The point guard position was one that served as a biggest question for the Kansas Jayhawks in 2013-14, with the inconsistency of Naadir Tharpe and the youth of freshman Frank Mason resulting in many wondering if Bill Self had enough at the position to win a national title. While that spot wasn’t the only reason why the Big 12 regular season champions fell to Stanford in the Round of 32, the instability at the point certainly didn’t help matters.
That area is once again the focus of discussion for a team that will also have to account for the loss of key contributors such as Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, not to mention Tharpe’s decision to transfer to a school closer to his native Massachusetts.
One player who will have the opportunity to earn immediate playing time at the point is incoming freshman Devonte’ Graham, whose recruitment received national attention due to Appalachian State’s refusal to release him from his National Letter of Intent (he was finally released in early April).
Prior to committing to Appalachian State, Graham’s coaches felt that his recruitment wasn’t at the level it should be for a player of his caliber. But the guard continued to work at his craft, and the long road has ultimately led to Graham becoming a Jayhawk with designs on being a player who can have an immediate impact.
In a story written by Rustin Dodd of the Wichita Eagle, Graham’s circuitous path to Lawrence is discussed along with how much instability at the point has impacted Kansas in recent years. Included is a note on the concept on win shares, which are used to measure the impact a player has on how successful his team is.
The advanced metric of Win Shares, designed to measure one player’s total value to a team, does a pretty good job of illustrating Kansas’ deficiency at point guard. In the last two seasons, the eight point guards who played in the Final Four averaged 5.6 Win Shares per season. During the same span, Kansas starting point guards Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe averaged just 2.8 Win Shares.
For two seasons, Bill Self’s teams have been a living, breathing embodiment of an old college basketball truism. You need elite guards to win in March. So when Graham sat down with Self in April, the Kansas coach made it clear:
“There would be an opportunity,” Graham says.
Graham will compete with Mason and Conner Frankamp for minutes at the point this season, and regardless of who wins the job the most important thing for Kansas is that they find a concrete solution. Graham’s skill level has been praised by scouts and coaches alike, and while he may not be rated as highly as some of Kansas’ other incoming freshmen (Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre chief among them) his position makes Graham one of the Jayhawks’ most important newcomers.