Most talk about Kansas this year has centered around prize recruit Andrew Wiggins, but it's no secret that Bill Self has seen plenty of highly rated wing players pass through Lawrence. JR Giddens arrived with high expectations in 2003, but ultimately fell out of favor with many fans with his performance on the court, and was eventually dismissed from the team for his issues away from it. To follow, Self landed Brandon Rush from Kansas City. Initially viewed as a one-and-done, Rush's development was a bit slower than expected, and knee issues helped keep him at Kansas for three years. In 2009, following a well-documented recruiting process, Xavier Henry chose Kansas, and though many consider him somewhat of a bust, had a very respectable freshman campaign. Finally, we saw Ben McLemore last year, a fantastic athlete and gifted shooter drafted in the Top 10.
These four have a lot of similarities. They were all within an inch in terms of height, and for each a large part of their appeal was incredible athleticism. They were all gifted shooters who could knock down shots from behind the arc, and each was expected to be an impact player who could put points on the scoreboard. However, each was fated to a similar perception in the eyes of fans that wasn't always positive.
With all Giddens' athleticism and leaping ability, he was expected to be more of a slasher who could get around defenders and finish at the rim. In the end, he became unpopular at times for his tendency to launch three point shots from the corner, and rarely attempted to score near the basket. Rush was a better all-around player, but frustrated fans and coaches alike in his reluctance to look for his own shot, and settle for outside jumpers. Henry drew almost identical criticism, intensified by a scoring slump in the middle of his only season in Lawrence. McLemore was also more than willing to fire from behind the arc, but could irritate fans with an offensive game that seemed to use very little of his highlight reel athleticism.
Four wing players with similar size and explosive athleticism, all who had some success but were not viewed as reaching their full potential under Self at Kansas. Enter Andrew Wiggins, a talented wing player with off-the-charts athletic ability. Sound familiar? Now there's no doubt Wiggins can't be simply be lumped in with the aforementioned players. Hailed as the best all-around high school player since LeBron James, Wiggins stands 2-3 inches taller than the other players, and his level of athleticism will likely be something we haven't seen before. His jump shot also apparently needs some work (though I do think in the end we'll be pleasantly surprised with his shooting stroke). Still, the similarities are there, and you have to wonder if he may encounter similar issues to those faced by Giddens, Rush, Henry and McLemore.
In order to to further evaluate the topic, I wanted to see how closely the perceptions of Wiggins' predecessors actually resembled reality, and if there are any individual trends we can pick out. The following are some tables showing how each player fared in his last (or for McLemore and Henry, only) season at Kansas.
|Player||Minutes %||Poss %|
This tells us that we're looking at players used to a similar extent. Giddens lags slightly behind the others in terms of involvement, and McLemore played some extra minutes, but for the most part, usage is fairly equal between the four.
Again, Giddens is becoming a bit of an odd man out here. I will note that JR's freshman numbers were actually more in line with what you see from the other three, but for whatever reason, his game struggled more his sophomore year. As for Rush, Henry and McLemore, their offensive efficiency and output were fairly equal (and quite impressive).
My main curiosity here, however, involved less of the players' ability to produce, and more how they were used and what their offensive game looked like. The following chart shows this to a greater extent. The first column shows the number of shots each took per game, the second tells us what percentage of those shots were from 3 point range, and the last is free throw rate, which in theory should give us some idea of how frequently each player shot from around the basket.
|Player||FGA/game||% from 3||FT Rate|
The first column shows the least variance (keep in mind Giddens played fewer minutes, accounting for his number being the lowest). So each player pulled the trigger at a pretty similar rate. The last two columns tell us far more. 68% of Giddens' shots came from beyond the arc (and he made only 33.7% of them), and his free throw rate is far below the others. We can see the other three took threes at a roughly equal rate, and got to the line much more often (moreso with Henry and McLemore).
So what conclusions can we draw here? First, while I think Giddens was generally underappreciated at Kansas, the numbers say that fans' negative perceptions about his game were fairly accurate (at least his sophomore year). JR simply had too much athleticism to have threes account for 70% of his shots, while rarely driving to the hoop. As for Xavier Henry, those who consider him to be a bust as a one-and-done should really stop. From an offensive standpoint, Henry was a remarkably similar player to both Ben McLemore and junior-year Brandon Rush. I'll take that from a true freshman every day of the week.
The main thing I see here is that athletic wing players seem to fill a very specific role in a Bill Self offense. Unless Ben, Brandon and Xavier just happened to be coincidentally similar offensive players, it can reasonably be concluded that the 3 guard/small forward under Bill Self is going to be a bit more of a perimeter player than fans might expect. We can also conclude that his small forwards tend to be efficient offensive players who can score.
Does this mean that Wiggins will be relegated to a perimeter role, in which more than 40% of his shots come from three point range? It's unlikely. Self is too smart to have a player's role be so far removed from his strengths. That said, I won't be the least bit surprised if Wiggins takes more jump shots, both from 2 and 3 point range, than many may be expecting. If this happens, it will no doubt lead to a lot of disappointed media members and fans, who are anticipating KU games as being 40 minute long highlight reels of Andrew Wiggins dunking. But look back those who have come before him, and you'll see that, though perhaps not playing the roles we expected them to, they have been fantastic offensive players for the Jayhawks.