If you didn’t already know, at this point you should be clued in that Kansas has a ton of talent, given that a preseason All Big 12 performer is ranked 4th on his own team (in this countdown, anyway). At this point, I don’t think I have been right about Mason yet. I wasn’t impressed with him as a freshman, then he went out and had an all league caliber season as a sophomore. Then I thought he would be Big 12 player of the year (or at least a candidate), and he struggled a bit during the conference season.
At this point, the positives and negatives about Mason are pretty obvious. He has turned himself into a good knock down shooter, making 38 percent of his threes last year and 39 percent for his career. He’s also increased his volume from 55 as a freshman to 110 as a junior. He’s also exceptional at getting to the free throw line: his 5.4 fouls drawn per 40 minutes was 9th in the league, and his free throw rate was 3rd in the league last year. And this is all with him being listed at 5-11 but actually probably about 5-9 and with him not getting some calls he definitely should. Mason also has a pretty low turnover rate, especially for a guy who knifes into the teeth of the defense as much as he does, with turnover rates of 15.2 percent and 16.9 percent the last two seasons.
What Mason isn’t is a traditional pass first point guard. While I dislike the terminology “true” point guard, I can appreciate the need for a point guard to pass the ball effectively. Mason’s assist rates have been 23.8 percent and 20.3 percent in Big 12 play the last two seasons, which is definitely on the low side for a player who can break the defense down as effectively as he can. Mason also really struggles to finish inside. He shot just under 45 percent on twos last season (which honestly is fine for a guy taking as many shots as he does, but not so fine when you have more efficient guys around you), and via Hoop-Math.com he has shot 49.7 percent and 48 percent at the rim the last two years, which is pretty terrible. For comparison’s sake, Prairie View A&M was 2nd worst in the nation last year in FG% at the rim at 49.5 percent. Mason has also consistently turned it over more and shot worse from two against teams classified as Tier A in KenPom (top 50 opponents adjusted for game location). However I think this is due moreso to things tending to break down more against top teams and Mason being the guy to try to rescue them rather than him being not good enough.
The biggest Mason complaint comes down to when the offense stagnates, he drives into the teeth of the defense and tries to score over a ton of big guys. That doesn’t work against good defenses, and it doesn’t even work against bad defenses. See Ames last season when Mason had just 3 assists and 6 turnovers due to constantly driving into the middle without a plan. He certainly could be deadly as a drive and kick point guard, but at this point he is who he is and that skill doesn’t seem to be in his repertoire.
Defensively, Mason is a very good perimeter defender. He gets up into guys probably even better than Devonte Graham does, and constantly harrasses opposing point guards. He doesn’t get a ton of steals, but he knocks opposing PGs off their path so often it doesn’t matter given how much that messes up a college offense. He probably won’t land on the all defensive team given how much voters like steals, but he absolutely should be a candidate (which, by the way, is very impressive given how much he struggled defensively early in his career).
The last thing about Mason is just how much he plays. He played in right around 84 percent of KU’s Big 12 minutes the last two seasons, which is an insane number, especially considering he’s not exactly standing around in the corner on offense. He runs the show on both ends, and is definitely the guy Bill Self leans on and definitely the guy who is tasked with creating something when things are going poorly or when the shot clock is running down. Given that, his efficiency is probably a tick or two lower than it would otherwise be and he’s probably underrated by this ranking.