Sophomore Perry Ellis is KU's leading returning scorer.
The can't-miss prospects since the one-and-done rule went into effect—Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley—have all had extremely productive freshman years. Oden took his team to a title game; Durant was the consensus national player of the year; Beasley averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds.
Based off the hype around Andrew Wiggins, which arguably exceeds those three, the Kansas wing should be a star in his one season at Kansas. It's not really a question of whether Wiggins will be good, but how good?
The bigger question surrounding the Jayhawks should be who is going to emerge as KU's other star. Bill Self's offense has traditionally either been extremely balanced or had two players dominate the scoring. Only once in Self's 10 seasons at KU has someone averaged more than 20 points per game—Wayne Simien in 2005—and even that season, Keith Langford averaged 14.1.
Typically, it's pretty clear going into the year in KU's system who "the star" and "the other guy" will be. Even when Self replaced five starters following the national title season, it was obvious Sherron Collins would be the star and Cole Aldrich would be his sidekick the following season.
This roster lacks a player like Collins, who was proven as one of the best sixth men in the country on KU's title team. Kansas is replacing five starters, has six true freshmen and the leading returning scorer is Perry Ellis at 5.8 points per game.
It's all a guessing game at this point, but based off the summer and observations Bill Self and others have shared, two players have emerged as the candidates to be KU's secondary (or maybe even primary) scorer next to Wiggins.
Kansas is one of the few places in the country where a McDonald's All-American such as Ellis has to wait his turn. There are typically in-season signs the previous year that point to a KU big man evolving from a bench player to one of the best on the roster. Aldrich, Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson have all made the leap.
Robinson was the latest to do so, and his advanced numbers as a sophomore (the year before he made the leap) suggested he would be comfortable in a leading role. They also almost mirror Ellis' numbers as a freshman. Both were aggressive and fairly efficient.
|Off. Rating||%Shots||Effective FG%||FT Rate|
|Perry Ellis (12-13)||114.1||23.4||48.1||52.5|
|Thomas Robinson (10-11)||108.7||24.2||60.1||57.1|
The one area where Ellis was far behind Robinson was his shooting percentage. Ellis' primary problem was that he struggled to finish at the rim—52 percent, according to Hoop-Math.com. His struggles were mostly between the ears, but it also had to do with his ability.
For most of his freshman season, Ellis lacked confidence and the explosiveness to be a really good finisher at the college level. Similar to a shooter on a cold streak, it was as though he shot around the basket with hesitancy. That changed late in the season.
Over KU's final seven games, Ellis made 15 of his 21 attempts (71.4 percent) at the rim and averaged 10.7 points per game.
At a rare chance to see the Jayhawks this summer during a scrimmage at Self's basketball camp in June, Ellis looked quicker and appeared to have improved his leaping ability. He was dunking shots he would try to lay in last season.
This is not an unusual progression.
Kansas has one of the most respected strength and conditioning coaches in the country in Andrea Hudy. And player development, particularly for big men, has always been a strength of Self's staff. Self told Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated in August that Ellis was the most improved player on KU's roster.
"He's really being aggressive with his scoring," Self said. "That's what he does. He gets baskets."
While Ellis' advanced numbers are similar to Robinson's, a better Self-era comparison as far as his game is Marcus Morris. Like Morris, Ellis has three-point range—he was 2-for-3 last season from deep. He can also put the ball on the floor when attacking facing up, or he has the footwork to score with his back to the basket.
Self told the Lawrence Journal-World's Gary Bedore recently:
I think there will be a great chance Perry could lead us in scoring. He's improved so much...Perry will be a big reason why we have a chance to be pretty good, especially early in the season, because we’re going to lean on him. Even though he’s not experienced he's more experienced than anybody we have.
Self could have said the same for Aldrich before 2008-09 and Robinson going into 2011-12. And here's one final piece of history that is on Ellis' side for a breakout season with a possible assist from Wiggins: The last five times when KU has been led in scoring by a perimeter player, a big man has averaged at least 12 points.
Go ahead and pencil Ellis in for 12-plus points per game.
Based off the rankings by recruiting websites, Wayne Selden was the gem of KU's class until Wiggins committed. Rivals.com rated Selden as the 12th-best player in the 2013 class and ESPN.com had Selden at No. 14.
Now based off what NBA draft analysts are predicting, Selden was either slightly undersold as a prep or he's made big strides this summer.
Currently, Selden is projected to go 14th by DraftExpress.com—seventh-highest freshman—and fifth overall by NBADraft.net. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com saw Selden at the Adidas Nations camp, and Selden climbed his board and got some love from the NBA Draft guru.
Great week for Wayne Seldon. One of the top performers here. Made shots, scored in transition, defended, played under control #adidasnations— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) August 5, 2013
Self has also been impressed. He told the Lawrence Journal-World in mid-August that Ellis and Selden had been KU's most consistent performers this summer.
"He's hungry," Self said of Selden. "He's got a college body or a pro body or a man's body already. He has a chance to be really good early on."
All of those things are good for Selden down the road, but can his game complement Wiggins when they do similar things well?
That's the challenge for Self, and he will have to tinker with his attack. During his time at KU, the only time Self has had his 2 and 3 spots lead the team in scoring was the three seasons he had both Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers. Those teams ran a lot of ball-screen action on the wing.
Rush and Chalmers are not exactly a similar duo to Wiggins and Selden. Chalmers was more of a combo guard who could also play point and Rush was a spot-up shooter; Wiggins and Selden are true wings best suited to slash.
Last season was as close to what Self will have in Wiggins and Selden. Ben McLemore led the Jayhawks in scoring and Travis Releford was also a double-digit scorer. Kansas ran a lot of set plays to try to get McLemore shots in the half-court, and most of those were spot-up jumpers, like the set below against Kansas State.
A good chunk of Releford's offense came in transition. Midway through last year, Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn documented, 35.4 percent of Releford's possessions used were in transition.
Who will average more points this season for Kansas?
It could be easier for Self to generate offense for Wiggins and Selden, because both can create their own shots in the half court. It's just a matter of putting them in good situations to do so.
In the end, great talent is going to produce whether the offense is geared toward that particular player or not. If Selden is as good as the draft analysts have made him out to be, Self will figure out a way to carve him out an important role. He will do the same for Ellis and Wiggins.
And the only thing that may come as a surprise about the 2013-14 Jayhawks is that it will be more of a three-man show in Lawrence than just Wiggins and company.