The best news for Kansas basketball this offseason was Devonté Graham deciding to return.
While KU might not have great depth at other positions, it has little to no depth at point guard. And without Graham, coach Bill Self would have had to enter the spring recruiting market needing a starter, which is an unenviable position that late in the process.
This all leads to another question, though: Who is KU’s backup point guard? And, worst-case scenario, what would happen if Graham had to miss games with injury?
Remember, the Jayhawks will be playing with only 10 eligible scholarship players (and nine in the first semester) because of the number of transfers they’ve taken. That leaves these five as the non-Graham scholarship “guards” on next year’s roster.
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It’s hard to see many potential point guards here.
Vick and Cunliffe seem like longshots to ever play the spot, considering their strengths are athleticism more than ballhandling. Mykhailiuk also appears to rank low on the potential point-guard scale based on what he does well (shoot) and not so well (creating for teammates).
That leaves Newman and Garrett, who likely will compete for the job over the summer and into the fall.
Newman is fascinating in that Self has high expectations for him — the coach said he’d be disappointed if he wasn’t an all-Big 12 player next year — while also frequently pointing out that he’s a better shooter than passer.
“Depending on how all the pieces fit, Malik is big enough to play any guard spot. So he could play the 2, could play the 3 and certainly could play some 1 if need be, although that’s not what he is,” Self said earlier this offseason. “He’s a good enough ballhandler where he could be kind of a backup or secondary ballhandler. I think he’s really good.”
For Newman, this is an important matter as well. At 6-3, he’ll likely need to add some point-guard skills if he hopes to make it in the NBA.
I asked Newman last month what he thought of potentially being KU’s backup point guard.
“Really whatever the team needs,” Newman said. “Whichever one (Self) needs me to do at the time, whatever gives the team a better chance to win, I’ll do it.”
Newman said KU’s coaches had “scratched the surface” talking to him about potentially playing some point guard, but he said no one had gone into great lengths discussing it yet. At this point, Newman believes he’s the team’s first candidate behind Graham.
“I know it’s a tough position, especially in the Big 12,” Newman said. “I know it’ll be tough, but I think it’s something I can handle.”
The other option would be the 6-5 Garrett, whom Rivals analyst Eric Bossi described in May as “a tall and lengthy point guard who will play multiple spots on the perimeter in Lawrence.”
But will point guard be the primary spot? Versatility has been one of Garrett’s main strengths, and he might even be able to fit into a small-ball 4 role if the situation dictates.
One other factor to consider: Self hasn’t had many tall point guards at KU. Wayne Selden (6-5) always seemed to be mentioned as a backup point-guard candidate, though that rarely happened in games. Elijah Johnson (6-4) is probably the tallest point guard otherwise, and he reflected this offseason how difficult it was to step into the role of primary ballhandler after Tyshawn Taylor graduated.
So the backup point guard could be Garrett, though that would go against recent KU history. And it could be Newman, though that would potentially play away from his strength of letting others create so he can make outside shots.
It’ll be one of the many storylines to track this offseason, though Self has to hope that it doesn’t become a main topic for one simple reason: If Graham stays healthy, he should play at least 35 minutes per game.
Newman and Garrett splitting five point-guard minutes isn’t a big deal. Splitting 40, however, would change the entire complexion of KU’s season — and force Self to become creative with a roster that’s already thin on secondary options.