It’s May, and it’s been two months since we’ve had any live sports—outside of some UFC fights—to talk about. It’s a time where the mind can wander.
So, it seems like a good time for one of those fun, ridiculous, at-a-bar-with-your-buddies (another thing that hasn’t happened in two months) hypothetical exercises. Because, again, what else are we supposed to talk about?
Here’s the situation I’m posing: you can take any Kansas player and put him on a different Kansas team in order to make that team even better, but the team has to be at least seven years removed from the year in which your player played.
For example, you could take Nick Collison and put him on the 2016-17 team but you can’t put him on the 2004-05 team. This is to prevent the easy answers of just giving a player an extra year with basically the same roster and to account for how much the game has changed over time.
Some other important rules:
- You’re picking a player from a specific year. It’s not just Udoka Azubuike at any point in his career, it’s either 2017-18 or 2019-20 Azubuike, etc.
- Picks are based on the player’s performance and skill set in that year of college, meaning NBA skill/achievements aren’t factored in. You can’t put NBA Joel Embiid on a team.
- We’re assuming that players who get hurt during a year still get hurt. This info should be factored in when filling a need, both with players you choose and what positions need help.
- We’re going to cap the years available to only include the Roy and Self eras. Take any great player from the past 20 years and put them with Wilt in the 50s and they’d be an unstoppable force.
Obviously, there is no one right answer. You have dozens of great players to move onto great teams. The key is to find a player that fills a need. Devon Dotson is great on any team, but he’s not really needed on the 2008 team with Chalmers, Robinson, and Collins. Here are a few that do fit.
2006-07 Julian Wright to the 2017-18 Jayhawks
Kansas’ most recent Final Four team went 31-8 and won the Big 12, so the first thought is they wouldn’t need much help. But the team that thrived offensively playing small ball had their weakness exposed in the Final Four. That year’s version of Dok was a little bigger and slower, and KU didn’t have many weapons to combat smaller, athletic big men, especially on defense.
Julian Wright changes that dynamic. In his second and final year at Kansas, Wright averaged 12 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game as a first-team All Big 12 selection. He was first in the conference in defensive win shares, fourth in rebounds, eighth in blocks, and ninth in steals. His long, athletic 6-8, 225-pound frame makes him a great fit with Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Svi, and Dok.
2011-12 Thomas Robinson to the 2018-19 Jayhawks
If we’re using the power of time travel for the purposes of making a team better, then it makes sense to address the team that broke the streak. The question then is who do you add?
I struggled with this one. There’s quite a few players that would make this team better. I landed on a big man, since the team really struggled defensively inside without a rim protector once Dok got hurt. That KU team was 320th in the country in allowing offensive rebounds and gave up 70 points per game. But this team also had offensive flaws, and only scored more than 70 points in two of its 10 losses.
I strongly considered Cole Aldrich for his defensive prowess, and gave Jeff Withey some thought as a rim protector. The same went for Raef LaFrentz and Wayne Simien. There are cases for them all. But I’m going with Robinson here, who barely made it out of the seven-year restriction. Not only was he a great rebounder, 11th in the country in defensive rating, and fourth in defensive win shares, but you’re also getting dominance on offense.
The 2018-19 squad was young and inexperienced and needed someone to step up and take over in crunch time. Robinson offered that. The other benefit of T-Rob over a traditional five man like Aldrich is that he could play the four with Dok (before he got hurt) and as a five with Dedric Lawson. If only time travel were a thing, the streak could still be alive.
2003-04 Keith Langford to the 2010-11 Jayhawks
The 2010-11 Jayhawks had a strong squad with Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, and the Morris twins. But there wasn’t much depth, with Josh Selby, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, and Mario Little playing no more than 20 minutes per game each (Johnson, Releford, and Little were 13, 10, and 13 minutes respectively) and none averaging more than 7.9 points per game.
You already have a strong point guard and post presence, while Reed and Morningstar are both good shooters. Add in Keith Langford’s scoring and slashing ability, and that’s a lethal combination. Plus, his rebounding and passing would make him a great three guard in that lineup and allow either Reed or Morningstar to be a reliable, effective sixth man.
2016-17 Frank Mason to the 1997-98 Jayhawks
This might be my favorite one so far. That 97-98 Rhode Island loss in the second round of the tournament always pained me. Billy Thomas went 2-15 from the field and Pierce was 0-7 from 3. I didn’t do the research, but I can’t imagine those two things coincided very often. But it happened then.
For those that don’t remember, that team had Pierce, Raef, Thomas, Ryan Robertson, T.J. Pugh, and freshmen Kenny Gregory and Eric Chenowith. Both Thomas and Gregory started a game in the NCAA Tourney that year with Robertson, Pierce, LaFrentz, and Pugh.
Now, imagine you give national player of the year Frank Mason the ball at the point for that team. That means Robertson would now play off the ball as a 2 with Thomas at the 3, Pierce on the 4, and LaFrentz at the 5. Robertson and Thomas both shot better than 40% from 3 that year, meaning they can spread the floor and give room for Mason to drive and for Pierce and LaFrentz to do what they did (dominate). Robertson is also then an excellent secondary ball handler and distributor that could serve somewhat of a Devonte’ Graham role.
That team doesn’t lose to Rhode Island by 5 even with Thomas’ off night. That team wouldn’t lose many games in general, I wouldn’t imagine.