Coming off a game where the starting five scored 95% of KU’s points, is it time to question whether or not the bench is as deep as we thought?
Dedric Lawson is a Player of the Year candidate, Lagerald Vick has single-handily carried Kansas to multiple victories, and Devon Dotson is looking like the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. But other than that, who exactly does KU have to rely on offensively?
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Following a 2017-18 season that was anchored by an elite starting five and hardly any bench depth, the Jayhawks were thought to be built differently in 2018-19. They boasted enough depth to run a 10 or even 11-player rotation. Ochai Agbaji was red-shirted, and Mitch Lightfoot would have been had it not been for the Silvio De Sousa NCAA investigation. Kansas opened the year by hanging 92 on Michigan State in a game where eight players logged 11+ minutes, and nine different men made at least one basket.
Fast forward five weeks later, when just four players made field goals in KU’s narrow defeat of Villanova in a Final Four rematch. Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick are elite scorers that can put up points with anyone in the country, and Devon Dotson is consistently putting up about 10 points per contest. Those three combined to score 68 of KU’s 74 points on Saturday.
Is the depth on this team, once thought to be perhaps its biggest strength, suddenly turning into a weakness?
The entire answer starts with Quentin Grimes. A top-10 recruit that opened his college career by making six threes and scoring 21 against Michigan State, Grimes has done essentially nothing since. In the eight games since the Champions Classic, Grimes has made 16 baskets in 189 minutes. Save from the second half against Wofford, he’s done absolutely nothing inside the three-point line. The speed of the game looks too fast for him at this point. The coaching staff could help matters by drawing up more lob plays for him, but Grimes is too talented to not take advantage of the many times he’s left alone against a defender significantly less athletic than he is.
It isn’t unreasonable to expect Grimes to get it going. Last year, Malik Newman failed to average 10 points per game in nonconference. In league play, he upped his game to average 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists while shooting 38% on threes. That is exactly what I expect Grimes to wind up accomplishing. He absolutely must make more of an effort to attack the basket, because the only way to free up open threes on the perimeter is to make defenders respect your inside game. Opponents are face-guarding Grimes like he’s a Phil Forte-type, nonathletic shooter. They’ve made his game completely one-dimensional. Considering how Grimes is built to attack lanes and slash to the basket, it goes without saying that opponents are winning the battle by forcing Grimes into only shooting threes.
Udoka Azubuike’s impending return will make the offense significantly smoother and more efficient. The bench bigs – K.J. Lawson, Mitch Lightfoot, and David McCormack – are always going to give you about 10 points per game as a unit. Marcus Garrett should get you a handful each night. Charlie Moore should emerge as a trustworthy shooter at some point this year. But KU’s depth has been very good this year in all ways besides scoring, and while it hasn’t cost them any games yet, the Jayhawks’ winning streak will not last much longer if Lawson, Vick, and Dotson don’t get more help.
Quentin Grimes is the single most important tool when it comes to getting the most out of KU’s depth. If he can turn into a consistent, 12 points per game sort of player, the perception in which we view Kansas’ bench will improve tremendously. But until Grimes showcases even a fraction of the talent that made him a top-10 recruit, the Jayhawks will continue to play with fire every night due to not getting enough from its secondary scoring options.