@HighEliteMajor and @jaybate-1.0 have engendered an epic and fascinating discussion throughout the season and continuing into the post-mortem about offensive schemes and whether HCBS has taken full advantage of the strengths of the players on this particular edition of the Jayhawks. I would posit that whether it’s the H/L or some variation of 4 out, 1 in - dribble drive - or Bad Ball, you have to have players that can execute the scheme.
Frankly, I go back and forth as to whether this is one of Self’s best or worst coaching jobs. The reason I say that is based on what I thought we had in terms of talent coming in. I certainly expected a lot more - a real shot at a FF and even a NC. Based on what we (or at least I) observed throughout the year in terms of what players demonstrated in game situations, both individually and collectively, I’m not sure I understand how we managed to get #11, a #2 seed, and 27 wins against the schedule we played - seems like smoke and mirrors. I actually thought Self demonstrated more flexibility - that’s not necessarily saying a whole lot - than in past years.
The preseason optimistic scenario was based on the the assumption that Ellis was going to be more of a go-to, consistent 18 ppg scorer, that Selden would significantly increase his production and become the second go-to guy, scoring in the 15 ppg territory, that Mason would improve over his 1st year and become more of a true PG (and, he would have a solid back-up in Graham), that Alexander and Oubre would live up to their OAD hype, that Svi would be a bit of an X-factor (based on the skills he showed in Europe), that Greene would step up and split the 3 with Oubre and be the designated sharpshooter, and that Hunter would be a Withey-lite providing some rim protection (based off Ark numbers), with he and Landon providing solid minutes while Alexander developed.
How many of those expectations were met? Ellis was matching his by the end of the season - but not consistently before that - until he tweaked his knee. Selden - um, no. Mason, absolutely, with a big caveat, which I will touch upon in a moment. Alexander - #2 big to Okafor coming in - night and day difference between the two in basic skill sets. Oubre showed flashes, but needs more experience (which he will probably have to get at the next level), and ultimately didn’t produce at the level of other 2-3s coming in, e.g. Winslow, Booker, Williams. Greene turned out to be one-dimensional. Svi and Hunter? Speaking for myself, I liked what I saw of them when the were on the floor, obviously not often, and wish Self would have played them more, but we don’t seem them in practice every day. Lucas was very solid; he’s just limited. Graham, I think, met or exceeded expectations and I look for much more from him in the next couple of years.
It ultimately comes down to the players, and both individually and collectively, there are some real skill deficiencies that revealed themselves that I would argue made it challenging to find a scheme that could work consistently, esp. against a good defense/opposing coach. I really don’t mean to come down on the kids - some of this is due to the AAU culture, who they played against in HS v. in D-1, etc. And, I think they are good kids, I’m glad they chose Kansas, and hopefully, those who will stick around will benefit from the summer tour and get better with more experience.
Having said that, collectively, we didn’t have anyone who could finish at the rim, esp. against L&As, but really against any type of interior presence. No one. We are the most blocked team in the country. We don’t have a very good passing team, which both H/L in terms of entry passes and dribble penetration and kick-out demand as @sfbahawk pointed out. Svi and Graham are probably the two best passers - but they weren’t our starters. Are/were we a really good shooting team, esp. from 3pt range? Our numbers were really good early in the season, not so much as they year went on. Scheming? Fool’s Gold? Tired legs? Defenses adjusting? Reversion to the mean? I don’t really know. What I can say is that I’m personally comfortable with Greene taking any 3p shot when he is spotting up and wide open (and, when his head is in the game). I’m comfortable with Mason taking a wide open 3 when he is leaning into the shot. I’m generally comfortable with Graham taking an open three. Although he had a hot streak in the middle of the season, I don’t think Selden is a shooter from range (3 for his last 26 by the way). Oubre - can make them, but I don’t have a high degree of confidence. Unfortunately, I don’t have a high degree of confidence in any of them shooting a deep 3 coming off a screen at the top of the key or on the wing a la a Ron Baker, or making a contested 3. Does anyone else?
That’s on offense. On defense, collectively, we have some height, wingspan, speed but not great amounts of any of them. We don’t block out well. Footwork across the board is generally poor - don’t keep low center of gravity or slide well. We reach a lot, picking up cheap fouls. We too often get beat off the dribble. We don’t generate many TOs, at least leading to easy buckets.
Breaking them down individually:
Ellis - he can shoot from 15-18ft and has superior post moves, but he really needs space and he just isn’t particularly effective against L&As. He is most effective when he facing a 4 that he can take off the dribble from outside the lane, or can post against a not-too-big and the lane isn’t clogged. To his credit, his defense has improved considerably, but that’s going from poor to adequate.
Selden - an enigma. Numbers essentially the same as a year ago across the board, albeit with more volatility from game to game. He had a strong 5 game stretch in the middle of the season, 2 really good B12 tourney games, and was key in the FLA game - but was mostly a non-factor or worse in the other 28 games. Basically, he’s giving you Morningstar/Reed types of numbers, albeit with more TOs and less consistency. But, they weren’t McDs and projected lottery picks coming in. He can’t dribble in traffic, he doesn’t have any semblance of a left hand, and appears to be clueless when driving into the paint. Some have posted that he is great defender on the ball - he is not. When focused, his size can be a problem for other 2s or 3s and he can shut them down. But, quicker players blow by him and he too often gives up on those plays. And, he doesn’t rebound.
Mason - love him. He’s a bulldog and fighter and so on. He was our best/most consistent player during the year (that a 100+ ranked player was says volumes). He improved significantly from last year. BUT, he came in as scoring guard and has yet to fully develop as a PG. The hallmark of being a good PG is making your teammates better - distributing the ball effectively and finding the open guy. Those aren’t his attributes, at least as yet. The WSU game was emblematic. Early on, he was able to blow by VanVleet and get some layups. WSU adjusted and collapsed back into the paint. Rather than penetrating and kicking to now open wings, he kept driving into the teeth of the defense with predictable results. He also doesn’t run a break well - too often taking it all the way himself rather than dishing or laying off to a trailer. He is also has a bad tendency to pick up his dribble in bad spots, esp. a long way from the basket. He is a gamer, however, and hopefully will continue to improve. But, I think next year the better move would be make DG the PG, and shift Mason to the 2.
Oubre - our best two way player, but still very raw. Really quick hop allowing him to get a lot of put backs, including on his own missed shot. Hasn’t really learned how to elevate or adjust when driving to the basket in traffic, however. Streaky outside shooter. Solid defender with long wingspan. With another year to two, he could be special player - but it seems likely that he has played his last game as a Jayhawk.
Alexander - what a disappointment, in so many ways. Feel bad for the kid how things have played out. But, he doesn’t yet have a college game skill set, and certainly not NBA.
Greene - not withstanding the long dry spell, he clearly has a NBA caliber stroke from three. Of course, the problem is that he is one-dimensional - he can’t dribble or create his own shot. And, you never know where his head is at. And, he is a liability on defense. Will he commit to getting better in all facets of the game; can he? Will he be around next year to find out?
Traylor - got to love Jamari and his passion, but it isn’t always well directed. He can do some things effectively in stretches, but you don’t want him handling the ball too much or shooting from outside 6ft. He really is a poor positional defender and doesn’t rebound well. He should be the guy that comes in at the 4 to give you 8-12 minutes of high energy play - he should not be getting anything close to starter minutes.
Lucas - most fundamentally solid of the bigs and he really stepped up given the Alexander situation. But, let’s be real - he is limited. He’s undersized (definitely not 6’10’), not very quick, has no verticality, and has really weak hands. Can Hudy get him another inch of hop and stronger hands? But, if he’s playing more than back-up minutes at the 5, we have bigger problems.
Hunter and Svi - who really knows?
Graham - was set back by the early injury, played like a freshman at times, and isn’t going to be an elite guard like a Jones or Ulis, but by the end of the year, I think he was one of our three best players, and I have high hopes/expectations for the future. He can penetrate, he can shoot some, and he defends well - by far the best at creating TOs. I think our offense, whatever it was we were trying to run at the time, was more effective when he and Mason were in the game together.
So, I come back to my basic premise. You have to have the players to be able to execute a scheme - and to actually do so. Painfully obvious from the get go that we couldn’t run H/L as in the past or score at the rim. Spread the floor and free the 3 or play Bad Ball. I don’t think we had the right combination of players to do that effectively, either, at least on a consistent basis or when facing good defenses or coaches who are capable of scheming against us (which was clearly not the case with New Mexico State…).
So, I think Self was constantly adjusting throughout the year to find something that could work night in and night out. While I have my own frustrations with his style and tendencies - the quick yank, riding certain ponies way too long, not taking full advantage of depth - with the benefit of hindsight and given the issues noted above, I think a good case can be made that the did get about as much out of this team as he could.
We are spoiled, of course, and that’s not good enough. Others have posted about recruiting to fit the system, the risks of going the OAD route, merits of certain assistant coaches, who we end up with next year, and so on. All good stuff, but beyond this post to discuss further (for now anyway).