At this point it is safe to say Bill Self has a type of player he prefers to recruit and play: combo guards, lots of big men, and lots of energy. Still, no team is alike, especially in this era when so many recruits are coming and going year in and year out.
This year’s team figures to be pretty unique, but does have some striking similarities to teams of the recent past:
Frank Mason and Devonte Graham are both what you’d consider combo guards, and both probably more adept at being scoring guards vs. “true” point guards. (although everyone knows how much I hate that term). Mason attempted 357 shots last year and Graham took 313, 3rd and 4th on the team. But recall that Graham didn’t really break out as a scorer and heavy contributor until the conference season. He was still fourth on the team in attempts, but the gap narrowed (also recall that Graham led the league in effective field goal percentage and was 2nd in true shooting percentage).
Meanwhile, the duo ranked just 12th and 15th in assist rate, and Graham actually had a higher turnover rate than assist rate.
Unfortunately I don’t have conference stats for either of these years (RIP Statsheet) but the two years that jumped out at me were 2012 and 2008. In 2012, Tyshawn Taylor ranked 2nd on the team in field goal attempts, and Elijah Johnson ranked 3rd. They were actually both more efficient than you probably remember (Elijah shot 56 percent on twos as a point guard), but Tyshawn probably had too high of an assist rate (29 percent) for this backcourt to qualify.
2008 for me is the winner. Although he’s remembered as a steady point guard, Russ Robinson actually had a higher turnover rate than assist rate in his senior year, and he attempted 110 threes, which ranked 3rd on the team. Mario Chalmers, meanwhile, was more of a scorer, and was 3rd on the team in overall shots attempted. He also was an incredibly efficient shooter, ranking 26th nationally in eFG, shooting 56 percent from two and 47 percent from three. The other thing these two have in common is ballhawking defense. Mason and Graham is probably the team’s best defensive backcourt since Robinson and Chalmers.
Kansas will feature a possible #1 overall pick and two potential future draftees. Svi Mykhailiuk is actually still younger than Josh Jackson, and Lagerald Vick is my this year’s bandwagon pick, following in the footsteps of Landen Lucas, Naadir Tharpe (who I still have to defend despite his great offensive numbers as a junior) and Jeff Withey.
The Jackson/Andrew Wiggins comparisons have already been flying, and deserve a closer look in the future, but for now I will just say I think they’re close enough to go with it. Now let’s find Svi and Vick comps.
Mykhailiuk is a versatile guard/forward who has struggled with his efficiency inside and outside the arc, but shot 38.3 percent in D1 games last season (and 40.2 percent in all games). I think he will be a better pro than a college player, simply because his ability to play the 1, 2, and 3 will be a bonus, as will his ability in the pick and roll. He won’t be asked to be the main scorer, meaning his inefficiency inside the arc won’t be as big of a problem either. Defensively Svi is pretty versatile as well, and I actually think he could be one of the better on ball defenders on the team. However, his off ball defense is still problematically bad, which might hurt his playing time.
Vick, meanwhile, is an uber athlete. He played sparingly last year, and shot 3-5 on twos and 8-15 on threes (the sample size renders this meaningless, but he did shoot well in the World University Games as well). Vick also has the ability to develop into an elite defender and did well in scrimmages this summer. Of course, it is all academic until it happens in a real game in meaningful minutes. At this time, a reasonable comparison might be a more athletic Travis Releford. Releford became one of the better perimeter defenders in recent KU history and was 8th nationally in eFG as a senior, although he rarely shot. I have also heard some Ben McLemore, but I think Vick will be a better defender and more versatile scorer.
As for who this team represents, I think 2014 is probably the best bet. You have the Jackson/Wiggins comp right there, and I think Vick can be a little Wayne Seldeny in that Selden was a good athlete and good defender when he wasn’t hampered by injuries, and I think Vick could be Selden’s equal (or superior) from deep. As for Svi, Kansas hasn’t had a lot of 6-8 guys whose best position might be the 1, so I am not even going to try.
One of these is very obvious, and we will cover it more later: Carlton Bragg is Perry Ellis. He needs to get a lot better defensively to be his equal there, but offensively he already has a similar style of play and statistically they were virtually equal last year (from a rate standpoint of course).
I have already compared Mitch Lightfoot to Kevin Young, and I will stick with it. Again, it is tough to know until he gets playing time in legitimate games, but he looks like an energy guy who can be a capable passer out of the high post and will try to dunk everything in sight.
Dwight Coleby, believe it or not, has gotten some Thomas Robinson comparisons. Most of that is body type, but Coleby did put up some impressive rate stats as a sophomore for Mississippi. Coleby ranked 7th in the SEC in offensive rating, 7th in offensive rebounding, 9th in defensive rebounding, 6th in block percentage, and he also shot 50.7 percent on twos. Maybe the best comp, statistically, is to Landen Lucas.
Lucas, meanwhile, is a bit of an enigma in his own right. There aren’t a lot of guys his size who are elite post defenders, although it is worth noting the 2008 title team was basically built on the backs of them. Lucas doesn’t have the most advanced offensive game, but did still manage to shoot 63 percent on twos. Darnell Jackson, by the way, also shot 63 percent on twos as a senior. Lucas is a much better rebounder than Jackson though, and is the best returning rebounder in the Big 12 and maybe in all of major conference basketball. I will stick with Jackson, although I think some hybrid of all of the 2008 big men is perhaps most appropriate.
Udoka Azubuike is like Svi in that I can’t really remember anyone like him. At 6-11.5 with a 7-5 wingspan, and at 260ish lbs, Azubuike is a grown ass man. Oh and he’s only just turned 17. I’m certainly not comparing them skills wise, but physique wise he is basically a thicker, stronger Joel Embiid. (college version, not the pro version that has basically turned into a superhero). Game wise, Azubuike has struggled against older, more experienced big men who have a bit more functional strength and are also a bit quicker. Maybe a good comp would be freshman year Cole Aldrich, in that Azubuike figures to be a good rebounder and rim protector, but probably won’t be able to get up and down the floor well or do much more than dunk offensively.
If you’ve kept track, you’ve noticed the backcourt and front court have drawn a lot of comparisons to 2012 and 2008, KU’s last two final four teams. The wings don’t quite have that, but the 2014 team was maybe the most talented one Kansas has had in a long time. Although they will be a bit thin up front, the pieces are certainly there for Kansas to have a similarly special run in 2017.