ESPN Unfair to Naadir Tharpe

Jamie Squire

An ESPN article says Kansas fans should be worried about the point guard position torpedoing their season. Why those fears would be misplaced

Let's get this out of the way: I love ESPN's Eamonn Brennan. He writes thoughtful posts without being sensational, and he has a very good grasp of the Xs and Os of the game as well as the stats. It's tough to objectively rank writers, but he is in my top 5 favorites.

That said, his post saying Kansas fans should be nervous about Tharpe is a bit misplaced. To be fair, he semi admits that right after saying how nervous we should be by mentioning how Kansas won't need Tharpe to score next year. And they won't. A big reason people were so down on Tharpe's play last year was his shooting: He shot under 30% from the field in Big 12 play last year. But while that is not good, the fact is Tharpe had to shoot more last year than he will this year. Kansas had really only two players who could get their own shot last season, and Elijah Johnson didn't make enough of them and Ben McLemore didn't seem to want to take enough of them. So often, when the team was struggling to get good shots, Tharpe (probably correctly) decided he had to attempt to take over. The problem was he just couldn't make them. He's certainly fearless, but it was a microcosm of KU's season last year that Tharpe took the last shot of regulation and overtime against Michigan. This year, however, Kansas will have Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, and oh some Andrew Wiggins kid to take the bulk of the shots.

Where Tharpe gets unfairly criticized is in terms of his assists and turnovers. He had a very good 28% assist rate and though his 21.4% turnover rate is a bit high, it stems from the same problems as his shooting woes: with Kansas struggling with their offensive system for much of last year, often things fell to Tharpe to try to make a play, which led to him forcing things and turning it over. Still, Tharpe's 7% difference between his assist and turnover rates was more than that of Marcus Smart, who people consider a slam dunk as the best point guard in the league.

Tharpe has improved defensively as well. His steal rate isn't great, but he plays tough on ball defense and was a big part of why Trey Burke went 5-10 from two and 4-11 from three in the Sweet 16 game. I don't think he will ever be a shut down defender, but he can defend most college point guards to a draw, and that is all Kansas will need next year.

Tharpe got much better both offensively and defensively towards the end of the season, and while it is possible that is just a random stretch of games where he played well and he's still going to be inconsistent, it's also possible that he showed actual improvement and is trending upwards, and will be a dependable starter next season. He didn't have the 6th best assist rate in the Big 12 on accident, and while 6th doesn't seem terribly high, it should be much better next season with the increased amount of offensive talent around him.

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