Marcus Garrett’s next-level play recently has led to a fun debate on KU Twitter. Who is the most important player on this Kansas team?
This isn’t an argument about who is the best player on the team (that is Dotson is my mind). Instead, it’s about who is most vital to the success of KU this season, and who is missed most when they’re not in the game.
The Jayhawks have a well established big three in Devon Dotson, Marcus Garrett and Udoka Azubuike. Let’s make a quick case for each and then come to a final verdict.
It feels like Dotson has become a tad underrated this season. He leads the conference in points per game, is sixth in assists per game, and is third in total minutes even after missing a game in mid-January. Dotson is the driving force for this team offensively, orchestrating every half court possession and leading fast breaks with overwhelming speed. His ability to get in the paint and finish is crucial, as it gives Kansas an outlet for offense with the shot clock winding down. Dotson is near the top of the list on most player of the year watch lists and is the favorite for Big 12 Player of the Year.
Garrett has an innate ability to impact every facet of the game without scoring. He currently ranks third in the conference in assists per game and is the team’s best passer; his ability to drive and kick has been crucial to KU’s recent three-point shooting uptick. Defense is where Garrett really shines though. His ability to guard all five positions and effortlessly switch has allowed KU to have the best defense in the country while playing small ball. Garrett has recently taken over for stretches of games on defense and has shown a Kawhi-like ability to get steals without fouling, instilling fear in opposing ball handlers. He’s the best defender in the conference and likely the best in the nation.
Azubuike has been unstoppable all season long. He’s averaging almost 13 points per game, leads the conference in rebounding, and leads the nation in field goal percentage. Opposing defenses orbit around Azubuike. They know if Azubuike gets a touch in the paint, it’s over. Azubuike has been just as dominant on defense. He’s averaging almost three blocks per game, and his improved mobility allows him to hold his own when isolated against quicker players. He leads the team in defensive win shares and defensive box plus/minus. Opponents are terrified to attack the basket with Azubuike lurking down low, and he’s shown a vastly improved ability to alter every shot without racking up fouls.
Dotson is this team’s motor, but if he’s sidelined, Garrett can adequately run KU’s offense just as he did earlier this year against Oklahoma. Garrett’s case hinges on his defense. He’s the best on-ball defender in the country, but the numbers say that Azubuike has a bigger impact on opposing offenses. KU allows just 86.5 points per 100 possessions when Azubuike is on the floor. That number goes up three points with Garrett on the floor, and the defense is at its worst with Azubuike out.
An easy case can be made by looking at last year. KU was 9-0 when Azubuike played and 17-10 in every other game. It’s impossible to know if there would’ve been that big of a disparity had Garrett or Dotson been sidelined, but I’d guess not.
The fact that this is even a question is a great sign for Kansas. This team is well balanced and playing their best basketball at the perfect time. Azubuike is KU’s most important player, but all three will need to be at their best for the Jayhawks to reach their full potential.