Kentucky Basketball: 5 Things Alex Poythress Must Do to Meet Expectations
There might never be another player with a career like Alex Poythress' in the John Calipari era at Kentucky.
He entered with high expectations after being named a McDonald's All-American with an NBA-ready body. His freshman year was marred by a terrible team season.
Despite averaging 11 points and six rebounds per game while shooting over 58 percent from the field, Poythress was looked at as a bust in terms of Kentucky basketball.
The team floundered suffering a first-round National Invitation Tournament loss to Robert Morris and Poythress was inconsistent throughout the season.
He was demoted to sixth man as a sophomore, and while his numbers dipped, his overall play improved. With a diminished role, he became a dominant defensive player while also providing a spark off the bench.
After a run to the national title game, Poythress made the decision to return to Lexington for his junior year. What his role will be is completely up in the air. With an opening at the small forward position, don't be surprised to see Poythress return to the starting five in that role.
This slideshow will take a look at the five things Poythress must do to meet the expectations set forth by Big Blue Nation.
The biggest complaint Kentucky fans have about Poythress during his two years is a lack of consistency. He's shown the ability to be the leading scorer for Kentucky as well as the player who looks like he never wants the ball in his hands during a game.
Taking a look at his freshman year, Poythress was arguably the most inconsistent scorer in the country. He'd follow up 20-point showings with single-digit scoring efforts.
In conference play, he went six games without scoring more than seven points and then managed a 21-point game in an upset win over Missouri.
There's not a number or statistical line that will determine if Poythress is having a consistent year, but he can't show signs of being a star player and then diminish to a mere role player. Poythress needs to be an offensive and rebounding threat.
If Poythress can be consistent, not only will Kentucky have a successful year, but his draft stock—which is part of the reason he returned to Lexington—will see a dramatic rise.
Shoot 35 Percent from Behind the Arc
Teams are going to run zone against Kentucky. Opposing defenses have run zones against Calipari-run teams for years.
Due to a massive size disadvantage and the notion that the Wildcats can't score outside of the lane, expect to see numerous 2-3 zones this year.
If Poythress is going to be the starting small forward and wants to stay on the court, he needs to increase his ability to shoot from the outside. As a freshman, Poythress looked like a threat whenever he caught the ball behind the three-point line, shooting over 42 percent from deep.
That number vastly decreased as a sophomore, shooting just 24 percent from three. His shot often looked way off, not missing short or long off the rim, but hitting all sides of the rim and backboard.
It was almost as if he closed his eyes when shooting from outside the paint.
Poythress needs that number to raise to a respectable 35 percent. By at least providing a threat to make a shot from three, he'll be able to further attack the rim and have easier finishes there.
Average 5 Rebounds a Game
This number doesn't seem high for someone to reach, and it's not for someone of Poythress' potential. As a sixth man, he averaged 4.5 rebounds last season. With the expectation of more minutes, he should be able to reach this magic number.
If he averages at least five rebounds a game at small forward, there is a high chance that he'll out-rebound his opponent and Kentucky will win on the boards.
Poythress is big for his position, standing at 6'8" with long arms and incredible jumping ability.
Poythress needs to show NBA executives he can play the small forward position and provide an advantage for his team there. This can be done by crashing the glass. If he can grab a couple offensive rebounds a game, his point production will increase due to easy dunks and putbacks off those rebounds.
Be the Best Defensive Player on the Team
Much like being consistent, there isn't a statistical line that will determine if Poythress is the best defensive player on the team. He'll just have to pass the eye test.
He has the unique ability to guard all five positions on the court due to his strength, length and quickness.
During his sophomore year, he began to develop into a shutdown defender on the wing while also being a rim protector, averaging about a block a game. Poythress can turn into the best defender on this team because of his versatility.
He needs to be able to be counted on defensively, even more so than on the offensive side of the ball.
With a ton of other scorers, the Wildcats don't need Poythress to pump in 15 points a game to win. What they do need him to do is guard the opponent's best player.
Win the National Title
This one is pretty simple. Poythress was recruited by Kentucky to help win another national title. He returned after his freshman year because of the team's failure. He came back after his sophomore year because the Wildcats were so close to winning their ninth title.
Now he has the best chance in three years to get that elusive championship.
With three starters, three other key bench players and four McDonald's All-Americans joining Poythress, the Wildcats are a clear favorite to win it all.
The expectation every year at Kentucky is to be the best program in the country. This doesn't just apply to Poythress as much as it does the entire team. However, for a player who has been scrutinized as much as the Tennessee native, a national title would be that much sweeter.
Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.