Now that the story of the 2014-15 Kansas Jayhawks has concluded, we can take a step back and look at how the team performed through a bit more objective lens. With that in mind, today and tomorrow we'll take a look at each player on the team, how they did this year, and what the expectations are for next year. Today we'll focus on the reserve players, and tomorrow we'll take an in-depth look at the starting five.
Cliff Alexander (Fr)
Though Cliff eventually won the starting center spot, it didn't last long, as he only started in six games before Bill Self stopped playing him due to eligibility concerns. For that reason, I've included him as a bench player.
This season: Cliff Alexander probably generated as much controversy between Kansas fans as any player since the great Tyshawn vs Elijah debate in 2011. He came in with a lot of fanfare, and showed flashes of his ability as early as the team's first exhibition game. For reasons never made public, however, Cliff struggled to earn minutes as the season went along. This generated a lot of controversy as it became clear the Alexander was talented in areas where the team was lacking, namely post scoring and defensive rebounding. The controversy reached a fever pitch just before allegations of impermissible benefits took the playing time decision out of Bill Self's hands, with members of local and national media alike roasting Self for his handling of the young star player.
In the 28 games in which Cliff Alexander appeared, he scored 16 points per 40 minutes, with a 13.2% offensive rebounding rate and team high 19.9% defensive rebounding rate. He was also the best rim protector on the team not named Hunter Mickelson, blocking 7.7% of shots taken while he was on the floor. Though his turnover rate grew as the season went on, his still finished the year with an impressive 113.9 oRtg. It's easy to see why so many were clamoring to get him onto the floor more, but there were questions about his work rate and post defense, and his team-worst 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes didn't help matters any. In the end, Cliff was forced to sit for off-the-court reasons and the hysteria died down. While opinions on Cliff remain split, there's no doubt his presence over the team's final eight games could certainly have given the team a boost down the stretch.
Next season: Given the eligibility concerns and an overall feeling that Cliff didn't really enjoy his freshman year at Kansas, most do not expect him to return next year. If he does, he's certainly a top contender for a starting job, and given the numbers he was able to post this year, he could certainly be a beast down low. For now though, it's best to hold off on discussions that involve Cliff suiting up for Kansas again.
Devonte Graham (Fr)
This season: Graham immediately solidified himself as a contributor on the team, playing in seven of the team's first eight games before injuring his toe against Georgetown. He was sidelined for the next six games, but was a consistent presence off the bench in every game after his return. Graham showed his upside on multiple occasions, showcasing a respectable jump shot and very strong assist rate for a freshman (23%). For the first part of conference play he went on a tear where he dished out a ridiculous 28 assists to just 3 TOs across eight games, but his freshman started to show in the back half of the schedule, posting a 26:23 ratio the rest of the way.
Still, it was plain to see down the stretch that Self began to trust Graham with the ball more and more, even having him initiate the offense at times while Mason played off the ball. Graham's play ended up being fairly erratic overall, demonstrating flashes of great quickness and playmaking ability, balanced out by a maddening penchant for pull up two point jumpers and drives to the basket with no particular plan in mind. With Graham being just a freshman, it's important to remember that those frustrating moments should subside as the positives flourish.
Next season: Graham is unlikely to supplant Frank Mason as the starting point guard, but his role as the first guard off the bench should continue to grow. Self clearly showed that he's comfortable playing Mason and Graham together, and next year I expect to see that even more when Wayne Selden is having an off night. Mason and Graham will give Kansas a 1-2 punch at the point that no other team in the Big 12 can match. If Graham can learn to better use his quickness to get to the rim and ease up on the mid range jumpers, there may be very little drop off in production when Mason needs a break next season.
Brannen Greene (Soph)
This season: I found myself rooting as hard for Greene as I have for any individual Jayhawk in recent years, especially during his late season shooting slump. Greene has a very laid back demeanor on the court, but you could tell the lack of shooting success was wearing on him. Despite the struggles in February in March, Greene would end up shooting 40% behind the arc for the season, shooting 73% of his total shots from there. Greene helped out in a few other ways too, knocking down 92% of his free throw attempts, and posting an impressive 16% defensive rebounding rate.
Still, Greene needs to hit shots to see significant playing time. While he wasn't the ghost he was on the defensive end his freshman year, he can't be counted on to do much more than generally stay in front of his man. Given his alarming lack of a handle and inability to get to the rim, his three point shooting is the key to his success.
Next season: I expect Green to see a very similar role to what he played this year. If his shot is on, he commands constant attention from an opposing defender, which opens things up for the offense, and I think that was a big reason why Kansas' offensive peaks and valleys seemed to coincide with Greene's shooting streaks and slumps. If he can avoid the prolonged dip in three point shooting he saw over the last month of this season, and improve just a little bit as a defender, I have no problem with him playing as many or more minutes than he did this year (36.3 min%, 15 MPG). It's probably pretty likely too, as Oubre is probably gone and as of now, it will be up to him and Svi to fill that void.
Hunter Mickelson (Jr)
This season: Mickelson was an afterthought for much of the year, thrust into some meaningful late playing time by the Cliff Alexander situation. Mickelson was able to do some positive things here and there, but given the total lack of front court depth down the stretch, it speaks volumes to note that Mickelson still averaged less than five minutes per contest over the last five games (without playing a single minute against Wichita State).
Mickelson's block% of 14.6% would have been third in the nation had he played enough to qualify, and his performance at Arkansas suggests that that number is not a fluke. However, Mickelson just couldn't provide much to go along with the rim protection, and it resulted in a minimal role on the team. His defensive rebounding numbers were nothing special for a player his size, and he posed almost no scoring threat. Basically, his role this year can be described as "emergency backup."
Next season: If Hunter struggled to find minutes with Cliff Alexander in street clothes and Perry Ellis limited by a knee injury, it's hard to see him commanding a meaningful role on next year's team. He'll be battling Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor for minutes again, plus it's entirely possible that Kansas will still bring in a blue chip big man for next year. There's still some hope among some fans that Hunter will go through a Withey-esque transformation this offseason, but this was Mickelson's second year in the program and he only has one left. Consider me a doubter.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Fr)
This season: Svi earned himself some starts early on, but Kelly Oubre's emergence, paired with Svi's youth (he's still only 17), forced him to the back of the bench for the remainder of the year. Svi has shown in international competition that he has a great shooting stroke, but it never materialized in his freshman campaign, as he shot just 15-52 (29%) from behind the arc. It never seemed to affect his confidence though, as he continued to fire when given an open look. His history says those shots will start to fall next year, and it will be important that they do.
Svi is billed as a smart player, good ball handler and great passer, but we'll have to wait until fall to really see what he can do. His numbers in limited this minutes don't paint a good picture in any facet of the game, but again, Svi was 17, new to the country, and didn't seem physically prepared to play in the Big 12 this year. At this point, it's probably best just give him an "incomplete" for this season.
Next season: There is still recruiting to be done, but as of now the starting 3 spot is a battle between Svi and Brannen Greene. Greene has pretty well solidified himself as a role player, so Svi's offseason development will be very important to the team. If Svi gets to where he needs to be physically and his shot returns, he should be ready to start next year. Still, this year didn't provide any solid evidence that he'll be a great college player by next winter. I remain hopeful, but I'm in wait-and-see mode with Svi and I won't be surprised if Self makes a very strong push for a Jalen Brown or Brandon Ingram down the stretch to shore up the small forward position.
Jamari Traylor (Jr)
This season: It's hard not to feel like Mari took a step back this year. He seemed to have slimmed down from his sophomore year, which isn't necessarily a good thing given that he frequently gives up some height in the post. His defensive rebounding, offensive rebounding, turnovers, shooting and scoring all declined from his sophomore season, so there's some reason for concern.
Jamari started more games at center than anyone else this year, but never really seemed to find a role on the court. The one thing that continued to earn him minutes was his effort level. It can't be quantified, but Traylor found himself diving on the floor, sacrificing himself for missed balls more often than anyone else on the team, and as a result he played in about half the team's minutes. He was also arguably the best post defender on the team, though his awful defensive rebounding numbers are still troublesome.
Next season: If Traylor starts half of Kansas' games at center again next year, it will be a problem. Traylor's defense and grit make him a fine big to bring in off the bench, but his offensive game and lack of rebounding just aren't where they need to be for his position. Fortunately, my guess is that Landen Lucas (or a big that hasn't committed yet) will be the starter next year, and Jamari can go back to being an energy guy and defensive specialist.
Check back tomorrow for my postseason reviews of the starting five.
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