Kansas has a massive gap to fill in the middle of the paint now that Udoka Azubuike is headed to the NBA. And with Silvio De Sousa no longer on the team, the responsibility has fallen even more heavily on junior David McCormack.
Let’s make this clear off the top. No one should expect McCormack to be 2019-2020 Azubuike. That’s an unreasonable ask. Not to mention, they are different types of players. But while KU has an abundance of long, athletic wings, it’s up to big Dave and Mtch Lightfoot to hold down the five spot.
What should be optimistic is what Bill Self has said about McCormack in the preseason. Now, take preseason comments with a grain of salt, but this is from Gary Bedore of the Kansas City Star last week on Self’s assessment of McCormack.
“I think David has separated himself as far as the quality of play maybe from anybody in the gym. I think David has been our best performer up to this point moreso than anybody in our gym,” Self said Thursday during a weekly video call with reporters. “That’s not putting anybody down. I’m just saying I think he’s doing really well right now.”
Obviously preseason practice does not always translate to games that count. But it’s an encouraging sign because a couple of things need to happen for McCormack to take that next step.
What needs to improve
The biggest key for McCormack is actually being able to stay on the court. Fouls were a problem last year, especially during Big 12 play. McCormack had eight games last season where he picked up at least three fouls—six of those coming in a nine-game stretch late in the year. In only two of those eight games did McCormack play 20 or more minutes. And then, of course, there was the game at Baylor where McCormack fouled out in five minutes, and then against West Virginia he picked up three fouls in just 10 minutes of play.
Even if Kansas plays small and McCormack and Lightfoot split time at the 5, the Jayhawks will likely need McCormack to consistently play 20-25 minutes a night and maybe more depending on the matchup.
Turnovers have also been an issue, as McCormack turned it over once every 13 minutes he was on the court last year. And while offensive rebounds have been a strength of his, defensive rebounding will be an area the Jayhawks will need him to step up to end defensive possessions.
Where McCormack can provide value
The biggest difference between McCormack and Azubuike is in their offensive range. McCormack is comfortable in the midrange from 12-15 feet from the basket. Especially if Kansas decides to play small—we already mentioned all of their length and athleticism at guard—the Jayhawks should be able to space the floor well and create driving lanes.
Another major change will be the level of anxiety fans will feel when a Kansas big man heads to the free-throw line. It’s not a big sample size, but McCormack did go to the line 48 times last year and hit 39 of them, good for 81%. The hope is that McCormack continues to dominate the offensive boards and can not only convert second-chance points, but also draw and finish and-ones.
How McCormack and others are able to fill Azubuike’s shoes is one of the many question marks heading into the season. Again, he doesn’t have to replicate Azubuike’s season for Kansas to be successful. He just needs to be able to stay on the court, take care of the ball, and become a stronger rim protector. The hope for fans is that he can join a long line of Kansas big men and take the next step into the spotlight.