By strict definition, the Kansas basketball roster is not complete. The Jayhawks still have two open scholarships, and Bill Self said Tuesday that his staff is “still actively recruiting a few more players.”
One of those players is obvious: Jaylen Brown, the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2015 class, is still considering Kansas.
But whether the Jayhawks land Brown, Tuesday’s signing of big man Cheick Diallo adds a significant piece to the framework of next season’s roster.
Or, as Self put it on Tuesday: “Today is a huge day for our Kansas basketball program. It has been our focus and our top recruiting priority to try to sign an inside presence and a rim protector to go along with our returning players. We feel like we’ve been able to sign a premier big man that has as much upside any big we’ve recruited in recent memory.”
The Jayhawks now have 11 players in the fold for next season, including Diallo and fellow signee Carlton Bragg. It’s a roster that will likely put Kansas firmly in the top 10 in the preseason polls. (“I think this puts us in a great position to be a much improved team next year,” Self said on Tuesday.) With the framework in place, The Chalkboard is here to offer a way-too-early projection for the Jayhawks’ rotation in 2015-16. If the season began tomorrow, here’s how we see it:
The starting lineup:
▪ 1. Frank Mason, 5-11, guard, junior
Key stats: 12.6 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.9 RPG, 33.5 MPG
2014-15 Win Shares: 4.7
Breakdown: Mason had a breakout sophomore season, shooting 43 percent from three-point range and emerging into a strong lead guard. Entering his junior season, Mason should be among the best point guards in the Big 12 — along with Iowa State’s Monte Morris and Texas’ Isaiah Taylor — and could be primed to be Self’s best four-year guard since Tyshawn Taylor. Mason is a lock to play close to 30 minutes per game in 2015-16.
▪ 2. Devonte’ Graham, 6-1, guard, sophomore
Key stats: 5.7 PPG, 17.8 MPG, 42.5 3P%
2014-15 Win Shares: 1.7
Breakdown: The Chalkboard was perhaps more bullish on Graham as a sophomore than most. While battling some injuries a freshman, Graham was an efficient offensive player who showed some promise as a playmaker. His offensive rating was 106.1, though he could stand to be a little more efficient inside the three-point line. He shot 37.7 percent from two-point range last season. You might question the smallish pairing of Mason and Graham in the backcourt. But given another summer in the weight room, Graham will likely add some strength, allowing him to cover bigger guards. He also profiles as a more classic point guard, which could give Mason the freedom to score. Anyway, Self’s best offenses have always featured two small guards — a fact he conceded before last season.
▪ 3. Wayne Selden, 6-5, guard, junior
Key stats: 9.4 PPG, 36 starts, 29.5 MPG, 38.2 FG%
2014-15 Win Shares: 2.2
Breakdown: Selden is perhaps the great question mark in this projection. He has started all 71 games over the last two seasons, and it would be strange for a player with that track record to suddenly lose his spot. The Chalkboard doesn’t expect him to. But he has plenty of room for growth in 2015-16. From a statistical standpoint, Selden regressed greatly during his sophomore season. His overall scoring numbers were down slightly, and his efficiency numbers took a tumble. After posting a 104.9 offensive rating as a freshman, Selden declined to a 98.0 ORtg as a sophomore. He shot under 40 percent from two-point range, and his no-show against Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament embodied his inconsistent season. On a positive note: Selden proved himself a capable three-point threat last year. But entering his junior season, there are still questions of how good Selden can really be.
▪ 4. Perry Ellis, 6-8, forward, senior
Key stats: 13.8 PPG; 6.9 RPG; 45.7 FG%
2014-15 Win Shares: 4.2
Breakdown: The Jayhawks will have a standout senior in the starting lineup for the first time since Jeff Withey manned the paint in 2012-13. There’s not much else to say here. Ellis will be a leading candidate for Big 12 player of the year, and if he takes another step, an All-America campaign isn’t out of the question. One humble suggestion from the Chalkboard: Ellis may not profile as a classic power forward at the NBA level. But at the college level, Ellis belongs in the frontcourt. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Ellis can’t be an outside threat. He shot 39 percent from three last season, hitting 18 of 46 from behind the arc. An increase in three-point attempts wouldn’t be a bad thing.
▪ 5. Cheick Diallo, 6-9, forward, freshman
Key stats: N/A
2014-15 Win Shares: N/A
Breakdown: Here’s the usual freshman caveat: Diallo may not begin next season in the starting lineup. Based on Self’s track record, it might even be unusual if Diallo were starting ahead of Landen Lucas or Jamari Traylor in the season opener next year. But in the long run, Diallo’s rim protection capabilities and athleticism could make him the best complement to Ellis in the frontcourt.
Others in the backcourt:
▪ Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, 6-8, guard, sophomore
▪ Brannen Greene, 6-7, guard, junior
Breakdown: Mykhailiuk’s development will be a key story line to track over the summer and fall. He turns 18 in June, and is still one of the best pro prospects in the KU program. It’s easy to forget, of course, but he started a handful of games at the beginning of last season, and Self regularly called him one of the best players in practice. He profiles as a player that could make a major jump as a sophomore. Unfortunately, he won’t be eligible to play for Kansas (the United States team) in the World University Games in July.
One issue: Svi needs to make shots. Mykhailiuk shot just 28.8 percent (15 of 52) from three last season, and his inability to make shots was one reason that Greene cut into his minutes off the bench.
Greene is not the complete player that Mykhailiuk is — he doesn’t handle it, pass or defend like Svi. But he was a proven shot-maker until a late-season slump that coincided with a hip injury. One question mark: Greene will miss the summer while recovering from hip surgery. How will it affect his development?
Others in the frontcourt:
▪ Landen Lucas, 6-10, forward, junior
▪ Carlton Bragg, 6-8, forward, freshman
▪ Jamari Traylor, 6-8, forward, senior
▪ Hunter Mickelson, 6-10, forward, senior
Breakdown: If nothing else, the Jayhawks’ frontcourt should have ample experience next season. Traylor and Mickelson will be a fifth-year seniors; Lucas will be a fourth-year junior. Lucas made significant strides as a sophomore and played well at times while Cliff Alexander was sidelined because of a NCAA issue. Lucas can be a strong defensive option and blue-collar rebounder, but his offensive game was still limited. Traylor, meanwhile, was slightly exposed while playing more minutes as a junior. But he profiles as a solid reserve and change-of-pace for the crafty Ellis.
Bragg, meanwhile, could be a wild card. A McDonald’s All-American and top-20 recruit, the versatile Bragg won’t have much pressure to be an impact player immediately. But there are worse things than serving an apprenticeship under Ellis. It will be interesting to see what he gives Kansas as a freshman.