Starting Five: Kansas and the NBA
Well, it took some time, but I am finally over my Kansas Jayhawks losing to Michigan in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Truthfully, most of my resentment came from Elijah Johnson’s poor decision-making in the closing seconds of overtime that potentially cost them a win. It was the best game of the tournament, and possibly the game of the year in college basketball, and I am thankful that KU was part of it.
But, it’s over now, and regardless, I’m still “Rock, Chalk” all the way, and will be forever. Now, we have to look to the future and for Kansas, that means a new starting five because this season’s normal starting line-up of Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore, Travis Releford, Kevin Young, and Jeff Withey are either graduating or going to the NBA.
And that is what this blog is about. Determining what the future holds for those five young men, who bled crimson and blue in their time. For purposes of listing and building anticipation, I’m going to go in reverse order of what I think about their chances to be in the NBA.
5. Kevin Young (SF/PF, 6-foot-8, 190 lbs.)
A workhorse through his two years at Kansas after transferring from Loyola Marymount, Young played as an undersized power forward for the Jayhawks. His main job was to hit the glass for rebounds, use his underrated athleticism, and be a hustler for coach Bill Self. And he did a mighty fine job of it. Unfortunately, those skills don’t really translate to the NBA, especially when you combine his lack of true offensive talent — not being able to create his own shot, a bad looking jump shot, little ball-handling skills, etc. He is a likable guy and worked hard during his stint in Lawrence, but there is no real future for him in the pros, unless he really puts in the work but at his age, time is already passing by quickly.
• NBA Comparison and Future: None, and overseas or coaching.
4. Elijah Johnson (PG/SG, 6-foot-2, 195 lbs.)
I struggled with this one and the next guy on the list. I ultimately settled on EJ here because of his play in this year’s NCAA Tournament. He is a very talented guard, who was stuck playing point guard for this team even though his more natural position is at the off-guard. A very good shooter who can get into the lane when he chooses too and is great in transition, he is also prone to mistakes, especially defensively and in crucial situations, as evidenced in the game against Michigan. But, he is a very good athlete with above-average passing ability, which may be the reason Self stuck with him in the point guard spot. His shot selection, however, is questioned a lot because of his reliance to make a lower-percentage try than to attack the rim. There is some resemblance to former and recent KU point guard Tyshawn Taylor in Johnson, but Taylor was a more traditional point guard.
• NBA Comparison and Future: Marcus Banks/Aaron Brooks, and a second round pick or undrafted free agent.
3. Travis Releford (SF/SG, 6-foot-5, 190 lbs.)
Releford has always been thought of as a strong defensive-minded player, especially with the type of body that he possesses. This past season however, he also showed glimpses of an offensively-capable player, especially from behind the three-point line and attacking the basket. He was arguably KU’s best player during it’s 2013 tournament run, giving his team life offensively when it needed it and being the consistent player he is defensively. There is still a lot of things that he needs to work on, such as his ball handling ability and the ability to create his own shot, but he is a solid spot-up shooter on the wing with a nice stroke and some quality athleticism. He also looked to take on more of a leadership role this season and it showed in helping his team shake off some jitters in the tournament. He could easily be a solid, key component as a sparkplug off the bench for a team that is looking to add to their second unit.
• NBA Comparison and Future: Jared Dudley/Kawhi Leonard/Nicolas Batum, and second round pick.
2. Jeff Withey (Center, 7-foot-0, 235 lbs.)
A premiere shot blocker and defensive force at the college level, Withey really improved in his two years as the starting center for the Jayhawks. His ability to alter shot attempts close to the rim and his success rate in blocking shots are qualities every NBA team looks for. Also, for as much as he defends the rim, he tends to not find himself in foul trouble too often, a trait rare to find in big men. Not to mention, his offensive ability has improved as well, as he showed a much better proficiency around the basket and with his mid-range jump shot. Has the ability to spring the break with good outlet passes, a la Shaquille O’Neal. There are some questions about his overall offensive game and its consistency and how long it will take for him to adapt to much more talented players who are better at finding their way to the hoop and drawing fouls. He is an older player (23) so the upside is also limited and questioned, but he could very well find his way as a solid back-up center for years to come.
• NBA Comparison and Future: Robin Lopez/Dikembe Mutumbo, and a late first round pick
1. Ben McLemore (SG, 6’5”, 195 lbs.)
The cream of the crop of this year’s Kansas team and if not for an academic eligibility issue last year, he would not have even been on the team this season. An NBA-ready athlete with a smooth offensive game that translates onto any team, McLemore has the prototypical NBA body and scouts across the league are salivating at the chance to work with and develop him. A still very raw kid, but possessing tremendous potential and upside, some say he is just scratching the surface of his talent. Has issues with consistency from time to time and can be prone to gambling on the defensive side of the ball, but most of the time, he is a smart defender and a solid offensive contributor. McLemore stays within himself most of the time with the ball, but still needs to develop more of an isolation game to fully adapt to the NBA style of play. Even with that in mind, he is still a very unselfish player who also shows a better knack for passing the ball than most shooting guards. He is high on most draft boards and mocks and many peg him as the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, with Self calling him the best player he’s ever coached.
• NBA Comparison and Future: Ray Allen/OJ Mayo, and a Top 3 pick, potentially No. 1