Kansas basketball has had an interesting couple of days. First, top 10 recruit Myles Turner chose a Big 12 competitor, the Texas Longhorns over KU on Wednesday. Now, on Thursday, thew news broke around noon that soon-to-be senior point guard Naadir Tharpe is transferring, and will no longer be attending the University of Kansas. In this piece, I'll try to answer the question of what this all means for KU's 2014-2015 season, and for the program going forward.
First, let's get a couple of things out of the way. In statements made on Thursday, it was revealed that Tharpe is leaving to be closer to his daughter, who has a medical issue that requires weekly visits to the doctor. I wish Naadir and his family nothing but the best. He's always seemed like a good dude, and hopefully the Jayhawk faithful will show him nothing but respect and love.
Tharpe has had several ups and downs during his KU career. He was KU's starting point guard for this previous season, and he led the team in assist rate. He also had his most efficient season, posting a very respectable 113.6 ORating and 53.4 eFG%, though he had an underwhelming PER (13.3). He made 43 of his 114 threes.
All that said, the more I think about it, the more confident I am in coming to the conclusion that this probably is a good thing for the KU program. I write the following not to bash on a guy transferring to be closer to his family, but to illustrate why KU is probably better off.
Let's start with the obvious, and most important: Tharpe was absolutely horrid at defense. The Jayhawks had plenty of subpar defenders this season, and Tharpe was by far the worst of them. He lacked all the essentials on that end. He struggled keeping any drivers in front of him, he wasn't very good at rotating over to help other guards, and he almost always got confused at defending ball screens, including pick and rolls. He also seemed to just have very poor reaction times. Someone described it to me as if he was operating on a lag delay (people who play NBA 2K know what I'm talking about). If you're interested in more of the particulars of the defensive struggles, I wrote some about it here. KU was more than 8 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when Tharpe was on the court, the worst number on the team (followed by Wayne Selden).
Furthermore, I'm not that convinced he was a very good offensive player either. As I mentioned earlier, his efficiency numbers were just fine this year, but they also seemed to be a little bit fluky. The on/off court numbers again aren't that favorable to him here, either: KU was just barely better on offense when Tharpe was off the court. He was a good passer, and very capable of throwing a lob pass, but didn't create a ton for others with penetration and turned the ball over a bit too much (21.9 TOV%). Not that you associate point guards with rebounding, but he didn't contribute there at all, only tallying 4 offensive rebounds in 1,001 minutes (0.5 OREB%). The part that felt a bit fluky to me was his midrange effectiveness. Tharpe was a capable shooter, but he often took bad shots. He shot a very impressive 47.6% on long twos, even though nearly all of his long twos were pull-up jumpers that often were decently contested. He made 30 long twos on the year, and only 3 were assisted (meaning the remaining 27 were off the dribble). He shot 28 of 94 (29.7%) on these long twos his first two seasons, and this year shot 30 of 63. If Tharpe had shot what he had before on these, his eFG% would have been 47.0%, and his FG% would have been 38.5%. While it isn't fair to discount the improvement completely, it seems likely that his shooting would have regressed a bit next season to the norm, returning him to being a relatively ineffective offensive player, in addition to being a complete liability on defense.
Tharpe was also incredibly inconsistent with his game-to-game performances, especially down the stretch of the season. This isn't that uncommon for low-usage perimeter players, but it eventually became a significant problem. Essentially, when Tharpe wasn't hitting his shots, he was rather useless on the court, and his defensive issues became even more apparent.
So, I think KU probably is little better off at point guard today than they were last week. As I'm sure you guys know by now, I was campaigning for more Conner Frankamp playing time this past season, and even before this news I thought he should get a shot at the starting point guard position. I think the concept of spacing in an offense is something that is becoming more and more relevant in the current era of basketball, and Frankamp certainly provides a lot of that. This again is relying on a bit of the eye test and conjecture, but Frankamp is going to hit his threes next year. He appears to be just a deadeye shooter, though he only hit 15 of his 48 attempts on the year (often in random spots off the bench with sporadic playing time). Amazingly, Frankamp only had 4 turnovers. On the entire season. In 255 minutes. He also had the most absurd on/off court numbers on the team. The offense was 6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court, and the defense was 10 points per 100 possessions better. I don't think he'll be a great defender, but he certainly seemed like a superior defender to Tharpe, even with limited athleticism. Frankamp looks to get a lot of playing time this coming season, and is probably going to get a lot of minutes as both at the one and two guard positions.
Additionally, KU will hope for an improvement from Frank Mason in his sophomore season. He showed a few helpful tools, namely his ability to get into the paint and collapse an opposing defense. He also seemed to do a decent job on the defensive end, but again that might have been from comparing him to Tharpe. Hopefully things that he improves on in the offseason are his shooting, finishing ability, and finding teammates on drives.
Finally, this opens the door for KU to potentially land 6'2 point guard Devonte Graham. Graham was not that highly regarded by professional evaluators when he committed to Appalachian State, but recently has been getting some attention due to a strong senior prep season. Graham had narrowed his list to Kansas and N.C. State even before this news. It's unclear how impactful of a player Graham will be, but it couldn't hurt to add a little bit more point guard depth.
I'm sure many of you will disagree with me (hi Fetch), but I'm fairly convinced that Tharpe, overall, was a net-negative for Kansas, and I think his departure opens up the door for better point guard play in the future on both ends of the floor.
Needless to say, I think Kansas will be very good next year. Missing out on 6'11 Myles Turner means KU will likely have to play freshman Cliff Alexander at the five spot. This isn't quite ideal, as Alexander has consistently measured at 6'8 with shoes on. Physically, Cliff is almost exactly the same height, weight and length of former Jayhawk Thomas Robinson. Rebounding shouldn't be an issue at all, but it remains to be seen how KU will play when they face a lot of size. Then again, I think I remember KU winning a championship with Darrell Arthur as the primary center, who is only half an inch taller than Alexander.
Looking forward to talking a bit more basketball with you guys over the offseason. Dreading the long wait until Late Night. On a personal note, I'll be leaving to abroad in Italy in two weeks, so don't expect posts from me in late May to June.
You can follow me on Twitter @TJFsports.