It’s that time of year again. Despite the #KU50 countdown, we still need to get some preseason predictions on the record. Last year, your fearless leader was one of the few to see Baylor’s season coming, but I also had Frank Mason on the second team, so win some, lose some.
This season, like always seemingly, there are a glut of players who could make the first team, and some really good ones are going to be left off even the second team. Let’s get to it.
Player of the Year - Devonte Graham, Senior Guard, Kansas
Graham posted an offensive rating of nearly 121 last season, and upped both his usage rate and shots taken. He only took about a fifth of the shots when he was playing, and given how often those minutes were with Frank Mason, expect that number to take a huge jump. He shot 242 threes last year and made 39 percent of them, which is one of the more impressive long range shooting seasons in a KU uniform. Graham lowered his turnover rate to right around 15 percent in league play last year, which is quite low, while maintaining a mid 20s assist rate. With the ball in his hands more, that assist rate is going to shoot up. If he can keep the turnovers to a minimum, and still shoot like he has, we could be in for another great point guard season.
Rest of First Team
Jevon Carter, senior guard, West Virginia
Carter is the best perimeter defender in the league, and raised his offensive game to a level where this is a fairly easy pick. He had a usage rate of 21 percent last year, and shot 51 percent on twos. He also shot 39 percent from three for the season, but was just at 31 percent over the first two years of his career, so perhaps he falls back to earth there. Carter had decent assist numbers, and was one of the better guard rebounders in the league.
Vladimir Brodziansky, junior forward, TCU
Quick, of every Big 12 player with a usage rate over 24 percent who had the best offensive rating last year? It’s big Vlad! Vlad had an offensive rating of 121.6, was 6th in the league in shots taken, 8th in effective field goal percentage, 7th in turnover rate, 2nd in block percentage, 7th in fouls drawn, and 1st in free throw percentage. He isn’t the best overall defender despite the blocks, but he’s awesome.
Keenan Evans, senior guard, Texas Tech
Evans was 5th in usage last season, and 8th in turnover rate. His turnover rate was only just over 20 percent, but a lack of turnovers is more valuable than a ton of assists. He did shoot only 45 percent on twos in conference play, though he was at around 50 percent overall. He also was 4th best in the league at drawing fouls and 2nd at making free throws. His defense is weaker than anyone else’s on this list, but he’s not a slouch.
Mo Bamba, freshman forward, Texas
The 3rd ranked player in 247’s Composite rankings, Bamba wasn’t an offensive dynamo as a recruit, but showed off improved skill in Texas’s summer tour of Australia. Defensively, though, he probably will be the best big man in the league. With Texas needing to replace Jarrett Allen, and Shaq Cleare down low, there should be plenty of minutes and shots for Bamba, who looks like a potential top 5 pick in next year’s NBA Draft.
Jeffrey Carroll, senior wing, Oklahoma State
Carroll was 2nd in the league in offensive rating last year, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence his numbers shot up as high as they did with Jawun Evans playing a full season. With Evans gone, I suspect Carroll’s numbers will take a hit as well, and I’m also skeptical of Oklahoma State in general with Brad Underwood gone.
Malik Newman, sophomore guard, Kansas
Newman was mostly a jump shooter at Mississippi State, but he shot 38 percent from three, and showed off that ability in KU’s summer tour of Italy. I suspect Bill Self will get the most out of him defensively, and he should expand his offensive repertoire a bit.
Udoka Azubuike, sophomore forward, Kansas
Obviously if we are making these picks solely on last year, a guy who played in 10 percent of a team’s minutes wouldn’t qualify, no matter how good. But I make my picks as a bit of a combo between how good I think they will be and what they’ve done in the past. Enter Azubuike, who made 63 percent of his shots, had an offensive rebound rate of almost 11 percent, and a defensive rebound rate of 26.2 percent (for comparison’s sake, Landen Lucas was at 13.7 percent and 21.8 percent).
He also had a block percentage of nearly 13 percent, although given the opponents this is probably going down a bit. He fouled and turned it over too much, but given Bill Self wants to try to go back inside, and Azubuike’s talent on both ends, he could pip Bamba for first team honors.
Alex Robinson, junior guard, TCU
Robinson wasn’t a great shooter last year, but was 3rd in the league in assist rate and a capable defender. He also scored in double digits (with nice shooting numbers) in all but 1 of the Horned Frogs NIT games last season, so a scoring bump could be coming as well.
Zach Smith, senior forward, Texas Tech
This could be a lot of people. Dean Wade was 8th in the league in offensive rating, but has a paltry usage number and horrific defense. Andrew Jones is incredibly talented and I think will have a very good year. Svi Mykhailiuk will take a big step forward now that he’s on the same level physical maturity wise as his opponents. Esa Ahmad will probably play well once he’s back from suspension. Trae Young is a McDonald’s All American. Manu Lecomte was preseason newcomer of the year last year.
But what the hell, Zach Smith is the most fun and that’s why I am picking him. He was 6th in offensive rebounding, 10th in defensive rebounding, and 8th in block percentage. He is a good scorer, shooting 53 percent on twos last year, and he is the best in-game dunker maybe in Big 12 history. I want to only watch him dunk. Why don’t they make the whole game out of the Zach Smith dunks.