Naadir Tharpe is the Key to the Kansas OffensePosted by Kory Carpenter on November 1st, 2013
Search for the lone weakness on a Kansas team loaded with NBA lottery talent and McDonald’s All-Americans and you won’t be looking for long. He stands about 5’11” and couldn’t crack the starting lineup on a team last season that was one point guard away from another Final Four. You can see why Kansas fans are everywhere from curious to anxious to worried about junior point guard Naadir Tharpe‘s play this season. It’s not that Tharpe isn’t capable of running an offense with future NBA Draft picks at the other four starting spots. It’s that if Kansas falls before the national title game, Tharpe’s play will likely be the reason.
Last season the Jayhawks went down in flames against Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen with senior shooting guard Elijah Johnson putting the finishing touches on a mediocre season at point guard, all while Tharpe came off the bench playing 19.4 minutes per game. The sophomore averaged 5.5 points per game and shot just 34.3 percent from the floor. Watching Johnson struggle to run the offense for the first time in his college career made you wonder how little Self trusted Tharpe to do the same.
A year later, Tharpe wasn’t given the keys to a Ferrari. He was given the keys to Air Force One. With Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden on the perimeter and All-Big 12 forward Perry Ellis and projected top-10 NBA pick Joel Embiid down low, Tharpe won’t have to do too much for Kansas to roll to 30-plus wins and a Final Four. He doesn’t have to be Kemba Walker in 2011, scoring 23.5 points per game, or even Ty Lawson in 2009, averaging 6.6 assists per game while leading North Carolina to the national championship. He just needs to get the ball moving and keep the ball moving, from one lottery pick to the next. If he can’t do that on a consistent basis, the potentially high-powered Jayhawk offense could sputter. Freshman Wayne Selden is an off-ball guard by every standard, and backup point guard Frank Mason is still a true freshman ranked #76 in his class by Rivals.com.
Last month at a Coaches vs Cancer event in Kansas City, Bill Self said he needs Tharpe to be the team’s most valuable player. Not the best, but most valuable. If he doesn’t meet those expectations the Kansas offense could spend a majority of the year not in positive ways such as gelling and getting ready for March, but tweaking its lineup and searching for someone to run a unit that can nearly run itself. Self admitted late last season that he didn’t have a point guard on his roster. A year later, he doesn’t need much from that spot. But that little extra could be the difference between a great season and a historic one.