While the star Freshmen get all of the national media coverage, there may be no more important player to the Jayhawks' early-season form than the play of Naadir Tharpe. The junior Point Guard shot just 34% from the field and 33% from three-point range for the 2012-13 season, and I did some scientific research at watch parties and my family's holiday dinners over the course of the season that showed he was the one player most likely to elicit eye-rolls and groans on that squad. Those first two sentences don't paint a terribly rosy picture when paired, but there are a few good reasons to give Naadir the benefit of the doubt and be excited about the 3rd year guard moving forward.
Naadir wasn't a nationally ranked (91st) recruit for his shooting, all of the scouting reports raved about his ability to distribute the ball, his handle, and his ability to drive toward the hoop while listing his shot from distance as a weakness. Is it terribly surprising that he has struggled with his shot? Perhaps he was a bit overconfident in taking 3 long-range attempts per game last year, but he hit 33% of them, that's really not so bad, in fact, it's better than Marcus Smart's 29% from downtown. It's a percentage that would've put him right in the mix for the second best 3-point mark for the 2012 National Runner-up squad, and it's clearly something that he's been working on all offseason. As far as offensive roles go, Tharpe was often tasked with driving to create space for everyone else in a largely uncreative 2012-13 group. In that context Naadir managed an Assist% of 28.3% which was higher than Big 12 Player of the Year (somehow) Marcus Smart with a nearly identical 19% Turnover percentage.
Naadir was a key piece of a national championship Brewster squad in which he was the facilitator for other incredibly talented players rather than the linchpin himself, and this year he'll finally be back in that type of squad. He'll have the wings covered by two gigantic and talented NBA athletes who love to get to the rim, a boulder of a center or a true 7-footer, and a PF with a soft shot from anywhere.
The other reason to be excited for Naadir is that as we saw last year at times, he can knife to the hoop.
With the players we should have on the floor, Naadir will likely be the defense's 5th priority, which should lead to a decent number of shots at the basket for a Tharpe who has had another year of physical development and Hudyfication to help him finish more efficiently, or failing that, mean more attempts at the foul line. Coincidentally, the line was an area where shooting was most definitely not a problem as Naadir converted 89% of his free throws last year. (This is my other reason for expecting long-range improvement, he clearly has a repeatable motion, he just needs to extend it.) All-in-all I would be incredibly surprised to see another FG% in the 30s from Naadir, and I think that before the non-conference schedule is through he'll be looked at as a clear strength for this KU team and deserving of mention on the PG award watch-lists.