Kansas Basketball: Midsummer Scrimmage Shows Promise and Question Marks
Bill Self said he had a talk with Andrew Wiggins the other night, sharing with the young Mr. Wiggins that he's yet to make a basket that means anything. At this point, Wiggins is all hype.
Thirteen seconds into his unofficial debut, Wiggins showed everyone in attendance at KU's scrimmage on Wednesday that there's plenty of reason behind the hype. Kid can fly. That much has been established.
The rest is a bunch of unknowns. My fiancée asked me the other night who all is back from KU's team last year. Since she only knows the guys who got real run last year, the answer was a short one: Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis.
We have not been in the dark this much on what the Jayhawks can be or will be since 2005-06 when Mario Chalmers and that bunch were freshmen. Yes, most think Wiggins will make the Jayhawks a top-five team by himself, but it's important to remember, as Self said, that Wiggins has not made a basket yet.
That said, you could see the potential all over the court on Wednesday, and you could also see several reasons for Self to do his best to manage the expectations, especially early.
As difficult as it is to read too much into a 40-minute scrimmage that was won by KU's alumni, 66-61, here are my impressions.
Let's start with Wiggins, because that's who had everyone's attention. You can read my thoughts on the hoopla and how he looked here.
SparkNotes version: The attention is unreal. He's one of the most explosive athletes in the world—and I realize that sounds like hyperbole, but I truly believe that. He can create for himself off the dribble and looks really smooth doing so. He has good form on his jumper, but just seeing him in one scrimmage, it looks like there's room for improvement. And lastly, he's going to have to learn to get himself open. Maybe this isn't an issue because he was going half speed in a midsummer practice, but he did a little too much standing around on offense.
Like 2005-06, the Jayhawks might be a year away from being really good. Obviously, it's highly unlikely Wiggins is going to be around to see that.
It's worth noting that Julian Wright was the best player for the Jayhawks the year before they won a title. Point being, just because the best player leaves, that doesn't mean Kansas will not be better down the road.
Hope for the future goes by the name of Perry Ellis. Ellis is the guy who could benefit more than any other from Wiggins being around because he gets one more year before everyone expects him to move mountains and bury every shot he takes. He could make one heck of a sidekick.
The one area where Ellis really needed to improve this offseason was his explosion at the rim. Too often last year he missed gimmes around the rim, and part of the reason was that he didn't have a lot of lift.
All praise KU strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy. She has worked wonders with Ellis. He seems to have a lot more explosion in his legs whether he's going up in the paint or making a move from the perimeter. He just looks lighter and more confident. He's shooting with more range as well.
"I've just been getting out and running a lot, getting my endurance up," Ellis said. "That's really helped out, and I feel it too."
The other star-in-waiting for the Jayhawks is Wayne Selden. Like Wiggins, Selden can throw down some highlight dunks, but he's more power than skywalker.
Selden showed off a decent handle and good vision. One of the highlight plays of the day was a pick-and-roll alley-oop from Selden to Joel Embiid. Self runs a lot of ball screens on the wings for his guards, and that could work out well for Selden.
Selden also has good form on his jumper, and while he'll be more of a slasher, he should be a reliable outside shooter.
The one quote Self provided that was worth reading between the lines was when he said that he believes Wiggins and Selden could be elite wing defenders. That may have been him flashing his hand in terms of the starting lineup. Yes, it's early, but I'd bet Selden is a starter and for the strength of this team to be its perimeter defense.
Look for Wiggins to be KU's top steals guy. His ridiculous quick-twitch muscles allow him to jump in passing lanes. And look for Selden to be the more physical type, the guy Self sticks on someone like Marcus Smart.
With Wiggins, Selden and Ellis, the Jayhawks have three guys capable of averaging double figures and carrying them any given night.
If Wiggins and Selden are the starters on the wing with Naadir Tharpe at the point, what KU's starting lineup will be missing is a dead-eye shooter. That's why a good bet for the first guy off the bench will be Brannen Greene.
Greene buried 3-of-4 threes in the scrimmage. According to the Lawrence Journal-World's Gary Bedore's report from KU's scrimmage last week, Greene made five threes in that game. Small sample size, but I would say the guy's jumper is legit. When Greene gets his feet set, it's likely going in, and at 6'7", he doesn't have a lot of trouble getting it off.
The other deadly shooter in KU's freshman class is Conner Frankamp. According to Bedore, Frankamp made four threes last week. This week he missed all four attempts and seemed to be anxious to get up shots.
What Frankamp did do well is run the point in the limited minutes he played. He doesn't seem bothered by ball pressure, and although he's not overly quick, he knows how to take advantage of ball screens to get free.
The biggest surprise in the scrimmage was the play of big man Landen Lucas. When I saw Lucas in a scrimmage last summer, he struggled to hold his spot in the post and didn't look ready to contribute. That's probably why Self red-shirted him. This year Lucas looks ready, and unless it was just his day, it's hard to imagine that he will not be part of the rotation.
Lucas scored eight points on 4-of-6 shooting and showed off a nice right-handed jump hook. That was probably developed in the last year trying to score daily over Jeff Withey.
Lucas also looked good playing position defense. He is nowhere near the athlete of some of KU's other bigs like Tarik Black or Jamari Traylor, but he did a good job of using his length and holding his spot.
The other surprise was Frank Mason. In a highlight video I had watched from his high-school days, Mason looks really skinny. He's put some good weight on. He also has a nice handle and is quick. His jumper isn't picture perfect, but he did knock down one open three.
Life After Jeff Withey
Self is essentially starting from scratch with this team, so saying the Jayhawks need to replace so and so is kind of silly. They need to replace everyone. But the most valuable guy on last year's team and the one hardest to replace will be Withey.
The two top candidates going into the summer were Black and Embiid, but again, watch out for Lucas as a darkhorse. Traylor should also figure into the rotation inside, but it's likely he'll play at the 4 behind Ellis. Ellis could also slide some to the 3, where he started out on Wednesday.
At the beginning of the year, Black is the best bet to start. He's the strongest of the bunch and looks the part of a rebounder. As he showed at Memphis, looking the part didn't always lead to production.
Black finished well around the basketball in the scrimmage, but it's hard to see him as a guy who will be getting the ball a lot in the post. There's not a lot of fluidity to his game, but he does have plenty of raw power.
Embiid had a rough day, and part of the reason was that he had Sacramento Kings center Cole Aldrich checking him. Embiid was hesitant to take a shot, and when he did try to attack, Aldrich was able to strip the ball loose.
His length and how well Embiid moves for someone his size should still have KU fans really excited. He's a project at this point, but he has enough natural ability that he'll get some minutes next year. Eventually if Self works his magic, Embiid might even start at some point as a freshman. But he needs Hudy to help him get there.
Kansas had 11 players play on Wednesday who could be a part of the rotation. A 12th candidate, Andrew White III, did not play. It's not likely Self will play more than eight or nine late in the year. Several talented guys are going to spend a lot of time on the bench. But hey, John Calipari also has that problem. It's a nice problem to have.
The real concern for Self going into the season will be Tharpe at point guard. Tharpe had his moments last season when he was really good—against K-State at Allen Fieldhouse, for instance—and he had his moments where he shot too often. He definitely was not shy taking a crucial jumper, and that was at times a blessing and at times a curse.
Tharpe still wants to get up his shots, and he made 3-of-6 threes on Wednesday. But he also appears to realize that he has to be a facilitator and did a nice job spreading the ball around. It's still way too early to see how much he'll benefit from another offseason in the program. Last season he was one of KU's most improved.
And it's way too early to read too much into one 40-minute scrimmage. I realize that. So take these words with a grain a salt.
Most of the Jayhawks haven't even made a basket that matters yet, but the hype has arrived and he sure can fly.
All quotes were obtained firsthand.
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