We have (mercifully) made it to the end of the countdown. I said when we hit the starting lineup that anyone 1 through 5 could be interchangeable, and while I stand by it I do think Graham should be ranked 1st due to his offense and defense.
Offensively, Graham led the Big 12 last season with a 61.9 percent effective field goal percentage in conference games, and was 2nd in true shooting percentage at at 64.4 percent. Graham also was second in 3-point percentage at just under 46 percent.
There are some things to be cautious about with his offense, however. For starters, his shot percentage was just 17.2 percent in conference games (meaning he attempted 17.2 percent of the team’s shots while he was playing). I have the same type of concerns with him maintaining that efficiency as I do with Monte Morris, especially with the fact that he will no doubt be a bigger part of the opposing coaches’ scouting reports.
Secondly, Graham had a higher turnover rate than assist rate in conference play, and while he doesn’t serve as the team’s point guard, you’d still like to see some more assists and fewer turnovers from him (especially considering he started his career taking care of the ball so well).
Defensively, Graham is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He’s quick enough to stick with smaller guys, long enough to bother shooters, and strong enough to run through screens. To illustrate, here is him guarding Buddy Hield surprisingly well in KU’s February 13th win over OU in which Hield was 0-4 from two, 5-11 from three, and had 4 turnovers:
First, Graham sticks with Hield and almost forces a turnover, then forces Hield to take a very tough shot from the midrange (with some help from Perry Ellis):
Next he follows Hield through screens, doesn’t let him get the shot off, forces him to give it up, and eventually Kansas forces a turnover:
I won’t link them all here because they weren’t terribly notable, but in the Kansas-Kentucky game last year Graham guarded Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, and Alex Poythress on back to back to back possessions. That’s a 5-9 PG, a 6-4 SG, and a 6-7 SF. And he guarded them all well.
The other thing I noticed about Graham is he is always in the right spot off the ball. The only thing he does a little too much for my liking is help off shooters, but that seems to be a teamwide thing so maybe it is one of Self’s philosophies. Other than that, though, Graham is impeccable off the ball, and he’s really good at getting his teammates into the right spots defensively as well.
I have questions as to whether Graham is going to be as efficient scoring as he was last year, but with the driving abilities of Frank Mason and Josh Jackson, the hope is he will have quite a few open threes.
What makes Graham most valuable, however, is his play on both ends of the floor, and that he barely needs a rest. He played in over 80 percent of KU’s Big 12 minutes last season, is probably the best perimeter defender in the league, and had the best effective field goal percentage in the league. Add it up and you have the top ranked player in the rotation.