Remember back to April 2018. Kansas had just lost in the Final Four, and had said goodbye to Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Malik Newman.
All the talk was around the promise of what was to come, and with good reason. Between McDonald’s All-American freshmen and heralded transfers, plenty of assets would be coming in to fill the shoes.
That did happen. And Kansas was the preseason No. 1 team in the country. Then Udoka Azubuike gets injured for the year, Lagerald Vick leaves the team, Silvio De Sousa is banished from competition, and the new faces became even more important to Kansas’ success.
How are those new faces performing comparing to expectations? Let’s take a look at each newcomer and whether he has been better, the same, or worse than what was anticipated.
Dedric Lawson: Better
Dedric Lawson had the most promise coming into the year, with talk of him being a Big 12 Player of the Year and potential All-American candidate. Lawson has risen to that level, averaging numbers—19 ppg and 10.1 rpg—that few Kansas big men have put up for an entire season. And he’s doing it as opposing defenses’ main focus.
Devon Dotson: Same
A five-star recruit (No. 20 at Rivals and No. 24 on the ESPN 100), Dotson came in with arguably the most pressure of any newcomer being the freshman point guard to replace years of Graham and Frank Mason. Dotson has performed well overall, putting up strong numbers (12/3.7/3.6) while getting more comfortable in the offense. He’s on the border of being in the better category, as I don’t think people talked about him as this strong of a scorer coming out of high school, but a “same” placement is by no means an insult to what Dotson has achieved.
Quentin Grimes: Worse
A recurring theme this season has been fans trying to predict the game where Grimes turns it around and “figures it out,” only to continue scratching their heads. Grimes was the highest-rated recruit and best prospect in the class coming into the year, but outside of game one vs Michigan State he has not performed up to expectation. We’ve seen glimpses of what could make Grimes great, but it just hasn’t come consistently.
Ochai Agbaji: Better
He was redshirting up until January and now is the third best player on the team and the best pro prospect. As a true freshman. That’s insane. Agbaji isn’t just better than where he was pegged coming into the year, he’s in another realm.
David McCormack: Same
McCormack is an interesting case. He was a top-35 recruit not expected to contribute much as a freshman, though that was more due to the depth in front of him than his skills. For much of the year, that was the case. Now that depth has dwindled, and McCormack has been thrown into a bigger role. The numbers on the season don’t jump out—2.4 ppg and 2.4 rpg in 8.5 minutes—but since consistently starting and playing 14+ minutes the last four games, McCormack is averaging 5.5 points, four rebounds, and a block per game. That’s about what should be asked of that role.
K.J. Lawson: Same
K.J.’s evaluation should contain the same considerations as McCormack’s in regards to stats vs. role/opportunity. K.J. was among a long list of wing players for KU, easily the position with the most depth on the team. So no, he wasn’t going to average 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds like his final season in Memphis because he was playing 33.7 minutes per game that year, compared to just 10 this year. But the per-40 numbers are pretty consistent:
2016-17: 14.6 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 41.6% from 2, 32.8% from 3.
2018-19: 13.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 61.3% from 2, 36.4% from 3.
And like McCormack, Lawson has had a bigger role of late and, in turn, is playing his best basketball. In the last three games, K.J. is averaging 11 ppg and 2.6 rpg while shooting 50% from 3.
Charlie Moore: Worse
This is both an indictment on Moore and on the Pac-12. Clearly the exchange rate from the Pac-12 to Big 12 is not strong. Moore hasn’t shot it nearly as well as he did at Cal, or that coaches hyped that he could before the year: he’s 10% worse this year (25%) than his freshman year at Cal (35%) from 3. And unlike K.J. or David, Moore has had a greater opportunity in terms of minutes, while his per-40 numbers aren’t that close to his freshman year.
The season has not been what many predicted back in April, but getting what was expected or greater from more than half of your newcomers is still a strong return. Although, it does hurt that the freshman with the greatest ceiling has played well below that. Regardless, the season’s outcome still says as much about the returning players not on the court as it does about the newcomers’ success.