The former five-star recruit has been a dynamic, yet inconsistent player since he arrived on campus for the 2013-14 season. Three seasons in, he has turned into KU’s barometer of success and arguably, their most important player. In order for KU to make a deep run in March, it’ll require Wayne Selden Jr. to play at a high level, and to do so consistently.
Kansas’ 2013 recruiting class, highlighted by top-three NBA draft picks Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, was thought to be one of the most prolific in school history, and certainly so in the Bill Self era. Adding to the intrigue of that class was another, though lesser known, five-star player from Roxbury, Massachusetts: Wayne Selden Jr. Although Selden has started in every game he has appeared in as a Jayhawk, he has earned a polarizing reputation amongst fans for his perceived inconsistency. Fair or unfair, that inconsistency has manifested itself as a measure of KU’s success so far in 2016. As Wayne Selden goes, so do the Jayhawks.
It was often discussed that Selden would join fellow classmates Wiggins and Embiid in the 2014 NBA draft following their freshman seasons. Selden enjoyed a relatively successful freshman year at KU, averaging just under 10 points and nearly 30 minutes per game. To some surprise, Selden announced his return to Lawrence for the 2015 season, and as a result, began to shoulder much higher expectations.
The 2015 edition of Kansas basketball was one of the youngest teams in the country. Selden, along with then-junior Perry Ellis, were the only two returning players who played more than 17 minute per game in 2014. Faced with an increased role on an extremely young squad, Selden regressed heavily in 2015, seeing significant decreases in effective field goal percentage, player efficiency rating, and offensive rating, all while seeing a slight uptick in his usage rate. Kansas was relying on Wayne Selden to do more, but he was giving them less. Any NBA value Selden had prior to playing a minute at KU had seemingly evaporated by the end of his sophomore season.
The World University Games held in the summer of 2015 in Korea proved to be crucial in Selden’s preparation and development for the 2016. The incoming junior was the second leading scorer at the tournament, pouring in 19.3 points per game over eight contests. Jayhawk fans believed they were seeing the version of Wayne Selden Jr. that warranted his five-star ranking coming out of high school, and as his production in 2016 has shown, they were.
Selden is enjoying easily his best season as a Jayhawk, seeing major improvements in nearly every single offensive category. However, the inconsistency that has plagued Selden throughout his Kansas career has still been a pressing issue.
In losses, Selden has found difficulty scoring (10.3 PPG in losses vs. 15.2 PPG in wins), as well as scoring efficiently, shooting just 35% in losses compared to his 52% clip in KU wins, prior to Kansas’ win in Oklahoma. Three of KU’s four current losses have came to Big 12 opponents on the road. In those three games, Selden has had an offensive rating of 79, down 36 entire points from his season offensive rating of 115.
In stark contrast to Selden’s performance in those losses is his performance in arguably KU’s two biggest games of the year. In the home overtime victories over Oklahoma and Kentucky, Selden scored 21 and 33 points respectively, while possessing an incredible offensive rating of 132 in those games. The most notable outlier to this trend came in Kansas’ 76-72 win over Oklahoma, where Selden struggled, shooting two of nine from the field for just six points. However, it still took a career day from Devonte’ Graham (27 points on 13 shots, along with stellar defense on Buddy Hield) to mask Selden’s rough performance and escape Norman with a win.
Much of Wayne Selden’s career has been perceived as frustrating, thanks largely in part to unrealistic expectations coming out of high school. However, Selden has gone great lengths to alter that narrative this season. Selden’s importance to this KU team is apparent in how he fares in Jayhawk wins vs. Jayhawk losses. As 2016 moves forward, it may very well be that Kansas will only go as far as Wayne Selden Jr. takes them. Fair, or unfair.