Bill Self is one of the top coaches in college basketball, but in recent years, he’s been criticized for his decisions to play more experienced players over freshmen with higher talent levels.
This was especially apparent in Kansas’ 2014-15 season, as top freshman forward Cliff Alexander frequently received less playing time than both Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas. It was an absurdly frustrating circumstance for Jayhawk fans. After making a mistake, Alexander would be removed from the game by Self, while the more experienced Traylor and Lucas would make blunders of their own but were allowed to play through them.
In the wake of the news that elite big-man prospect Cheick Diallo has committed to play for Self and the Jayhawks, let’s take a look at some of the other five-star freshmen and how much they played in their debut seasons, and project how much we should expect Diallo to play in 2016.
Kansas didn’t have a single one-and-done player until the 2009-10 season. Xavier Henry became the first Jayhawk to leave Lawrence after one season, so it’s no coincidence that he was the first freshman to see significant minutes under Self. In the last six years, Kansas has put seven one-and-done players to the NBA Draft.
SF Xavier Henry (2009-10): 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 27.5 minutes (990 in 36 games)
SG Josh Selby (2010-11): 7.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 20.4 minutes (530 in 26 games)
SG Ben McLemore (2012-13): 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 32.2 minutes (1191 in 37 games)
SF Andrew Wiggins (2013-14): 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 32.8 minutes (1148 in 35 games)
C Joel Embiid (2013-14): 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 23.1 minutes (647 in 28 games)
SF Kelly Oubre (2014-15): 9.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 21.0 minutes (756 in 36 games)
PF Cliff Alexander (2014-15): 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 17.6 minutes (492 in 28 games)
The aspect of player position is crucial in debunking the claim that Bill Self should play freshman more. McLemore, Wiggins, and Henry played plenty of minutes. Josh Selby was wildly ineffective at times throughout his freshman campaign, so him playing a tick over 20 minutes per game isn’t an issue either.
Joel Embiid is the most interesting parallel. Aside from Cliff Alexander, Embiid is the only big man on this list, and he was Self’s first one-and-done center prospect. When healthy, he was frequently the best player on the court. In conference play, he averaged upwards of 24 minutes, and the only reason he didn’t play more was because of foul trouble.
This leaves just two freshman, both of whom were on the roster last season. After barely playing at all in November and December, Kelly Oubre averaged close to 24 minutes per contest in conference play. He was the only effective small forward on the Kansas roster. There were a few moments when fans were chirping for him to play more, but for the most part, Self appropriately managed Oubre’s playing time.
Cliff Alexander remains one of the biggest disappointments in the Bill Self era. He averaged 17 minutes in 28 total games, at times looking like the best of KU’s power forwards. A trend developed where Alexander would barely see the floor in the second half of games Kansas would go on to lose. Fans became irritated at Self for under-utilizing his most talented big man, but Alexander was far from the dominant product that he was expected to be at the beginning of the season. He would frequently make defensive mistakes, get beat on screens, and, according to Self, not play at full effort every possession. As a result, he didn’t see the floor in crunch time of close games.
In Kentucky, Julius Randle averaged nearly 31 minutes per contest in his one year with the Wildcats. Potential 2015 #1 overall NBA draft pick Jahlil Okafor played just over 30 at Duke. Of the top five big men selected in the 2014 NBA draft (Embiid, Aaron Gordon, Randle, Noah Vonleh, and Adreian Payne), Embiid was the only one who averaged fewer than 27 minutes per game. Eleven big men were drafted out of college in the 2014 draft, and Embiid played by far the fewest minutes. Only one of those 11 averaged fewer than 27 minutes, and it was Embiid with barely over 23. Of CBS’ top-20 college big man prospects for the 2015 NBA draft, Cliff Alexander averaged the fewest minutes per game last year.
That’s two straight drafts where the big man from Kansas will have averaged the fewest minutes out of all the drafted centers and power forwards.
Of all the big men Bill Self has had during his tenure at Kansas, not a single one played more than 23.1 minutes per game, which Joel Embiid averaged in his one year. And remember, Embiid wasn’t a typical freshman. He exploded onto the scene and by the time he had started five games, he was being mocked as a top three NBA draft pick. College basketball is different now than it was 10 years ago; it’s unfair to take statistics from some of the earlier big men in the Self era considering how freshman playing time has increased as a whole recently, but the point remains that only Embiid averaged more playing time as a freshman than the 20.1 minutes posted by Jamari Traylor last year.
Are you, as a Kansas fan, wanting to see Cheick Diallo play more than Jamari Traylor? If so, you might be disappointed come fall 2015.
Diallo will, undoubtedly, be crucial for the Jayhawks next season. If he doesn’t start in the season opener, it shouldn’t take him long to move into the starting rotation. However, that’s what we said about Cliff Alexander. If Diallo develops on schedule, he’ll likely see a similar amount of playing time as Embiid did when healthy, between 22-24 minutes per game.
It may not make sense to the majority of Kansas fans, but until Bill Self proves otherwise, it’d be unwise to expect more than about 23 minutes per game from Cheick Diallo in 2015-16.