Breaking down KU's frontcourt after Myles Turner's decision

05/01/2014 9:56 AM

05/01/2014 5:30 PM

Kansas’ track record with hat ceremonies is spotty at best, but this was the first one that included a bucket hat. Myles Turner picked Texas on Wednesday

, flipping that burnt orange fisherman’s hat on his head inside his high school gym in Euless, Texas.

Turner wanted to stay close to home, he said, to play for the in-state school. Lawrence is close to 515 miles from Euless — and also not in Texas — so that, of course, did not bode well for Kansas. The Jayhawks lost out on landing what would have been their third top-10 recruit in the 2014 class. They also lost out on adding a 6-foot-11 rim protector with emerging offensive skills.

But while Turner’s decision could alter the shape of the Big 12 race, the Jayhawks will still move forward with a deep and promising frontcourt. Barring any last-minute additions via transfer or recruiting, the Jayhawks’ frontcourt will look the same in the fall as it does today. Joel Embiid and Tarik Black are gone; enter Cliff Alexander and Hunter Mickelson. So let’s take a look at the current group:

Perry Ellis, junior, 6-foot-8 • What he brings:

A reliable scorer. Ellis averaged 13.5 points per game last season, and his offensive rating (123.6) was the best on the team. Ellis also hit eight of 17 (47 percent) from three-point range, a small sample size that might be a positive sign for the future. If he’s not Kansas’ leading scorer next season, he’s a good bet to be the most efficient.

• What he needs to prove:

Defense … and defense. There are very few individual defensive stats that can illustrate a player’s impact — or lack thereof. But Kansas ranked 31st in defensive efficiency last season, one of the most porous defensive teams of the Self era. Some of that number can be pinned on Ellis, who must become a more physical presence in the paint and a better one-on-one defender.

Cliff Alexander, freshman, 6-foot-9 • What he brings:

A ready-made power forward who claimed multiple national honors during his senior year of high school. Alexander was rated as the No. 4 overall recruit by Rivals.com, and he probably projects as a starter next season.

• What he needs to prove:

Alexander dominated high school opponents with strength, size and solid athleticism. He’ll need to prove his power game can translate to consistent success at the college level. On this team, he’ll also need to help protect the rim.

Jamari Traylor, junior, 6-foot-8 • What he brings:

Athleticism, energy and a surprising good shot-blocker for someone who is probably closer to 6-foot-7 than his listed height of 6-foot-8. Traylor’s block percentage (5.8 percent of opponents field-goal attempts when he was on the floor) was second on the team last season behind freshman Joel Embiid. Traylor also shot 67.4 percent from the floor, but his offensive game is almost solely predicated on speed, angles and easy layups.

• What he needs to prove: That he can be more than just a part-time defense and energy guy. One of Traylor’s best offensive moves — a quick first step from the elbow — can be effective against the right team. (It’s almost like a defensive end blowing past an offensive tackle off the edge.) But when he was forced to play major minutes toward the end of the season, opponents wised up. Stanford barely guarded Traylor away from the basket in the NCAA Tournament loss. If Traylor is going to command more than the 16 minutes he averaged last year, he’ll need to develop a more complete game.

Landen Lucas, sophomore, 6-foot-10 • What he brings:

In very limited minutes, Lucas has shown a knack for pulling down rebounds. His defensive rebounding percentage (21.3) was just about the same as senior Tarik Black (21.2) last season, and Lucas can be another physical body inside.

• What he needs to prove:

That he can improve his foot speed and be a physical defender and rebounder. After redshirting in 2012-13 and playing just 4.9 minutes per game, Lucas will be in a battle for minutes again next season.

Hunter Mickelson, junior, 6-foot-10 • What he brings:

Mickelson is still a bit of a mystery. A former top-100 recruit, Mickelson averaged just more than five points per game in two years at Arkansas while showing an ability to protect the rim. During his freshman season, his block percentage (13.5) ranked fifth in the country. After being recruited by John Pelphrey, his style clashed with incoming coach Mike Anderson and he landed at KU last season. During the KU basketball banquet earlier this month, Self took a moment to note Mickelson’s shooting ability.

“These guys will tell you,” Self said at the KU basketball banquet earlier this month, “he can really, really shoot.”

• What he needs to prove:

Mickelson has now spent nearly a year working with strength coach Andrea Hudy and practicing against Joel Embiid, Tarik Black and the rest of KU’s front court in practice. Mickelson is not physically imposing, but he is long and skilled. He’ll need to prove he can be a reliable rebounder and defender off the bench.

 

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