Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer returned to Kentucky this season after helping the team win the 2012 NCAA Championship. The sharp-shooting power forward was one of the team's premier three-point specialists and entered this season as the most experienced returnee.
He has been the team's starting power forward up to this point in the season, but Wiltjer has not lived up to expectations thus far. Outside of a great game against Maryland, in which he scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds, he has not been the team's best solution at power forward.
Due to his poor rebounding, defensive lapses and one-dimensional offensive game, Kyle Wiltjer would better serve himself and the team by coming off the bench and playing a role similar to that of Darius Miller on last season's team.
First of all, Kyle is a 6'9", 235-pound power forward who has the frame and talent to become an effective player on the glass. Playing next to star center Nerlens Noel, there is no reason why Kyle should not grab at least seven rebounds or more in every game.
However, he is currently averaging 4.2 rebounds per contest, which is good for fifth on the team. He even trails shooting guard Archie Goodwin and small forward Alex Poythress in rebounding, which is inexcusable for a player of his size playing power forward.
Meanwhile, backup center Willie Cauley-Stein appears to be a better option in the post at this point in the season. While he only averages 4.4 rebounds per game himself, he does so in just over 20 minutes per game. As for Wiltjer, he averages fewer rebounds while playing close to 25 minutes per game.
Which option is better for Kyle Wiltjer AND the team?
The numbers do not tell the full story in the rebounding department. As Willie Cauley-Stein is adjusting to his first season as a collegiate athlete, Wiltjer already has a year of experience and a championship run under his belt. This makes his mediocre rebounding numbers even more troublesome when compared to Cauley-Stein's, which are likely to increase as he receives more playing time and becomes more comfortable playing in the college game.
As for defense, this is Wiltjer's biggest weakness. Simply put, he is a liability on defense and does very little to stop opposing post players from scoring inside. He averages a meager one block per game and has yet to record a steal.
Meanwhile, Cauley-Stein averages almost two blocks per game and is second on the team in that category. Again, this is especially impressive considering the small amount of playing time that he receives as a bench player. He stands over seven feet tall and presents a much bigger challenge to score over than Wiltjer does.
Last, but not least, is Wiltjer's one-dimensional, yet effective offensive game. There is no doubt that he is the best three-point shooter on the roster. This team has a need for perimeter scorers, so it is important that Wiltjer finds playing time on the court.
However, he does little else besides shooting perimeter bombs. Wiltjer's lack of elite athleticism has exposed him as a one-dimensional player on offense. He lacks the ability or skill to consistently create his own shot and is often seen drifting out towards the three-point line, ready for an open shot. If it is not there, then he very rarely drives it by his defender and is often forced to pass back to a teammate.
A scorer like this would better serve the team by fulfilling a sixth-man role off the bench, similar to how Darius Miller did last season. Because of his shooting abilities, he should continue to receive plenty of touches and will be an important factor in Kentucky's overall success.
Meanwhile, his scoring punch is not needed as much in the starting lineup, which features the team's top-two scorers in Goodwin and Poythress. Therefore, he would be of better use by subbing in for Poythress or Cauley-Stein and giving the team a lift on offense, while also limiting his time on the court playing defense.
If Wiltjer can accept this role, he would actually be helping himself out, as well as the team at large. There is another seven-footer on the bench who can score inside, block shots, run the floor like a gazelle and rebound in the paint. Cauley-Stein deserves more time to display his skills on the court and develop more natural chemistry between himself and Noel.
Due to Kyle Wiltjer's one-dimensional offensive punch, his lack of rebounding production and his weak interior defense, he would be better suited to come off the bench and serve the team in a sixth-man type of role on the roster.