Last week we introduced the third season of ranking the Kansas rotation players. For a brief intro on my theories on how to rank the players, as well as the first three guys on the list, you can hit the link here. Today we have our second group of three, and the reason why I broke the list down into groups of three rather than groups of four. The three guys will all be fighting for the lion's share of the bench big man minutes, unless Cheick Diallo does not get cleared, in which case one of these guys could be starting quite a few games for the Jayhawks this season.
9. Hunter Mickelson, Sr Forward
8. Landen Lucas, Jr Forward
Mickelson had himself a coming out party in the World University Games, averaging 8.4 points and 4.9 rebounds in about 17 minutes per game. Mickelson also had nine blocked shots in the eight games of the tournament. On a per game basis those numbers aren't great, but Mickelson had the fourth highest scoring average on the team (and played the fifth most minutes) as Self mostly spread out the playing time thanks to a couple of blowout victories. Mickelson's play certainly was encouraging, but can he carry it over to the college season?
One reason he's ranked lower than Landen Lucas here is that the international game suits Mickelson's skills a lot more than Lucas's. The lower shotclock means there is less room for a guy whose role is basically to screen, and screen again, and screen again, and screen again, which is one of Lucas's strengths. Lucas is also a better passer than Mickelson, which will be useful if teams employ a zone defense against the Jayhawks as much as they did two years ago (however, I doubt that will happen often given the outside shooting ability on the team).
Mickelson runs the floor better than Lucas and has better hands, but that's yet to transition into much of a back to the basket game. Mickelson would likely be the choice to back up Perry Ellis because he can do some of the same things offensively, but he's certainly not a guy to run your offense through.
One thing Mickelson does extremely well however is block shots. His block percentage of 14.6 percent last season far and away led the team and would have ranked third in the nation if he had enough minutes to qualify. That's not totally fair, obviously, because Mickelson barely played and when he did it was mostly in garbage time against guys whose shots he was more likely to block. Still, he was good for basically a blocked shot per appearance he made on the floor, and I think it's worth seeing if he could be a poor man's Jeff Withey on defense before sending him to the end of the bench once again.
Lucas, meanwhile, offers a lot more rebounding, as he was second to only Cliff Alexander in offensive and defensive rebounding (why didn't he play a ton again?) among rotation players last season. Given Traylor's complete inability to rebound, and Ellis's relative weakness in that area, Lucas would bring some much needed power on the glass. It's also worth noting Lucas excels at the little things. He is the best screener on the team, and he is a great post defender both before and after the catch. He is not a great shot blocker, and some of his defensive scoresheet numbers were poor last season, but I did a rewatch of the game vs Baylor at home and Lucas routinely forced his man into extremely tough shots that just so happened to go down. The offense ran smoothly with him in despite his lack of polish on that end (though it's worth noting he still shot 53 percent on twos, second to, again, Cliff Alexander), and his awareness and rebounding defensively make him a valuable player, even if his per game numbers won't always reflect that.
I do prefer Lucas, but if Mickelson can protect the rim like he did last season in extended minutes, and provide enough value elsewhere, he might be worth playing over Lucas. Still, this is a case where both bring different things to the table, and as such, context is going to ultimately determine who should be in the game.
7. Carlton Bragg, Fr Forward
Bragg is a rare commodity these days: a McDonald's All-American who both seems to be an afterthought and a lock to be a guy who stays for multiple years and becomes a star. Bragg did not get a ton of playing time in Korea, or in the McDonalds game for that matter, but he flashed the skills that should leave Kansas fans extremely excited.
Bragg right now looks like a guy whose role might be a bit undefined. Bill Self has compared his skills to Marcus Morris, but it will be interesting to see if Bragg can match Morris' freshman production as a freshman. In the 2009 season, Morris played in almost 20 minutes per game, shot 50 percent on twos, 40 percent on threes (though in just 15 attempts) and was a very good offensive rebounder. With all of the depth on the roster this season, Bragg might not get as much of a chance to show what he can do, but his upside certainly appears to be tremendous. Here's what DraftExpress had to say about Bragg two years ago:
-Very strong frame for his age. Long arms. Big hands. Solid athlete
-Good shooting mechanics from the perimeter
-Very effective in transition
-Loves to play above the rim
-Physical player. Has a bit of a mean streak
-Excellent potential defensively with his strong frame and long arms
-Good timing as a shot-blocker
-Doesn't have any real concept of how to operate in a half-court setting
-Shot-selection, decision making is poor
-Regularly settles for tough, off balance jumpers
-Average ball-handler. Cannot create his own shot
-No left hand
-Doesn't use his mature frame to his advantage inside the post
-Poor fundamentals on defense. Doesn't get into a stance. Doesn't put much effort in
Outlook: Physically mature forward somewhat stuck between positions. Likes to play on the perimeter but doesn't have the skill-set to do much besides shooting jumpers. Needs to do a better job of channeling his energy and focus.
We will see what happens this season, but those weaknesses are certainly things that a college coach can help with tremendously. Will how well the Jayhawks have developed post players, Bragg could develop into a nice inside/outside piece. I'm putting him 7th on this list mostly due to his ceiling, but don't be surprised if he is behind Lucas and Mickelson in the rotation for much of the season.