chance.
With a tough non-conference schedule that includes games against Duke, Georgetown, and San Diego State, among others, there will be definite bumps in the road early in the year. Self loves experience so don’t be surprised to see a guy like Justin Wesley get a lot of minutes during the first month of the season. But eventually talent will win out, and Self will have to play his group of freshmen while preparing for the 2014-15 season.