Projecting Kansas' 2016-17 Rotation After No. 1 Prospect Josh Jackson Commits
Even after losing some key players from this year's squad, the Kansas Jayhawks will be just fine in 2016-17 thanks to the recent addition of Josh Jackson.
The No. 1 overall recruit in the 2016 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings, made the announcement Monday night on his Twitter account. While the Jayhawks had already received commitments from Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, Jackson's decision brought the class from the No. 41 ranking in the nation to No. 13.
These players are coming at the perfect time, too, because Kansas is set to look quite different than it did a year ago. Perry Ellis is finally out of eligibility, along with Jamari Traylor and Hunter Mickelson. Wayne Selden Jr., Cheick Diallo and Brannen Greene all declared for the NBA draft, although Diallo didn't hire an agent. Still, the freshman has likely played his last game at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
This leaves a relatively thin team, although one that should still be favored to once again bring home a Big 12 title. Head coach Bill Self will likely try to add some more players either through recruiting or transfers, but here is an early projection for the 2016-17 lineup.
PG: Frank Mason III
Frank Mason III has improved every year of his career at Kansas, but he might have to take a big step next year as a senior leader for this squad with Selden and Ellis no longer on the roster.
The point guard knows how to fill up the stat sheet, averaging 13.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game last season. He also picked his spots and made 41.4 percent of his attempts from three-point range. He is an efficient player who does just about everything you want on the court.
Going forward, though, the key will be for Mason to become more aggressive with the ball. As good as he was, the guard became passive at times last season, taking fewer than 10 shots in 12 of his final 15 games. Only a handful of times in this stretch did he finish with more than two free-throw attempts.
Mason needs to be confident with the ball and become a leader for this team. He and Landen Lucas will be the only scholarship seniors on the squad, so the pressure will be on to keep up the winning ways in Lawrence.
SG: Devonte' Graham
Although he was sometimes the forgotten man in Kansas' starting lineup, Devonte' Graham saved his best performances of the year for when it mattered most.
Graham finished with 22 points in the triple-overtime win over then-No. 1 Oklahoma and then bested that showing with 27 on the road against the Sooners. Buddy Hield only had 24 in that second game. Graham later had 27 points in the Big 12 title game against West Virginia.
Those were the only three 20-point games of the year for the sophomore—and he averaged just 11.3 points per game on the season—but those efforts showed what can happen when the spotlight is on him.
Now Graham just needs to find more consistency from game to game. He already makes a major impact on the defensive end and had the most made three-pointers on the team (75-of-170), but if he can avoid the letdown performances, Kansas could have the best backcourt in the nation.
SF: Josh Jackson
The 2016 high school class is loaded, but Josh Jackson could end up being the best of the bunch. The wing has great size at 6'7" with as much athleticism as anyone in the country. With his strength and skill set, he can drive into the paint and finish at or above the rim almost at will.
Meanwhile, Jackson is also a well-rounded player who passes the ball well and commits to playing defense, something that will make Self quite happy next season.
Despite the physical attributes, perhaps the most notable part of the young player's game is his intensity.
"Josh Jackson is as competitive of a kid as I've covered," Evan Daniels of Scout.com tweeted. "It's contagious too. That was evident at McDonald's [All-American Game] and [Nike] Hoop Summit. Different breed."
Bleacher Report's Jason King also made a bold prediction regarding the incoming freshman, tweeting, "Not saying he'll be a better pro, but Josh Jackson will have a bigger impact than [Andrew] Wiggins at KU. Will compete harder, bring more fire/energy."
Jackson isn't a perfect prospect; he still needs to work on his outside shot as well as creating looks for himself in the mid-range game. However, he will have as much impact as almost anyone in the country next year and could be a go-to option right out of the gate for the Jayhawks.
PF: Carlton Bragg Jr.
Although he didn't get too much playing time as a freshman, Carlton Bragg Jr. will get his chance to shine next season.
The power forward was a 5-star recruit in the 2015 class and rated No. 24 overall in the country by 247Sports' composite rankings. This was due to his athleticism, ability to run the floor and the shooting touch for a player of his size (6'9", 220 lbs). Even in just 8.9 minutes per game last year, some of these skills were on display.
Bragg averaged 3.8 points per game but was efficient when he got the ball, making 56.1 percent of his attempts from the field. These weren't just dunks, either, as 48.2 percent of the forward's shots were considered jumpers, according to Hoop-Math. He knocked down a respectable 43.6 percent from this range.
Also, Bragg clearly moved ahead of the more highly regarded Diallo in the rotation toward the end of the season, showing the confidence the coaching staff had in the freshman.
Even without a lot of game experience, Bragg should move right into the starting lineup to replace Ellis as an inside scorer who can also stretch the floor from time to time.
C: Landen Lucas
"He’s become very, very important to us."
That's what Self said about Lucas after a late-season win over Kansas State, per Tom Keegan of KUSports.com.
Lucas didn't always put up huge numbers, but he was vital in Kansas' late-season run. He brought a much-needed physicality to the frontcourt while anchoring the defense, helping the squad finish 17-2 in games he started.
According to Sports-Reference.com, Lucas' defensive contributions helped him rank second on the team behind only Ellis in win shares per 40 minutes. Only Graham finished better among main rotational players in box plus/minus.
With the Jayhawks losing depth in the frontcourt, there should be no question Lucas returns as a starter for his senior year. Even if he doesn't improve his scoring numbers, he will be a major part of the team's success.
Major Bench Contributors: Svi Mykhailiuk and Udoka Azubuike
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk was supposed to have a breakout sophomore year, but that will apparently now have to come as a junior. The 6'8" Ukrainian averaged just 5.4 points per game last season and at times struggled to even get onto the floor.
However, NBA teams are still intrigued by the guard's ability, as evidenced by his place in the first round of DraftExpress' 2017 mock draft.
Mykhailiuk has point guard skills in a giant frame with the ability to shoot the lights out. His 23 points against Austin Peay in the first round of the NCAA tournament was a small taste of what he can do. Considering he is still just 18 years old and will be only 19 his entire junior year, there is still plenty of room for growth.
Meanwhile, Azubuike will certainly get plenty of playing time in his first year with the team. Although he is raw on the offensive end, the 6'11", 265-pound forward is an imposing presence in the low post and will certainly be a force on the boards right out of the gate.
On a team without much depth in the post, the freshman will be valuable.
Rest of Bench
After Kansas came into last season as deep as any team in the country, there are now some question marks at the back of the rotation.
LaGerald Vick only came on at the end of blowouts this past year, but the 6'5" guard certainly has upside. The former 4-star recruit has a nice stroke from the outside and could help spell some time for Mason and Graham in the backcourt. The fact either of those players can spend time at point guard will definitely help make substitutions easier.
Lightfoot could also get into the action as an incoming freshman, although he will likely need more time to make a real impact at the college level. He has good athleticism and a nice outside touch to be a stretch 4, but at 6'8" and listed at just 200 pounds (on a good day), he needs to add some strength before becoming a consistent factor.
If Diallo doesn't return, Kansas could also look to add another big man before the start of the 2016-17 season.
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