One of the most important traits of being a successful college basketball coach is the ability to develop and evolve the talent of the team's roster. While this same trait can be easily overlooked in the One-and-Done age of college basketball, Bill Self would not have 2 trips to the Final 4 or a National Championship without the ability to mature the skills of those such as Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, Travis Releford, Thomas Robinson, Kevin Young, Jeff Withey.
In this new series, I will take a look at the current Kansas roster in hopes of identifying how these players have evolved over the course of their time in Lawrence.
Frank Mason is the first Jayhawk on our list, and maybe the toughest in terms of judging his evolvement over the course of his first 2 years at KU. Statistically speaking, at least on a per game basis, Mason has undoubtedly improved:
However, when you dig into some of the more nuanced stats that we are provided with in this age of over-analysis, some interesting trends pop out which contribute to the reasons he can be such an exciting but frustrating player to watch.
Frank is often described as a "pitbull," known for his toughness, fearlessness and willingness to sacrifice his body to get into the paint, get to the line, and as Uncle Drew would say, "get buckets." During the 2014-2015 season, Frank was often depended on to jump-start a stagnant offense that didn't have the luxury of a go-to wing such as Andrew Wiggins or big time post player such as Thomas Robinson or Morris twin. Frank did a commendable job in carrying that offense through extended stretches, but his tendency to drive into the heart of the defense and take on opponents who were a foot taller than him proved to be an unsustainable strategy. While Frank may have been playing the penetration card too much during his freshman and sophomore seasons, it didn't mean that he hadn't improved the other areas of his game. Instead, Frankly simply wasn't utilizing other skills such as his 3-point shot and ability to distribute and assist with the basketball.
It takes 5 minutes of action to realize that Frank Mason makes his living by getting to the hoop. However, Mason has become too reliant on his ability to get to the hoop, and does not recognize his ability to shoot the ball from distance. In a sense, he absolutely has improved, but he has not recognized the specific areas in which he has made strides. His 2 point attempts more than doubled from his freshman to sophomore season, while his FG% on those shots declined. He was taking more of the shots he didn't make.
Frank was taking more 3s during his second season, but that is to be expected given his minutes more than doubled. Frank's toughness cannot be questioned, and his jumper has certainly improved, but apparently he has not realized it. If he is only shooting ~45% from 2 and ~43% from 3, it is obvious that the 3-ball is the more efficient shot. While the attempted layup's efficiency is improved due to the fact that it can send Frank to the line, when the refs are letting them play (which will happen less and less because of the new rules), Frank's game really suffers and becomes 1-dimensional. As we saw last year when it got deeper into conference play and later in games, refs have a tendency to swallow their whistles, which will really hurt Frank in late-game situations. To simplify the 2-vs-3-pt shot argument as it applies to Frank, ask yourself: with 5 seconds on the shot clock and Frank with the ball at the top of the key, would you rather have him pull up for 3 on a man his size, or drive the lane and put up an off balance 2 against at least 1 defender who is a foot taller?
To the casual observer, it may appear that Frank's over-reliance on penetration is a way to make up for his inability to distribute the basketball effectively. Simply put, that assumption is misguided, as Frank finished 5th in assists per game in the Big 12 during the 2014-15 season on a team that did not shoot the ball particularly well. Furthermore, Frank's AST/TO ratio was a respectable 1.85. Not great, but again, not awful for an undersized guard running an offensively challenged team for the first time. Looking ahead to the rest of the season, with the shooters that Frank has around him, another year of Perry Ellis' improvement, the addition of frontcourt players Carlton Bragg and Chieck Diallo, Frank should look to become more of a pass-first guard.
The Kansas offense has not looked any smoother this year than that 1st half versus UCLA and one of the reasons for that was Frank Mason's distribution, and the fact that he was not forcing any shots. In that first half, Frank ended up with 8 points, 7 assists and 0 turnovers on only 3 shots. The ‘Hawks shot 57.6% and ran their fellow blueblood UCLA Bruins out of the gym. It wasn't overly noticeable, but Frank dominated that half by controlling tempo and getting the ball into the hands of his teammates, versus getting into trouble in the lane against a sizeable UCLA front line. Now, let's compare that 1st half to the 1st half of the Vanderbilt game. Frank went 1-7 from the floor, and the Jayhawks shot 32.3% from the floor.
The great discrepancy between these two halves, and between shoot-first versus pass-first Frank got me thinking - how does Frank perform when he looks to score compared to when he looks to pass? The results are telling...
In 76 games in Crimson & Blue, Frank averages 3.2 assists. However, when Frank is in a giving mood and averages 4 assists or more per game, his individual scoring statistics are significantly higher than when Frank has 3 assists or less. More importantly, Kansas' record when Frank racks up 4 or more dimes, 28-3. In games when Frank doesn't reach the 4 assist watermark, 28-17....
As for the rest of Frank's game, it is solid. He is an excellent rebounder for his size - if the rest of the team rebounded like him, it would be a welcome sight. However, his assists and turnovers are basically the same between his freshman and sophomore season, when scaling it to a Per 40 minutes or Per 100 Possessions timeframe.
Per 40 Minutes:
Per 100 Possessions:
Overall, Frank has become a better player and better shooter, but again, has not realized that other parts of his game have rounded into form. Frank has proven time and time again that he can carry his teammates with his scoring, and unfortunately, he will probably have to do that a few more times in his career. However, once Frank learns that he is in fact more effective when he's not looking for his own shot, he, and his team, will realize the expectations that this demanding fan base has placed upon them.