Earlier this week, one-and-done Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins made a little news by being chuffed about ESPN’s top 100 NBA player rankings. That Wiggins is unpopular with NBA media types isn’t a new development—though Wiggs was the most-talked-about high school prospect since LeBron, his career has failed to live up to that trajectory. I’m hopeful he can turn it around. He is 24, after all. But that’s up to him.
Getting a player to their ceiling as a pro isn’t on the college program. While it’s fun to go into any hoops discussion armed with NBA superstars that played on your favorite college team, most of that ascent is a result of that player’s lift-off after entering the pros. I’ve always said that I’d prefer “# of national championships > # of NBA superstars” for any given era, and right now we’ve basically got one of each, a push. But [Yoda voice] will there be another?
With the NBA kicking off Tuesday night—thank God—I’m going to opine a little bit about which current Jayhawks will make for the best pros, and offer some attempts at a comparison. I realize I’ve built in some overhead for myself here, with respect to how responsible KU is in any of this, so keep that in mind. Also, I’ll be reserving judgment on the freshmen, a promising group that I haven’t seen play at this level yet.
Ochai Agbaji, So. SG
Self yanked the redhirt off of Agbaji in a midseason panic, and Ochai immediately made in impact on offense and defense. A lightly recruited prospect from Kansas City, it is equally surprising and unsurprising that this is the type of player that can really thrive in Bill Self’s system. But can he make shots?
A relatively hot start from deep turned out to be a mirage, to the point that Agbaji rebuilt his shot in the offseason. (He loads up really low, if you watch for it. You can get away with it at this level, presuming it goes in enough, but not at the next one). With the frontcourt situation being what it is—so deep that rotation senior Mitch Lightfoot is probably redshirting this season—there’s going to be space on offense for someone to make shots. Will it be Agbaji?
I have no idea, but I have a feeling we’ll find out how effective he can be very quickly. Agbaji has his eyes on the weak 2020 draft. Right now, that feels a little reach-y. But everyone has incentive to make this year count.
Spitball attempts at an NBA comp: I dunno, KCP? Would that be a compliment? (I’m asking you, I don’t know!) A less frenzied and slightly heartier Gary Harris?
Devon Dotson, So. PG
If a random Jayhawk fan was asked “who is the best basketball player on the Jayhawks,” I would expect many to respond with Dotson. He has a great feel for the game, knows his spots, and is a defensive terror despite being 6’1’’. There’s still room for smaller guys in the NBA—Tyler Ulis is still in the league—but at that level they have to be perfect to be in a rotation.
The defense element makes Dotson a pretty unique prospect; he could guard PGs at the next level. For super fast players like Dotson, finding the right speed to play at at the college level is always going to be a little bit of a work in progress, and finding a consistent pace is Dotson’s challenge for year 2. But Dotson showed flashes last year and he’s likely to build on those + shoot the ball a little better.
Scraping here: NBADraft.net says Cory Joseph for Devon and … I think I like that? Or maybe a more downhill skiing Patty Mills. It should be noted that both of these guys can shoot NBA threes competently.
David McCormack, So. C
There’s always going to be room in the NBA for seven-footers who can really run and defend multiple positions, and for that reason I think McCormack is a lock to end up at the next level in some capacity. Is there more to his game, though? When the game slowed down last year for McCormack, he had dominant stretches. Could he project as an NBA starter, rather than a second unit rim runner?
Uhhh: This type of player is so hard to project. He could be Deyonta Davis, or he could be Siakam. Somewhere in the middle would be sweet.
Udoka Azubuike, Sr. C
A lot has been written about how Azubuike is a post player from a different era of the NBA, a time when Shaq was the league’s best player and every roster had like, four centers. And certainly, that’s not the current NBA game, which has dented Azubuike’s pro prospects as scouts try and figure out what’s there.
Here’s the thing—the flow of rosters in the NBA is a fluid concern. Shooting right now is the most valuable skill to have, but that wasn’t the case as recently as 5 or 6 years ago. I’m not saying that Azubuike is the player that’s going to bring the foot-in-the-paint center back from the dead, but it’s not impossible to think that this style of play could be useful in the right context. Udoka Azubuike is 7’0’’, and is 20 with four years of college basketball experience. Even with the history of (somewhat freak) injuries, that profile will play with NBA front offices.
Doke has lost a ton of weight and is conscious about his draft chatter. While I don’t think we’ll see him pulling up from the elbow a ton, I’m going to watch his pick-and-roll defense and see how well he reads the game this year on a squad stuffed with talent.
NBA Comp: Everyone you could compare Doke to right now is unflattering. This is the nature of this trend. But a smart team will hand Doke a two-way and see what happens
Silvio de Sousa, Jr. PF
The first time we saw Silvio de Sousa suited up for KU, he was about 10 days out from finishing up his high school basketball career. In the ensuing Final Four run, his energy and defensed buoyed a group that got hot at the right time (and no one can ever take that away from us!)
It’s hard to project anything for Silvio, but KU bigs find a way of getting picked in the Draft. Like Agbaji, I get the sense that we’ll see what de Sousa brings to the table immediately. With Doke stationed under the basket—Self will not mess with that—de Sousa might have to work from the outside-in, or find a way to approximate the short lived Lawson-Doke hi-low from last year. Is he that type of player?
League Him Up: Julius Randle sans jumpshot
Marcus Garrett, Jr. SG
If you’re new to reading Streak Talk, you might not know that I’m a blueblooded Marcus Garrett stan. The Jayhawks are better when he’s on the floor, and in a sports/social media space where anything slightly edgy gets blown out of proportion, he has the gall to say stuff like “No Cap is better than Nas” on the regular. He rolls up his shorts maybe three or four times, taking an emerging trend to its extreme, like all iconoclasts. The Marcus Garrett experience aligns with my worldview.
It should be said … 0 cannot shoot. At all. He plays shooting guard. He went 3/4 from three against Texas, and 2/3 from Baylor, but outside of that he made just seven threes, and he shot 24.5%. Looking up Marcus Garrett cumulatives does him no favors, nor does it give you a sense of what his singular style actually looks like. I like the space in the imagination that this kind of player holds—he’s just one skill away from being an undeniable difference-maker—but centering on what that skill should be is a tough prospect.
But, as anyone who has watched Garrett could likely attest, there’s something to his game. He’s a fiend on defense. Even with defenders playing paces off of him when he gets the ball on the perimeter, he has a knack for getting to the rim with some wobbly Caris-LeVert-level drives. (Finishing is another thing, but finishing at this level is hard). There’s something Garrett does that keeps his opponent off balance, and when he’s in the middle of Kansas’s defense, there are bursts of Draymond Green-esque prescience.
In the right situations, being a specialist is useful. I could see Garrett’s ceiling as something like “specialist+”, provided he gets one or two spots on the floor where a defender has to come out on him. Sometimes it’s gonna be a pretty “4 vs 5” vibe on offense with Garrett out there. But the value comes on the other side.
Player Comp, def not a reach don’t @ me: PatBev.