Cliff Alexander is quite possibly KU's best player. He certainly is one of the team's best 5 players, and he is without question is one of the best two bigs, being very obviously better than Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas. Through 3 games, he is posting per 40 numbers of 24.5 PTS, 14.5 rebounds (including 6.4 offensive boards) and 1.8 blocks per 40 minutes while shooting 56.3% from the field. He has a small sample PER of 29.2, but quite frankly he's looked even better than that. Alexander absolutely looks like KU's best player. And he's playing just under 15 minutes a game. That's a problem.
Jamari Traylor has already played 32 more minutes than Cliff Alexander on the young season. Bill Self still seems interested in playing a frontcourt of Traylor and Perry Ellis together quite often, despite the fact that Kansas was actually worse than their opponents last year when these two players shared the floor. The great Jesse Newell had this to say when Self announced that Landen Lucas would be starting against Rider.
— Jesse Newell (@jessenewell) November 25, 2014
Traylor/Ellis is indeed an awkward lineup, and it hasn't worked for the last two years. When those two shared the floor last season, KU was .07 points per possession worse than its opponents. All other frontcourt combinations were an average of .15 points per possession better than its opponents.
But Cliff did get in the Rider game, and he dominated. From the under 16 timeout to the under 8 timeout in the first half, this is what happened:
- Cliff Alexander made layup. Assisted by Wayne Selden.
- Cliff Alexander made dunk. Assisted by Frank Mason
- Cliff Alexander offensive foul.
- Cliff Alexander block.
- Cliff Alexander defensive rebound.
- Cliff Alexander made layup (and-one). Assisted by Jamari Traylor.
- Cliff Alexander made free throw.
- Cliff Alexander offensive rebound.
- Cliff Alexander made layup.
- Cliff Alexander defensive rebound.
- Cliff Alexander offensive rebound (then fouled).
- Cliff Alexander 1/2 FTs.
That all happened in less than 8 minutes: 10 points, 4 shot attempts, 4 buckets, 2/3 free throws, 2 defensive rebounds, 2 offensive rebounds, 1 block, 1 offensive foul. Self gave him his rest shortly after that, and he didn't play the rest of the 1st half.
After this performance, Bill Self decided to call upon Alexander to start the second half. I figured that perhaps Self is coming around to the idea of giving Alexander big minutes.
But Alexander had 1 turnover and 1 foul in the first minute of the half, and Self had seen enough. He pulled his talented forward after about a minute and a half, and he didn't play again until garbage time. When asked after the game why Self wasn't playing him more, Alexander simply said he didn't know. Then Self had this to say:
— Matt Tait (@mctait) November 25, 2014
Bill Self knows both basketball and his players better than me, but I really hope his justification for this was more than the sample size of two plays the first time he started him in a half. He very clearly was the best player on the court when he played on Monday night, and it wasn't particularly close. Perhaps he's been lazy in practice. Who knows. Though if that had been the case, one would think that Self would acknowledge it, or at the very least Alexander might have that understanding of why he's not playing.
While I have no doubt (okay, little doubt) that Alexander will be starting and playing plenty come Big 12 play, I just wish we could all more quickly arrive at the conclusion that he should be playing more than he has been. He's really, really good. And we only get so much of him before he's off to the NBA.