University of Kansas

Why accepting a reduced role could be Isaiah Moss’ best chance for success with KU

Iowa graduate transfer Isaiah Moss is the latest addition to the Kansas basketball roster, and it’s not difficult to see why he’d be appealing to KU and coach Bill Self.

Moss’ specialty is outside shooting, an area that just happens to match up with the Jayhawks’ biggest weakness. Also, as a graduate transfer, there’s basically no recruiting risk in bringing him in with three roster spots available, as KU will recoup his scholarship after this season no matter what.

The actual fit for Moss is interesting, though. Unlike many high school recruits — where a player’s projection is a bit of a guessing game — Moss comes to KU as more of a known commodity after completing three years with Iowa in the Big Ten.

His stats paint a fairly consistent picture. Moss has an elite skill in spot-up three-point shooting; Synergy Sports Technology had him in the 99th percentile of all players in that last season, and in the previous two years, he’s combined to make 97 of 241 outside shots (40%).

He isn’t without offensive flaws, though. Overall, Moss was an inefficient player last season, with most of that stemming from an ugly two-point percentage; he made just 38% of his inside shots last year while struggling in many areas, including accuracy at the rim and attempting too many mid-range jumpers.

Moss also isn’t someone who has been able to take advantage of his strong career free throw percentage (82%). He’s not adept at creating for himself to draw contact, and he also hasn’t been a consistent scorer or passer in pick-and-roll situations.

Defensively, Moss appears to be a player with potential. He has length, at 6-foot-5, and he cited in an interview with The Star on Monday that he took pride in his perimeter defense. That appears to line up with the numbers, as Synergy’s logs rated him as “very good” last season when it came to his ability to defend spot-up shooters.

Put it all together, and Self appears to have another rotation option who could be either great or limited, depending on the commitment from both sides.

KU, potentially, has the roster to maximize Moss’ skillset. On a lesser team, he might be asked to do more than he is capable, which could lead to him being a player that is overextended, especially on the offensive end.

With the Jayhawks, though, much of this could be negated if Moss embraces a focused role. KU desperately needs a floor-spacer — someone opponents have to respect on the perimeter, which would result in fewer double-teams inside for big men Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa — and a recent look at the NBA shows that so-called “Three-and-D” players can have huge impacts if they’re able to put some ego aside.

It’s difficult to know how Moss might adjust to this. He certainly seems to be destined for a smaller role than he had last year at Iowa — he averaged 24.1 minutes as a junior — and he also wasn’t red-lighted much when it came to shot selection, reflected by his high number of two-point attempts even with his lack of success there.

Self, in recent years, also hasn’t had many players that in the mold of that “Three and D” stereotype. Perhaps the best comps were back in the early 2010s, when both Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar secured important roles on talented teams while serving as complementary shooting pieces and also sound defenders.

Moss’ impact potentially could be affected by future news as well. Top-50 recruit Jalen Wilson — known as a sharpshooter — is set to pick a school Wednesday, with KU considered one of the frontrunners.

If we consider Devon Dotson a near-lock for 35 or so minutes at point guard, a Wilson commitment potentially would leave a glut of candidates for those two other wing spots, assuming the Jayhawks play big. The list would include returners Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett along with Moss, freshmen Tristan Enaruna, Christian Braun and perhaps Wilson, and that wouldn’t factor in the possibility of freshman point guard Issac McBride stealing a few minutes too.

It’s also worth noting that Moss joining KU also could be seen as a safety valve of sorts for Self; while his plan entering the season is to play Azubuike and De Sousa together, adding another shooter gives KU more options if that would happen to fall through for any reason. The possibility is at least more open now if KU’s coaches want to surround four guards around Azubuike, which was the formula used during the team’s Final Four run in 2018.

However it ends up playing out, Moss’ commitment seems to make sense at a base level for both parties involved.

For KU, filling an unused scholarship with a proven high-major three-point shooter has to be considered a win. And for Moss, the potential to “transfer up” with an improved chance at team success likely was alluring as well.

From here, the story likely rests primarily with Moss. Perhaps better than any other starting wing candidate, he has the most potential to make his top KU teammates better offensively, with the ability to spread the floor for Dotson and Azubuike if he can simply stand in the corner to take his defender away from the action (then hit the open three if his guy helps inside).

Whether that’s glamorous or not depends on one’s perspective.

Moss can certainly help KU in 2019-20 if he plays to his strengths, though doing that will take some buy-in.

It all seems to be the best pathway, though, for this particular union to work.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.
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