Basketball Season Preview: The Guards

 

It is perhaps ironic: due to their size, guards are the players who look most like you and me and thus get less stares when they are out in public. Yet they are also the most important component of a basketball team. Each national champion has a great guard leading them. Last year Jon Scheyer took care of the ball to the tune of almost a 10% turnover rate. The year before Ty Lawson had the very best offensive rating in the country due to shooting almost 50% from three and assisting at a very high rate. And the year before Kansas had one of the best defensive backcourts in recent history with Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers (who I hear also shoots threes fairly well). In short, a team doesn't win a national title without good guard play. Let's take a look at how the 2010-11 hardwooders stack up:

Minor note: in this post you will see me cite certain stats that may be unfamiliar to you. Don't worry about this at all, just know that each stat is better than simply citing points per game or rebounds per game. I use offensive rating not because it is the be all end all, but it is a good estimate/starting point of a player's offensive ability. At some point I'll hopefully have fanposts/actual posts on these stats and why they're better.

Josh Selby

Let's get this out of the way early. Selby was Rivals #1 ranked recruit for a reason, and if he can play it will be a huge boost to the Jayhawks. Freshmen point guards haven't fared terribly well (the last Freshman PG to win a title was actually Gerry McNamara, and we know that he wasn't the most important Frosh on that team), but they certainly have done better surrounded by veteran talent (witness Derrick Rose in 2008 vs. John Wall last year). With experienced guards around him Selby should be able to flourish in Kansas's system. He isn't specifically known for his defense, but if Bill Self can get Xavier Henry to buy in and play D I think Selby will be just fine.

Brady Morningstar

Bill Self's favorite player (?) took a step back last year, no question. He took almost half as many threes last year as the year before, and his 3 point percentage dropped from 42% to 39.6%. Morningstar's defense definitely seemed off last year, and the stats seem to confirm that feeling: Although his steal percentage rose, this was likely due to an increase in gambling rather than actual good defense, as his defensive win shares actually went down a bit. Although he doesn't have the athletic ability of the other guards on the roster, his experience should earn him PT.

Elijah Johnson

A quick trivia question: which Freshman guard had the best O-Rating and eFG last year? If you said Elijah Johnson, you win. Now, playing time isn't a factor, so take this with a huuuuge grain of salt. Still, in his limited 2009-10 playing time, Johnson showed the ability that made him such a highly regarded recruit. He actually took quite a few shots when he played, so I don't think he'll be too gunshy this year. Johnson also rebounded pretty well for a guard in his limited playing time, especially on the defensive end, which, when you replace Collins's rebounding numbers with his projected numbers it should help improve the country's 111th best defensive rebounding team (although there is some Cole guy whose shoes will be tough to fill).

Tyrel Reed

The first time I saw Reed dunk the ball, I was floored. He is listed as 6'3" so it shouldn't be terribly surprising, but I mean look at him. Then I saw him block a shot and I was even more shocked. But the next couple times he did each activity I wasn't shocked at all. It's kind of a metaphor for Tyrel Reed's entire basketball career. Although he was Kansas's Mr. Basketball as a Senior Reed didn't have tons of expectations coming to Kansas, but he has blossomed into a very effective player.

Probably the best word to describe Reed is efficient. Although he didn't take many shots last year (15.6%, 2nd least on the team) he had the best eFG (66.9%) and TS% (68.2%) on the team. Reed took a lot of threes when he was on the floor, and actually the 3rd most on the team (93), but he had the 2nd highest percentage on the team at 47.3%. He doesn't look like he is the best player on the floor, but his performance suggests that he should be out there in crunch time.

Tyshawn Taylor

I imagine this is the player most people are curious about. Coaches have talked about Tyshawn maturing over the offseason, which was perhaps manifested in him getting his Facebook profile back. But, Kansas fans no doubt say, we have heard this one before. After all, it was Tyshawn who led the U-19 USA team to the gold medal as the team's leading scorer. To most Jayhawk fans Tyshawn is like that ex girlfriend who keeps saying she has changed, she has settled down, but then when you give her another chance she texts you 19 times per day and shows up at  your work to spy on you.

But to me, Tyshawn is a clone of a different person: Russ Robinson. Let's use a little side by side comparison.

Freshman year:

RR: 19.9% minutes, 83.8 O Rating, 19% assist rate, 32.1% TO rate, 3.7% steal rate

TT: 66% minutes, 104.5 O rating, 20.6% assist rate, 25.6% TO rate, 2.3 % steal rate

Soph:

RR: 70.9% minutes, 104.5 O rating, 27.5% assist, 21.1% turnover, 4.6% steal

TT: 57.3% minutes, 106.8 O Rating, 24.1% assist, 22.1% turnover, 3.2% steal

These don't seem horribly similar, however if you look at Robinson's Junior year, he had a 24.1% assist rate and a 22.3% turnover rate. It appears that Tyshawn is basically one year ahead of Robinson's development. Considering Robinson won a national title as a Senior, I would say that bodes well for Tyshawn's Junior year. Now, two stipulations: 1. Robinson played better defense than Tyshawn. Tyshawn is a good defender, and I think he is underrated by Jayhawk fans, but Robinson was otherworldly on that end of the floor. The second is that Robinson wasn't a focal point of that team. He had Mario Chalmers next to him to take the pressure off, and an experienced group of big men to also help in that regard.

Still, Tyshawn won't be the only point guard. While he won't have someone who is both a veteran and as talented as Chalmers, he'll have two Seniors to help him, plus some Freshman who I guess is ok at basketball. And, Marcus Morris's contribution to the team reminds me a lot of what Brandon Rush brought to the team. And I think that Marcus, Markeiff, Robinson and Withey when he is healthy can get reasonably close to what the bigs provided in 2008.

Tyshawn probably won't be a star player this year, but he has the support system around him to become a very good piece on a championship caliber team. At the very least, he takes care of the ball better than our national championship point guard in 2008.

Lastly, I have compiled a little graph that compares a player's minutes with his offensive rating last year. It is nothing majorly illustrative, but one thing to remember is that each of this dots will shift to the right this year, and more than likely down (though maybe not in the case of T2). You can see said graph here.

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