Every team has a player who goes virtually unnoticed by most of the public eye. They quietly perform, they get their work in, and they don’t complain a ton in the process. For KU, that guy, love him or hate him, is Landen Lucas.
The senior Jayhawk got off to a rough start, averaging 4.2 points and 6.0 rebounds in his first five games of the year. He spent most of October in a walking boot, and it came out in late November that he was nursing an oblique injury that kept him out of the November 29 game against Long Beach State. After getting nursed back to full health, his rebounds have started to soar, and scoring has increased for him as well. With Udoka Azubuike out for the remainder of the season, the potential for him to shine during conference play is looking even better as the season continues.
Though it may not seem like it, Landen Lucas has progressed tremendously throughout his time at KU. Lucas, the senior forward from Portland, Oregon, will now get most of the playing time down low. His minutes have increased in each of his four seasons. In his last match, Lucas played 30 minutes, scored 15 points, and snagged a career-high 17 (!!!!) rebounds. KU is one of the best in all of college basketball at second-chance points. Why? They have guys who can grab rebounds, like Landen Lucas and freshman guard Josh Jackson. Just three games ago, they scored 23 second-chance points in their 89-71 victory over Davidson. Those 23 points are the difference between an 18-point victory and losing by five. Bob McKillop, Davidson’s head coach told Gary Bedore of KUHoops.com that, “They just annihilated us in the paint, in second-chance points and they annihilated us in transition.” This seems to be the case in nearly every game that the team plays, as they’ve scored over 15 second-chance points in every game this season.
Landen Lucas may not be the best at scoring a ton of points (though he did score a career-best 18 in Tuesday’s thrilling win over Kansas State), but he’s there where you absolutely need him. KU’s main focus down low is being able to secure the ball and get rebounds – or it should be. With Josh Jackson averaging about 15 points per game and Frank Mason being good every night for 20, KU needs that extra insurance that they’ll have opportunities to make those shots. There’s always a few things that comes with a lot of points: a lot of shots, a lot of misses, and a whole lot of necessary rebounds.
Lucas got off to a rough start; he wasn’t racking up points, sure. But the one troubling thing about Lucas’ rocky beginning was that he wasn’t doing much of ANYTHING – especially rebounding. Bill Self told Matt Galloway of the Topeka Capital: “It wasn’t that he can’t do things. It was just that there are some things that he’s better at than other things, and players should always play to their strengths, and he wasn’t probably doing that like he should.”
Since the demolishing of UMKC, Lucas has gone out of his way to make sure that he contributes how he should be. Since then, he’s averaged 11 rebounds per game, and he has gotten most of the playing time at forward. He’s still working at it, but Lucas is “very close” to returning to how he was during conference play of last season, where he grabbed anywhere between ten and fifteen boards almost every game.
When his playing time is adequate, Lucas is dominant at the forward position. He’s that force that KU needs to separate themselves from the rest of the league. There were some questions as to whether or not he was physically capable of being “that guy,” and of course, there still will be. He’s got a good motor, and is of good size for his position. Landen Lucas, though not appreciated, or even liked, by many fans or spectators, will be a very big reason that KU wins the Big 12 for the thirteenth time in a row.