The Past and Future of Hunter Mickelson

After a shockingly productive showing in the World University games, let’s take a closer look at KU’s Hunter Mickelson.

During Bill Self’s tenure at KU, the program has gained a well-deserved reputation for developing big men into lottery picks. Examples include Marcus (RSCI #63) and Markeiff Morris (93), Cole Aldrich (23), Thomas Robinson (28) and Joel Embiid (17). All these players came to Kansas, developed, and left as NBA draft lottery picks. This success with post players has made KU a destination for big men who decide to transfer. The next success story may belong to Hunter Mickelson.

Mickelson came to Kansas before the 2013-2014 season as a transfer from the University of Arkansas, where he had some success as a freshman and sophomore. He averaged 5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in his two seasons. Mickelson’s biggest strength was as a shot blocker. In only 16 minutes per game as a freshman, Mickelson averaged 2.2 blocks per game, an astounding 5 per 40 minutes and a block percentage of 13%. Mickelson decided to transfer after Arkansas hired Mike Anderson, whose up-tempo, pressing system was not a good fit for Mickelson. Mickelson had many offers to transfer, but chose Kansas in large part due to Self’s success with big men.

During the 2014-15 season, Mickelson played limited minutes at Kansas, averaging only 7 per game. However, there are signs that he could be a key contributor this upcoming season. Per 40 minutes, Mickelson averaged over 10 rebounds per game as Jayhawk, making him one of the most efficient rebounders on the team. Shot blocking continued to be Mickelson’s greatest strength, as he averaged 5.7 per 40 minutes and carried a block rate of 14.6%. Self has said that he did, in fact, underuse Mickelson last season, as the Jayhawks needed a rim protector and Mickelson has the ability to be a very good one.

Perhaps the greatest sign that Mickelson could be a key player for Kansas this season came at the recently completed World University Games. Because of international eligibility rules, KU’s presumptive starting center, Mali native Cheick Diallo, was unable to compete. During the World Games, Mickelson took full advantage of the opportunity. In just over 17 minutes per game, Mickelson averaged 8.4 points per game, 5 rebounds per game, and 1.1 blocks per game. A partial explanation of why Mickelson’s blocks were down is the international rules. The wider lane and foul rules mean it is more difficult to block shots. Mickelson also provided needed length and hustle against the international style of big men. He often played ahead of key contributors from last year’s squad, including Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas. A developing part of Mickelson’s game to watch is his mid-range jump shot. Mickelson has the ability to step out to 15 feet and hit open shots. This could be a good compliment to Perry Ellis, who looks to score closer to the basket. If he can be an effective passer, Mickelson could play a role in Bill Self’s high-low sets when the Jayhawks return to them in NCAA play.

While it may be unlikely that Hunter Mickelson plays himself into the NBA lottery this season, it is not unrealistic to expect him to be the third or fourth big man in Bill Self’s rotation. His defense, hustle and shot blocking prowess could be what the 2015-16 Jayhawks need. He showed some promise last season, and played very well as a starter in the World University Games. Maybe Mickelson is Bill Self and company’s next big man success story.

Kyle Abbott

Staff writer for Rock Chalk Blog. twitter.com/KyleTAbbott