Kansas Basketball: One Early-Season Adjustment Each Jayhawk Must Make
Bill Self entered the season with an abundance of question marks and, while he has repeatedly stressed improved guard play, the Jayhawks offense appears to be operating more efficiently as of late.
Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe have struggled to effectively run the team's pass-heavy offensive system, even forcing Self to experiment in practice with forward Kevin Young running the point.
But those two guards are not the only players that need to make an early-season adjustment.
At 7-1, with a high-flying freshman, an All-American candidate at center, and the most improved player in the Big 12 in Travis Releford, Kansas has the tools to continue their roll through the non-conference schedule.
Nevertheless, in order to bring a ninth straight conference title to Lawrence, each impact Jayhawk must make a positive adjustment.
Free Throw Shooting
Senior Jeff Withey is stuffing the stat sheet each game, averaging 8.0 RPG and a mind-blowing 5.6 BPG to go along with 13.8 PPG.
But he has left room for major improvement in one area: free throw shooting.
Withey greatly improved his free throw shooting from sub-60% in each of his first two years in Lawrence to 79.5% in 2011-12, but that number has dipped to 65% this season. He continues to draw fouls, earning five free throw attempts per game, but has failed to maximize those opportunities.
Andrew White III
With one of the best shooting guards in the nation ahead of him in Ben McLemore, it is unlikely freshman Andrew White III will see significant minutes this season. Yet he still must become more comfortable in Bill Self’s high-low offense when given his 6.5 minutes per game.
He might have the sweetest shooting stroke on the team and while he has hit 40% of his three-point shots, he is routinely in poor position on the offensive end and winds up failing to capitalize on poor defensive adjustments.
White must get a better grip on the system and show confidence in his defensive reads.
Better Floor Leader
“I’ve seen bad offense before — third-and-fourth-grade YMCA basketball with no good ball reversal and bad ball handling,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said following their victory over San Jose State. “Our offense surpassed that tonight the last 12 minutes of the game.”
Poor ball handling has been apparent everywhere, but Self's pass-heavy, ball movement offense relies heavily on the point guard to direct traffic, something senior Elijah Johnson has not done effectively.
While he hasn’t had the head-scratching six or seven turnover games, he has failed to convert open opportunities down low to Jeff Withey and others. Johnson must become a floor leader with better court vision for this offense to operate efficiently and avoid giving up transition buckets to the opposition.
Play within his skills
Kevin Young has attempted three shots from beyond the three-point arc this season. Self’s reaction time to gesture at Jamari Traylor or Perry Ellis for a substitution has taken no more than 0.3 seconds following his release.
Kevin Young is a hard-working, energy-driven, opportunity-grabbing senior willing to do the dirty work, but those foolish heaves and lazy fouls (1.0 fouls per 10 minutes played) on the defensive end will not make up for his intangibles. He greatly improved his restraint late last season following numerous offensive fouls and must understand his skill set in order to become a more reliable contributor.
Attack the Bucket
Perry Ellis is extremely quick for his size and occasionally abuses opposing small forwards in the paint with good position and timely side steps. However, he must attack the bucket more often and more violently in order to visit the free throw line more than twice per game.
Ellis must develop confidence in his size and quick first step to slide between defenders while also improving his threat at mid-range to keep those defenders off-balance, skills that similar forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris dramatically improved in 2010.
A lights-out shooting point guard will not make or break a Bill Self offense but it certainly helps loosening up the defense. Tharpe is currently hitting a weak 32.4% of his field goals, including 31.6% from three-point range.
With Elijah Johnson’s inability to successfully take over at point for Tyshawn Taylor, Tharpe has received ample opportunities to increase his 16.9 minutes per game with better shooting.
Attack more often
Travis Releford and freshman Ben McLemore might be co-MVPs of the 2012-13 season thus far, but Releford is certainly the most improved offensive player from a year ago, a season in which he was routinely praised as one of the nation’s best defenders.
The former Bishop Miege star has made just about every imaginable adjustment already but he must now attack the rim more often. We have seen Releford’s dynamic ability to finish in transition, especially in Saturday’s win over Colorado, but he appears hesitant to aggressively attack the paint from the perimeter.
With an increased confidence in his dribble-drive game, he and McLemore could be one of the best 1-2 punches in the country.
Avoid getting lost on the perimeter
You cannot ask much more from a freshman averaging 16.0 PPG and 5.6 RPG during 30 minutes of play, but the terrifying thing that will keep Bruce Weber, Rick Barnes, and Fred Hoiberg up at night is McLemore's room for improvement.
It is clear he is a forceful scorer with an unrivaled all-around game but at times, McLemore gets lost on the perimeter when the offense is not able to produce good ball-movement and ball-reversal.
Relax on the offensive end
When Bill Self turns to walk-on freshman Evan Manning late in the second half of a close game against Oregon State, you know Kansas is having guard issues.
Rio Adams is averaging only 4.7 minutes per game, but with 22.2% field goal shooting and one turnover per six minutes played, the freshman guard is not making a case to split minutes with Naadir Tharpe.
He must protect the ball better and try not to do too much on each possession. Smart entries into the Kansas big men can also help relieve pressure on the perimeter for open shots.
Effectively use body in the paint
Jamari Traylor has provided KU fans with a few highlight reels plays, but those were the few times he used his body effectively in the paint.
He must work on his low post game by gaining better position on the block and not shying away from contact, instead using his explosive 6’8” frame to overpower undersized forwards.