Yesterday, we looked back at how the season went for the Kansas bench players, and what their role on the team looks to be for next year. Today, we do the same, but with the magnifying glass on the starting five.
Perry Ellis (Jr)
This season: Were it not for an injury in the first half of the game against West Virginia on March 3rd, Perry Ellis would likely have been battling Buddy Hield head-to-head with Big 12 Player of the Year on the line in KU's Big 12 finale. Instead, the injury would end up keeping him out the next two games, and hampering him in the last four. Still, it was an impressive junior campaign for Ellis, who posted a 110.5 oRtg in conference play while shooting 50% from the field and scoring 20 points per 40 minutes. He maintained a low turnover rate for a big man and while he's not a dominant rebounder or defender, he held his own in both categories.
Perry was asked to shoulder the load on this team in terms of post scoring, and looking at the year overall, he had mixed results. The first half of the season saw the more tentative version of Perry fans have groaned about off and on throughout his Kansas career. At some point during Big 12 play, something ended up clicking for him, and he became far more aggressive, rattling off 18 or more points in five straight games before getting hurt against the Mountaineers.
Next season: If the Perry Ellis we saw just before the knee injury comes back next year, he'll be a household name by the end of the season. Ellis has been asked about the possibility of going pro this year, but I haven't been able to find any projections that even make him a solid second round pick, so I would be shocked if that comes to pass.
Ellis will be guaranteed not only a starting spot next year, but another prominent role in the offense. Ellis is never going to be a rebounding machine or lockdown defender in the post, but we saw this year that he's respectable in both facets of the game. The wild card is his offense. If the inconsistent Perry who can be gameplanned out of the offense is truly gone, he could be an All-American next year.
Landen Lucas (Soph)
This season: Lucas ended up starting 14 games at center this year, including the last six. Most fans would probably agree that no player showed as much improvement during the course of the season than Lucas. Early on, Lucas was a turnover machine, averaging one for every 8 minutes played over his first nine games. During that span he was also a fouling machine, and offered little on the court other than rebounding. After that point, Lucas saw his minutes drop, even failing to register a minute in four of the next 12 games.
In the middle of conference play, however, things started coming together for Lucas. After a strong performance against Iowa State in Lawrence, he would see double digit minutes in all but one of his remaining games. His offense improved (he had four games in which he posted an oRtg over 150!), the turnovers became less prevalent, and he even started blocking some shots. By the end of the year, Lucas had gone from battling Hunter Mickelson for the title of "last big off the bench" to solidly locking down the center spot after Cliff Alexander stopped playing.
Next season: Despite the rapid improvement, Lucas' outlook for 2016 depends largely on recruiting. Lucas does some things very well, but he still has some athletic limitations that could cause his minutes to drop if Bill Self lands one or two blue chip big men, such as Cheick Diallo, Stephen Zimmerman or Thon Maker. Lucas' experience may allow him to hold on to his starting job, but as long as at least one of the aforementioned recruits joins Carlton Bragg on the team, he's unlikely to see the kind of minutes he got in the depleted front court this March.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Lucas has made strides, but he's not a dominant force that demands 25-30 minutes per night. I think he has a good chance of being the starter in the first game next fall, but I also won't be surprised if he's sharing minutes pretty evenly with a few other players.
Frank Mason (Soph)
This season: While Lucas made the most strides during the season, there's little doubt that Mason improved the most in the offseason. Mason saw meaningful mintues as a freshman, but frustrated fans with his tendency to barrel into the lane without a good idea of what to do when he got there. Last fall, Bill Self raved about the improvement Mason had shown, and Connor Frankamp's abrupt departure from the team seemed to solidify that Frank Mason was the clear frontrunner for the starting point guard spot. He did not disappoint.
Mason put the team on his back from the start, carrying a significant load on both sides of the ball. Mason rattled off a streak of 21 consecutive double-digit scoring performances, while maintaining an 111.5 oRtg, and shooting 43% from three point range. He also distributed the ball well, posting a 24.7% assist rate, while limiting his turnovers to a manageable 17.9% rate. He also turned into an above average defender, rarely getting beaten off the dribble and showing a knack for fighting through screens on the perimeter. All in all, he's right up there with Perry Ellis if you're naming a team MVP.
Next season: With Devonte Graham earning more trust from Self as the year went on, Mason will probably get more chances to rest next year, but aside from that his role is unlikely to change. The team needs his unique ability to get into the lane, and Mason was an underrated part of Kansas' 3 point shooting improvement. It's probably too early to put him in the same category as Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor, but Mason looks like the next great, if occasionally frustrating, Kansas point guard.
Kelly Oubre (Fr)
This season: The word "bust" was thrown around more than once in reference to Oubre early this year. He averaged only just over 9 minutes per game across his first seven, scoring just 15 total points in the process. His shooting stroke looked awful, and he had a tendency to pick up quick fouls. Oubre quickly picked things up, however, and became a vital part of the team in a very short time.
Oubre rode a hot shooting hand (which was not entirely representative of his outside shot, which is pretty average) to some great offensive success in late December, racking up double digit point totals in 7 of 9 games at one point, shooting 43% from outside during that time. The three point shooting dried up, but Oubre was able to improve in getting to the rim. Throughout this time, he emerged as a terrific defensive rebounder from the wing (19.2% dReb%), and at times an excellent perimeter defender (though with a tendency to get lost here and there).
Next season: Oubre is generally projected to be a lottery pick in this year's draft, and at this point should be considered a long shot to return.
Wayne Selden (Soph)
This season: Kansas always has to have a controversial guard, it seems. Selden has a unique ability to look dominant at times, but balances it with frustrating decisions and poor shot selection. Selden somehow shot just under 40% on two pointers this season, making only half his attempts at the rim (per hoop-math). He shot just 31.5% on two point jumpers, which is what really tanked his shooting numbers. He did manage to shoot a solid 36.5% from three point range, though that is bolstered by a four game stretch where he hit 16 of 25 (64%).
To illustrate Selden's inconsistency, consider the last eleven games of the season for Selden. In all but two, he failed to score more than 7 points. The other two were back-to-back 20+ point performances in the Big 12 tournament, where he likely would be have been the MVP had Kansas beaten Iowa State in the final. Selden can occasionally make it apparent why he was once considered a lottery pick: he has a next-level frame, works hard on the floor, plays good on-ball defense and can shoot the lights out at times. But because he is so prone to off nights, poor decision making and hero ball, he has struggled to endear himself to fans.
Next season: Selden's physical attributes might earn him a second round pick if he were to declare for the draft, but if he didn't do so last year when his stock was higher, there's little reason to believe he would jump now. Self clearly likes having him on the floor, and with no incoming additions to the team at shooting guard as of now, he will likely be playing big minutes again next year.