How Johnathan Motley’s Supporting Cast Has Elevated Baylor

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2016

Three weeks into the new season, the best non-conference resume in college basketball belongs to Baylor. The Bears already have four wins against teams ranked among the KenPom top 50 thanks to a flawless run through the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and they’ll have yet another chance to score a victory over a marquee opponent when they host Xavier on Saturday afternoon. November served as a national breakout party for Big 12 POY candidate Johnathan Motley, whose length, footwork and range have keyed Baylor’s hot start. But one player — even someone the caliber of the 6’10” juniorĀ — doesn’t result in a 7-0 start with wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State and Louisville. While there’s no doubt Motley is keeping opposing coaches up at night, the unheralded pieces around him have helped the team flourish as well.

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Motley makes the whole thing go in the paint, but junior center Jo Lual-Acuil has also been a force. The JuCo transfer owns the nation’s third-best shot block rate (15.6%) and already has 29 rejections on the year. For most big men, there are two potential costs to chasing blocks: foul trouble and getting caught out of position for the rebound. But Lual-Acuil is the rare breed of player who has both avoided the whistle (2.3 fouls per 40 minutes) and remained a presence on the defensive glass (team-leading 25.1% defensive rebounding rate). Big 12 play may cause some regression when Lual-Acuil faces players willing to challenge him at the rim, but that doesn’t make him any less important. On the offensive end, the attention Motley commands opens a number of close looks that Lual-Acuil is converting at an incredibly high rate. Two-way threats at the five don’t come around very often, but Baylor has one of them.

The point guard spot, initially considered the Bears’ biggest question mark, appears to have an answer. A few of them, actually. Manu Lecomte can distribute the ball when called upon to do so, but he’s also a capable scorer in spite of his diminutive 5’10” frame. On nights when Lecomte needs to carry more of the scoring load, the Bears can turn to two other ball-handlers in Ish Wainright (5.8 A/TO rate) and Jake Lindsey (two turnovers in 124 minutes), whose 6’5″ frames can create mismatches to find clean looks. As far as shooting, the Bears feature floor-spacing players up and down the roster. They didn’t shoot all that well from the perimeter in Atlantis, hitting just 23.7 percent of their three-point attempts in three games, but it’s been a different story on American soil. Lecomte, Al Freeman and Wainwright have propelled the Bears to a 38.8 percent clip in their other four games, capped by a 13-of-31 barrage against Sam Houston State on Wednesday night.

Motley is among a handful of Big 12 standouts who have wasted no time in building early conference Player of the Year cases, but his supporting cast has been every bit as essential in Baylor’s early emergence. It would be silly to pick the Bears to snap Kansas’ regular season championship streak, but through three weeks of the season, no other Big 12 team looks as ready to threaten the Jayhawks.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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